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Inaugural Qualification Jubilation Celebration

The current group of third-year graduate students was truly jubilant on Monday, October 22, 2012, as they gathered for the inaugural Qualification Jubilation celebration. The ceremony and festivities marked each student's successful completion of the qualifying exam last summer and their well-deserved receipt of a master's degree.

Members of the  third-year students who celebrated their success with the qual
Members of the third-year students who celebrated their success with "the qual"
Holding such an event was initially suggested by Zach Katz, a fifth-year Ph.D. student who is a representative on the Board of Overseers education and student affairs committee. It was then conceptualized by graduate students Jessica Doerner, Julie Nadel, Sara Rouhanifard and Samantha Wilner. They began planning for the event towards the end of their second-year, as they also prepared for the notoriously rigorous exam process. The event name was offered by fellow student Keith Maier. "We brought our ideas to the graduate office and they ran with it," recalled Miss Rouhanifard.

The new event, which will be held annually, also received enthusiastic support from Einstein board chair Dr. Ruth L. Gottesman, and board overseer Nathan Kahn, along with the entire Einstein Board of Overseers, and is sponsored by both the Graduate Division and the Einstein Alumni Association.

Potential Einstein Ph.D. candidates spend the initial years of the graduate program taking graduate courses to build the foundation from which their scientific contributions will be made. Toward the end of their second year, they are required to present their preliminary findings and intended thesis research, defend their scientific knowledge base and demonstrate their capability to begin independent investigations. This process, which includes a written proposal and an oral defense, is collectively known as the qualifying exam or, "the qual." Once students pass their courses and the qual, they are considered Ph.D. candidates. 

 

Beginning a New Tradition

Jonathan Lai, the students' invited speaker
Jonathan Lai, the students' invited speaker
The evening began with an address by Dr. Victoria Freedman, associate dean for graduate programs and an Einstein Ph.D. graduate from the Class of 1977. She told the students, "Up until this day, even though graduate students are conferred an M.S. degree when they pass the qualifying exam, there hasn't been any recognition of this as an important milestone. However, it is an essential step for our graduate students as they move toward the doctoral degree and it is fitting that we should acknowledge this milestone in a notable way."

Next, Dr. Allen M. Spiegel, the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean, credited dedicated graduate students with some of the most significant scientific contributions made at Einstein. He commended Einstein students' hard work while reminding them that the end of the qualifying exam marks an important beginning. "You have a lot to look forward to. There will be long, hard days and nights, undoubtedly – but know that we all support you, are with you – your P.I.'s, your mentors – and wish you well on the road ahead." 

 

Moving Forward

The students' invited speaker, Dr. Jonathan Lai, commented on his own qualifying exam experience, as well as the process of mentoring students through theirs. "When students pass the qualifying exam, I think it's a special time for us mentors."

Dr. Lai, who is assistant professor of biochemistry, also noted how the qualifying exam is the last highly regulated step in the Ph.D. program, through which students demonstrate the self-discipline and skills to explore uncharted territory on their own. He reminded them, "Take your success in this qualification exam as an indication that you will be successful in the future."  

The evening's proceedings culminated with 52 students standing before their proud families, friends and mentors to receive their master's degree diplomas. At the reception that followed, students exchanged accounts of their nerve-wracking experiences and posed for photographs with their new degrees.

Ignacio Guerrero Ros summed up what the celebration represented to him and his classmates, noting, "It's so exciting. We have been working so hard and putting in so much effort. To have that acknowledged and be able to celebrate together is really great."

Posted on: Friday, November 30, 2012