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Golden Rule #2: Know your examiners

The members of your qualifying exam committee are the gatekeepers of you advancing to candidacy. If you invited professors to serve on your committee, then be sure that you know them well, and have at least taken one course from them.

As these people will be spending a few hours with you discussing your discipline and your research during your exam, you should spend some time researching each of your committee member's scientific backgrounds. This will make you familiar with their expertise, research, teaching, and even a bit of their personality. You should research the following:

  • What is your committee member's academic training? Where did they get their degrees, and in what departments?
  • What are your examiners publications? What topics do they write about? In what journals do they publish papers?

After you have thoroughly researched all of your committee members and have verified that they are all suitable and applicable for your committee (if you haven't already) you should meet with them.

Try to schedule a committee meet with them at least once before the exam, as this will let you get to know them better, their style of questions, and their personality. When you meet with them you should ask each of them the following questions:

  • What is their philosophy towards the examination?
  • Is there a particular topic area that they expect to cover during the examination?
  • What types of questions do they usually ask?

As a result of your background research and your meetings with committee members, you should be able to obtain a good sense of where each of your committee members is coming from, what they expect from you, and what types of questions they might ask you.

In addition, talk to fellow graduate students about their QE experiences, especially those who have had the same committee members.

This information is invaluable. It will help to put you at ease with your examiners, and can help you anticipate possible questions they may ask you. It is also helpful to think of the QE as an exchange of information with your senior colleagues rather than a test.