Saturday, November 30, 2013

Item 2: On Celebrating Oral Exams (A random walk through how I run my lab)

Doctoral programs around the country tend to have varying requirements. Invariably, they have some kind of oral exam (early in the program) to establish the candidate's proficiency to continue on to write her or his dissertation. Later, the doctoral candidate completes her or his research and thesis. Whether or not she or he "defends" it with yet another oral presentation, it marks the second major and final stage before earning the doctorate. These two critical transitions can be treated as weed-out mechanisms or as teachable moments. I prefer the latter perspective, and I therefore devote a lot of time to help my students flesh out their ideas and practice their presentations. In the end, it's still them being tested so I have no qualms with helping them be better prepared. It's a training program after all!

As with all rituals, I, like most of my colleagues, find a way to include food and drink to mark these successful transitions. Mine has a twist. After successful completions of each, I bring a bottle of bubbly. I offer a domestic sparkling wine for the candidacy exam, and real champagne after the Ph.D. defense. That is, the real bubbles are reserved for the authentic confirmation of the degree… And I'm happy to report that we celebrated my 10th such doctorate just a few weeks ago!

This continues my random walk through how I run my lab. Look for other such posts using the "RandomWalks" tab. The previous item on a different set of rituals (annual lab outings) can be found here.

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