Saturday, October 23, 2010

A long awaited recap

Okay so this is a recap of my comprehensive exam.  Which means the first thing I have to admit is, she was right. Yep. My PI did a good thing by pulling the plug. In the extra time, I didn’t study anymore or learn anything new.  Well, that’s not true. She did give me one paper to read, that I hadn’t already read and which was helpful in connecting some dots.  Yes I did tell her she was right. She laughed and was just happy that I was happy.  She really does amaze me with how gracious and kind she is.   Back to why she was right. I was terrified of not doing well. As you all know, I suffer from imposter syndrome and if I had the exam in July, if the committee asked me something I didn’t know, it would’ve terrified me and made me panic. As it happens, when I was asked something that I didn’t remember I just said, had you asked me 1 hour ago I could’ve told you. Seriously I could have. I knew this because when my professor had asked me the week before I gave the “are you really asking me such a basic and simple Q” look. I could tell you where on my notes I had the information. I just could not recall it.
In hindsight, she pulled the plug not because she didn’t think I would pass. I would’ve passed at that point, but it would not have been the way I passed this time. I rocked it. It was a HUGE confidence booster as I was not panicking, I was confident about what I knew, was able to think about alternative approaches and argue with my committee.  I walked out, not thinking OMG thank god that was over, but walked out thinking, uhm really? That was like an extended committee meeting. I was joking and laughing with them. When they asked if I could get a hold of a hypermorph of my gene of interest, I told them the truth. Nope the bastards aren’t sharing.
Yes I swore and yes I argued with them, are you really that shocked.  I knew my shit and when they disagreed with my interpretation of the data or didn’t think my data was showing what I said it was. I told them how and why they were wrong. 
The comprehensives are not supposed to tare you down. They are supposed to boost you up.  Now don’t get me wrong. I was pushed for depth and breadth of knowledge, but I wasn’t devastated by not knowing. Mind you, I’m pretty OK with admitting I don’t know as that’s the only way I can be open to learning.
So what did I learn from this experience? The most helpful things for me were:
our weekly journal clubs. From my awesome labmates I learned how to critically analyze figures. Determine what is important information to give and what controls to ask for.  More importantly, we went over important papers in our field so when I got down to learning the nitty gritties, nothing was foreign to me.
Closer to the exam, I gave weekly lectures to my labmates instead of journal club.  I practiced utilizing a wipe board to convey important concepts.  The lectures were followed by a Q&A session, to once again practice conveying and synthesizing information.
Practice exams.


Kate said...

Congrats, I'm so glad you rocked it!

chall said...

That's great! I'm so glad you had a good experience of the defense/oral exam. that's a good booster for the final thing!!

(on a side note, hope all is better!)

ScientistMother said...

Kate - I am too. it was great confidence builder, though it does suck to admit my PI was right :))

Chall - it has been a great confidence booster, thanks!

unlikelygrad said...

Wow, the practice sessions with your labmates sound awesome. I'm glad it ended up turning out so well.