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Learnings from the Qualifying Exam

posted Sep 17, 2014, 2:51 PM by Iman Khaghani Far   [ updated Sep 17, 2014, 2:52 PM ]

Hello all,

if you are reading this post, you are probably near to your qualifying examination or you will have it next year...

My intention of creating this post was to share with you my learning about how to and how not to prepare for the phd qualifying examination of the university of trento (DISI).



ok, so if you have stress, you better calm down, it is not that difficult and if you have dedicated yourself to your research, there is nothing to worry about...


let me start with the process that I have taken during the last year...

When I came to the university and started my research, I had no clue about what am I going to do during the next three years (or even more). so don't worry, it is the same for many of us that don't know how a research should look like and we are here to learn how to conduct research in a proper way...


for those of us who have the technological background, we sometimes confuse research with development, this is a common problem and most of the times we don't know if our work is accepted as research contribution... So, try to ask the more experienced students...


back to my own phd story, frankly, in the first 6 months, I did not know how to frame my research work and what are the possible dimensions that I have to consider... but after the 6th months, I started to worry and eventually I started to frame something that could be considered as a phd contribution...


DONT WORRY,  you advisor is there to help you when necessary, also your more experienced colleagues and co-advisors; however, it does not mean that you should rely on them all the time, the successful phd student has to be autonomous at the end of the day...


SO, BE AUTONOMOUS, BUT ASK FOR HELP AND DIRECTION FROM TENURED PEOPLE AROUND YOU!


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Lets talk about how to prepare, what I write here is my personal view, it is not confirmed instruction about how to do qualifying.... it varies from research to research and I know that many of you already know it much better than me...


SO, I LIST THE THINGS THAT HELPED ME SHAPE MY RESEARCH AND UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM AND EVENTUALLY GET PREPARED FOR THE QUALIFYING...



  1. Read as much as you can, reading is good, search google scholar with all the possible combination of the keywords that is somehow related to your research work, download the papers and store them in mendeley. mendelely is a very helpful tool for you to organize your papers. after downloading the papers, start fixing their citation and titles (there is an option in mendeley that fetch the meta data about the article from google scholar and help you automatically organise your papers). (during you entire phd work, download more paper and add them to your mendeley bibliography . Now you are ready to read... read the papers, first the abstract and then the conclusion, if it is interesting to you, read the whole paper and highlight the important parts that are related to your research goals, on the right side of the mendeley window, there is a box for taking notes, always write YOUR MANING UNDERSTANDING from the paper, because you will forget it later and then you have to go through the paper again.
  2. Now that you have a list of papers, you will have some understanding about the problem and the works that have been carried out by other researchers in your field, However, to identify the dimensions of the problem and to find the research gaps, first you need to define some objectives based on your reading and then, use google spreadsheet, put all the interesting papers in a table and evaluate them according to your objectives in different cells, this will help you to have an overal view on the problem and the things in the state of the art... try to proceed the table and divide your work into segments (continue this until you realize that there are not more interesting papers with new dimensions in your research work...) WHEN YOU FELT THAT YOU KNOW 80 PERCENT OF THE RELATED WORKS, AND YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO FIND ANY OTHER RELEVANT PAPERS, THEN YOU ARE SAFE FOR ALMOST 6 MONTHS...
  3. Writing the qualifying paper: define the sections, write the state of the art, then introduction and then the problem and solution... define your research goals and plans precisely, try to come up with something rational and when you are planning, try to imagine the work you are planning to do in reality... is it possible?  DO NOT TRY TO SHOW THAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO A LOT OF WORKS IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS... NOBODY WILL BUY THAT...
  4. Preparing for the presentation: I believe this is the most important part, first of all, calm down, the more you are calm, the more you have the chance to do a greater presentation... the jury are also human and they have sense of humor... they are not going to kill you or kick you out of the school in the first round... worst thing that could happen is that you get a retry... Believe in yourself and your research and your phd career... you have worked for a year, and your research is unique... try to understand that, maybe the topic that you are talking about is very easy and understandable for you and your advisor, but explain it very carefully and introductory for the jury, since they have no idea about what ever you did in the last year and they only have 20 minutes to perceive your research work. STAY CALM, STAY PASSIONATE... BELIEVE IN YOUR SELF AND DO NOT TALK TOO MUCH... YOU HAVE A GOAL, WHICH IS CLEAR, HAS DIMENSIONS AND THERE ARE RESEARCH CHALLENGES THAT YOU ARE GOING TO SOLVE AND YOU WANT TO PROVIDE SOMETHING TANGIBLE AT THE END OF YOUR PHD... 
  5. If you can clearly answer your research work in four small sentence of : WHY, WHAT, HOW AND FOR WHOM. then you are ready... and you will pass the qualifying for sure... 


Good luck with all of you and please, add your experiences about qualifying and in general, how to and how not do to research in the comments...


BTW, IT IS NEVER ENOUGH, BESIDE ALL THESE STUDIES AND QUALIFYING... WE ALL HAVE TO COMMIT TO LIFE LONG LEARNING... NON OF US NEVER WILL BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING AND THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR LEARNING MORE... SO, MY MAIN UNDERSTANDING DURING THE LAST YEAR WAS... THE MORE WE LEARN, THE MORE WE FEEL WE NEED TO LEARN MORE...

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