Prelims & progress report experience

I think I have come a long way through the graduate program, which has become particularly evident during my progress reports. My project has evolved from MSc to PhD and there has been numerous modifications or alterations to the experimental design. Only two of my originally proposed experiments from my first year in the program have remained consistent. I don’t think this is a surprise and was actually mentioned during my PhD preliminary examination. That stage was a good learning experience and besides developing my thesis also taught me a few things about progress reports:

  • Committee: It is important to pick your committee early. It requires minimal effort and is very help to bring other professors into the loop as soon as possible. Don’t pick easy professors either. You are doing yourself a disservice by trying to squeeze through your degree with minimal effort. Of course this doesn’t mean pick a professor that has any prejudice towards you.
  • Supplementary files: Some topics are hard to digest even if you explain it well and short presentation may not be enough time to delve into specifics. This is why prepping some supplemental figures or slides that better explain complex topics is a good preparation for inevitable questions on it. Some popular choices are species ranges, theories or any supplemental work not present in your thesis.
  • Know the literature: Typically you will have read many papers throughout your graduate career. It is extremely difficult though to remember the author, year, or even title name especially when put under pressure. Instead, make a table or reference guide that quickly sums up most of the key papers you have read. Don’t get caught explaining “some paper, by that person”.
  • Demonstrate potential: Often your committee is less interested in the specifics of what soil mixture to use, but rather the overall purpose. Is it novel? Is it solving a question? Your project is very transient and will change often. What is more important is that your project is novel, pushing research forward and broad enough to cover your degree (MSc or PhD).
  • Be cool: You are the expert on your topic. You likely have read the most about it, conduct the most experiments and know all the little details. Do not get overwhelmed. Often your committee doesn’t know the answer to your question, but instead are trying to push you to see what answer you come up with. If you develop a rational explanation, most likely your doing fine.

Conceptual classroom series