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Preparing Ph.D. Students for the Qualifying Exam

April 29, 2024

Navigating Ph.D. programs is notoriously challenging, and the qualifying exam stands as a major milestone all students must achieve. To support Ph.D. students in this critical checkpoint, the Graduate Division recently hosted the Qualifying Exam Discourse (QED) workshop, focused on preparing for the qualifying exam. Ten participants from six graduate programs were selected from a pool of 53 applicants for this pilot.

Led by Associate Graduate Dean and Professor Sayantani Ghosh and academic counselor Maria Nishanian and organized by events services manager Jennifer Quiralte, the workshop aimed to equip second- and third-year Ph.D. students with the knowledge, strategies and skills needed to successfully complete the qualifying exam process and advance to candidacy.

“The qualifying exam is a significant step in a Ph.D. journey, and we wanted to provide our students with the tools and guidance to approach it proactively and effectively,” Ghosh said.

The workshop covered a range of topics, including:

  • Providing clarity on administrative requirements for graduate program-related policies and procedures.
  • AI and scientific writing techniques, with insights from guest speaker Professor Brian Utter.
  • Review of successful proposal samples to share best practices.
  • Discussion on "The Do's and Don'ts of a Presentation,” by Nishanian.

By offering this qualifying exam preparation workshop, the Graduate Division demonstrated its commitment to supporting the academic and professional development of UC Merced Ph.D. students.

“We were encouraged by the positive response from our participants,” Ghosh said. “The presentation by Nishanian was particularly beneficial, and Utter’s timely discussion on the undeniable reality of AI in scientific writing was very well-received. We are pleased to expand this training starting Fall 2024.”

In collaboration with Nishanian, Graduate Division will offer a course beginning the next academic year aimed at second- and third-year Ph.D. students that will systematically navigate the process of writing the qualifying proposal and preparing for the oral exam. This 1-unit course, titled GSTU 210: Graduate Researchers’ Road Map, will comprise weekly workshops and by addressing a multifaceted set of preparation areas, will provide doctoral students with a comprehensive toolkit to approach the qualifying exam with confidence and success. It is scheduled for Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. in Fall 2024.