The Road to PhD Candidacy

convolvulus-morning-glory-calyx-flower
How many petals do you see? Because I only saw one…
Photo credit: cepolina.com

Last Thursday I had my oral qualifying exam for my doctorate. The way our department at Northeastern University structures the exam is a presentation of your dissertation proposal and then (what feels like) limitless questions pertaining to the proposal, or any related subject material. It’s pretty intimidating entering this exam because your committee members can ask just about anything! I spent the weeks preceding my exam reviewing everything I know about animal behavior, marine systems, neurobiology, RNA sequencing, cell processes, you name it!  I kept asking myself, “If put on the spot to describe XYZ process, could you rattle off the answer without hesitation?” Maybe it sounds straightforward, but really it’s a culmination of everything I’ve learned during the 20 years I’ve been a student.

cellgum
This jell-o cell model looks a lot better than mine did!!
Photo credit: Hudson.edu

During my preparation, I couldn’t help but to dwell on some of the formative experiences I had in my really early years. During 4th grade I dissected a flower in science class. We were required to bring in a flower from home, and I had picked a morning glory. Part of the assignment was to count the number of petals. Well, morning glories don’t have discreet petals like a rose or a daisy, and I kind of freaked out that “one” wasn’t the right the answer. Yes, I was the type of kid that had to get the answer right. Another ‘science experiment’ I remembered conducting as a child was making a model of a cell out of jell-o. The jell-o was the cytoplasm, and grapes were the vacuoles. I don’t remember what all of the other cell parts were, but I do remember that all of the enzymes from the fruit didn’t allow the jell-o to set and the whole thing was a watery mess. Again, I thought I was going to fail this assignment and probably be held back a year or perhaps expelled. I should mention at this point that 0% of this pressure to succeed was imparted by my parents. They were always the supportive “just do your best” type. I was the one who freaked out that a watery jell-o cell model would result in an ‘F’ for the whole semester.

Unfortunately my paranoia about failing hasn’t quelled much since my youth, though I like to think I’ve become a touch more reasonable. Either way, last Thursday it worked out in my favor! I passed!

What are some of your formative learning experiences as a child?

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One thought on “The Road to PhD Candidacy

  1. Wow, flower dissections and food representations of cells are my most memorable elementary school science experiences too!

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