(insert Jeapordy theme song here)
Here I would like to interrupt my little retelling to point out some facts that most of you are probably unaware of. The Admission to Candidacy exam for PhD students is a huge deal. It essentially determines if you are good enough to go on and actually obtain your PhD or if you should just give up and take the MS (failure). The proposal that we are required to write is basically like writing a grant, and while 8 pages may sound quite whimpy, trying to fit all of your preliminary data, proposed research, and benefit to the field into 8 pages (which for NIH standards is actually supposed to be 6) is like trying to fit your life story into 1 chapter: almost impossible. Luckily I have a little grant writing experience so the writing part wasn't too bad. And by not too bad, I mean I've never been so stressed in my life. Normally when students are writing and preparing for this exam they take a few weeks off from doing experiments, trying not to overload themselves. But not me. I was told that I was expected to work the whole time I was preparing, and I did. And since we are working on getting a paper out, my normal work load was significantly increased (thanks boss). Needless to say my mind was not completely focused on my exam. Never the less, I finished my proposal on time and put together my presentation. Which brings us back...
After the longest 30 minutes of my life (dramatic, but true) I was brought back into the room with my committee. I was told my proposal was great, they were all very impressed with my writing. SWEET! I was also told that my presentation was very well done, I obviously have no problem giving one. SWEET AGAIN! And then the knife....they were not so impressed with my ability to answer questions on the spot. NOOO! They all told me that they knew I was smart, top of my class, and they had faith that I knew my science, but they were worried about how I handled the stress and the questions. They asked me how much time I had taken off to spend preparing, and when I told them none, they were shocked. (My advisor got scolded a little for not making sure that I did.) They decided that while they could pass me at that point, they knew I was capable of more and wanted to see what I could do given the appropriate amount of time out of the lab to prepare. While at that moment I was extremely heart broken and let down, now I can say I'm kind of grateful they did it. Extra practice is always a good thing. And most of the time students get asked to rewrite their proposal (this is actually pretty common) or redo the presentation anyway, but since they thought I did great at both of those, all they wanted from me was to redo the question and answers session. Easy.
I spent the next 2 1/2 weeks away from the lab, not doing any experiments but just immersing myself in the science. I probably read at least 100 papers, reviewed old class notes, and became an expert on every technique and protocol that had any relevance to my research. So when Round 2 came I was posed and ready for every question they threw at me. And this time I knocked their socks off!! Unlike the 30 minutes I sat out of the room the first time, this time I walked out and walked right back in. The decision to pass me was instant and unanimous. My admission form was signed and I am now a PhD candidate! Woo hoo!!
The whole process was long and stressful and for the better part of two months I had a constant nauseous feeling in my stomach. But I am officially done and can get back to focusing on other things, such as the paper we are submitting next week which will be my first, first author paper (boo yah!).
Oh, and I think the moral to this story here is that it is better to force your boss to allow you time off instead of being an extreme workaholic when your future is on the line.