Saturday, August 30, 2008

qual on!

I posted on August 12 about taking the qual early my reasoning at that point. Well, the saga has come to a close: my advisor agrees that I can take the qual early. That means I'll start studying now and really hit it after my poster presentation at the end of September. Until the poster is sent to the printer, I need to get as much research done as I can.

It wasn't a straight path to my advisor's verdict. He was on a field project on the other side of the globe for two and a half weeks, then on jury duty for most of this past week. We'd barely communicated for the past four weeks. I sent him an email with my reasoning attached on Thursday in case we weren't able to meet Friday. He replied that we could meet Friday after our morning class. He also said he was torn on the qual issue. He understood all my reasoning, but was concerned about a grant renewal deadline coming next summer. The email gave me the impression that he was unlikely to agree with me easily.

I was funded by this grant last fall and this summer, with a teaching assistantship and three more classes in between. Due to personal circumstances, I did not get significant research done until the beginning of July. This may make him a bit nervous, but I think he understands all the problems that have kept me from progressing more quickly. Since Independence Day, however, I have made significant progress. I showed my advisor all the stuff I've gotten done, and with a couple more weeks' worth of work, he thinks I'll have a great poster for the workshop at the end of September. I hope he believes that this is a more normal work ethic for me even though he has a short sample.

I understand his concern that the rest of this semester will be relatively low-progress with respect to research due to studying for the qual, but I think that Spring semester and next Summer will be plenty of time to get enough research done to renew the grant. (I tend to make quicker progress than I or others expect.) He apparently agrees. At the end of our meeting, I asked if he had deliberated any more on the qual issue, and he told me he'll support my decision to take it early. I didn't even need to argue the point. After all the effort I'd put into making sure I had a convincing argument... :)

This revelation around lunchtime had one unfortunate side-effect: I was so excited about my advisor's qual decision and positive view of my research that I had a hard time for the rest of the afternoon concentrating on anything that took much thinking. I ended up transferring class notes to the powerpoint print-out, scanning PDFs of the department qual exams since 2000*, and working on other menial tasks. I am still excited about all of it, but I think I've relaxed enough that I can concentrate on programming and reading again.

A couple of my officemates are also planning to take the qual. One section of the test involves answering questions from the elective classes you've taken in the department. The test only includes questions from classes taken by someone who is taking the test, though anyone taking the test can answer any of the questions, no matter if they have taken the class or not. My officemates are not registered for a certain class that I am, but they are sitting in on it anyhow with the assumption that I will ensure the qual will include a question from that class. They've gotten anxious to not waste time attending a class that will not help them on the qual during the first week of classes, so my advisor's decision yesterday pacified all three of us. We are concocting plans for study groups.

*Until now, they've been keeping a single paper copy of every qual--that's it. I decided that was a really bad idea when the copy machine tried to eat a page of one of them recently.

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