I’m now a Master

Masters

So, in my little absence from blogging, I went out and got my masters degree. Cool, right? While I was officially notified that I would be awarded my degree in May and technically “graduated” in August, I didn’t get this fancy piece of paper until mid-September when I finally let everyone know. Alas, my absence from blogging made posting this a little bit less of a priority, but I’m hoping that by writing this now, I will be able to get myself back into that whole writing-for-fun (fun? yes fun) thing.

Anyways, I thought I’d explain a bit about how I earned this degree:

First of all, you may be wondering why get a masters if I’m getting a Ph.D. Yes, some people get masters before they apply to a Ph.D. program, but I’m already signed up for the long run. Fortunately, my department thinks it’s nice to award their students masters degrees after completion of the course requirements, recommendation by the advisor to continue as a Ph.D. candidate, and successful completion of written and oral Ph.D. candidacy qualification exams. The course requirements are usually completed by the time of the qualification exam in the spring of the second year.

Even though I switched labs after 8 months, which put me behind in my research, I still was able to complete this exam on time. The research aspect is important because our qual exam involves writing a research proposal based on our current work (which requires generating a sufficient amount of data) and orally defending said proposal. Fortunately, just before writing my proposal, I helped my prof write a larger NIH research proposal on my project, which I then was able to take parts of (aka the parts that I primarily wrote) and incorporate them into my proposal. It was a great experience to become more familiar with proposal writing, which helped me write mine (grad students, if you ever get a chance to do this, definitely do it!) I gave myself a month to devote myself to writing my proposal and finishing up some experiments to use as preliminary data and was pretty satisfied with the result.

Next came the oral exam. Mine was scheduled nearly a month after the deadline for the written portion. Since I felt guilty doing science and not studying, I spent most of that month sitting at home and reading every paper somewhat related to my research that I could get my hands on (and playing with my new cat, Smeagol). Let’s just say my useless science knowledge expanded exponentially during that time (sure I can draw a steroid-based bile acid in 3D and do the electron pushing for the synthesis of bile acids from cholesterol now, but that doesn’t have any relevance to my research other than that I study the biological functions of fully synthesized bile acids…) Nonetheless, my relentless studying paid off. My oral exam consisting of me and three professors in a small room with a chalkboard (no prepared presentations allowed!) went rather swimmingly. Well, other than their concern that my proposal was a bit (a lot) ambitious even though I essentially cut my prof’s proposal in 1/3…

Even though my proposal was well written and my oral exam went well, my (and my advisor’s) ambition earned me a rewrite on my proposal to make it more simple and less time consuming (so that I’d get to graduate at some point). Unfortunately, being able to write a non-ambitious proposal is a skill that must be acquired through writing lots of proposals. Since I was planning on adapting this fake qualifying exam proposal into my own actual fellowship proposal that summer, I took this rewrite as an opportunity to get even more feedback on my proposal and make it the best it can be. I turned in my rewritten proposal in May and soon found out that it had been approved. Thus, the awarding of my degree and my current status as a Ph.D. candidate. 🙂

Up next: Ph.D.

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

Posted in Graduate School
5 comments on “I’m now a Master
  1. Barb Warden says:

    Way to go, Hanna! We’re really proud of you.

  2. marksandsite says:

    It’s nice, congratulations

  3. Brandi G. says:

    I’m so glad I came across your website. I am applying for MD/PhD programs next cycle and I am interesting in medical oncology and immunotherapy work as well! I’ve enjoyed reading about your journey and your essay examples were extremely helpful! Thanks again and good luck with everything!

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