Sunday, January 01, 2006

Another Milestone 

After one of my busiest semesters ever (at its worst, even approaching my time in seminary for inhumanity), in December I passed my specialty exam! An hourlong oral exam before my advisor and another professor, it had me nervous and studying for weeks. Whereas the qualifying exams were to demonstrate breadth of mathematical knowledge, the specialty exam's purpose is to check that I have sufficient depth within my subfield to begin research.

Fortunately, almost all of my seminary exams were oral, so I was prepared for the format. The central point, I think, is that it's impossible to fake an oral exam. The professors have every resource at their disposal to find the limits of what you know. Answers memorized but not understood will reveal themselves when a follow-up question is asked. It is possible to study for oral exams, but not to cram. Nerves serve their purpose up to half a day in advance, but after that you need only relax. Your fate is already determined; you need only play it out and see what happens.

Of course, it was also extremely helpful to have dozens upon dozens of people praying for me. I hope I never have to go through anything this stressful again without such an legio orantium behind me.

The implication of this wonderful news is that I shall be reclassified as a "dissertator" and henceforth need take only one class per term, so as to devote more time for research. In short, I'm now "A.B.D."--"all but dissertation." That's not exactly an honor, but it is a large step along the way!

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