I PASSED!!!!

This past Tuesday I passed my comprehensive exam! It was a huge relief! Also, this is why I haven’t been blogging as frequently lately.

To explain: at ASU for my Ph.D. program, we have to take a roughly three hour oral exam given by our dissertation committee. This exam not only tests our knowledge in our fields of study, but also is when we defend our dissertation proposal (all of our ideas/hypotheses/methods/data to date). My committee is comprised of my advisor and 4 other faculty, who are experts at various topics covered in my dissertation. For instance, I have an expert on phylogenetics, an expert on hummingbirds, an expert on iridescent coloration, and an expert on statistics. During this exam, they can ask me questions on anything related to my proposed dissertation, even if I’m not directly studying that topic. For example, I was asked questions ranging from how to build a phylogeny to the genetics of behavior.

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To prepare for this exam, I have spent the past month doing nothing but studying, everyday, all-day. And before that I spent most of my free time during field work writing/editing my proposal. This is definitely one of those exams that you have to study more than just a few days before! Above is a picture of some of the material I read; I have a library of papers on my computer which I also went through.

While the entire process was fairly miserable, I did learn a ton. Not everything I read came up during my exam, but I am ok with that because that knowledge will still serve me through the rest of my academic career. This also seems to be part of the point of this exam. It forces you to study and learn a bunch of material, that will ultimately make you a better scientist.

Now that this exam is over, I can breathe free again and relax! I will post the final updates on the documentary filming in a few days, and then I will probably post my tips and advice on studying for this type of exam to hopefully help those who will take it in the future.

Thank you so much to everyone who supported me throughout this entire processes!

About me

As I mentioned, I am a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University. I am getting my Ph.D. in animal behavior, and I am finishing up my third year. I have been doing biological research for seven years at this point, as I started doing research my first summer at college (2009). Its been quite a journey for me, that has lead me from cancer research, to ecological modeling, and finally to studying behavior in the field.

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Me in Flagstaff during the Fall. Photo credit: Meghan Duell (https://meghanduell.wordpress.com)

I have always loved being outside and exploring the natural world. When I was young, my family traveled a lot, especially in the western half of the US, visiting a plethora of national and state parks. Two of my most memorable experiences were visiting Glacier National Park and a month-long trip we took to drive to Alaska, where I was able to see a huge variety of environments and wildlife. I have also spent considerable amounts of time in the South, such as in some of the beautiful old-growth forests and black-water swamps of South Carolina. As an adult, I continue to explore our natural world, both for fun and for my job! My research has taken me to many places around the world, including Canada, Panama, and Japan. I have worked with a reasonable diversity of animals, though most of my work has been on birds. I have also contacted some work on mice and rats, grasshoppers, and beetles.

IMG_7260As I am in my 3rd year of my Ph.D., I am in the midst of my work for my dissertation. I am studying hummingbirds, and specifically I am exploring the evolutionary relationships between their colorful plumage and display behaviors during courtship (see here for more information). The vast majority of my work is conducted in the field, which I very much so prefer. I love studying animals in their natural habitats. Through my field work, I not only learn a ton about the organisms I study, but I also learn a lot about the areas I conduct my work in and all the other life that inhabits it. Because I spend day after day for fairly long stretches of time at one field site, I am able to witness some of the rarer animal occurrences. For instance, while at some of my field sites in southern Arizona, I have seen rock and Arizona black rattlesnakes:

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Outside of my research, I enjoy hiking, camping, and various other outdoor activities, as you will see through this blog. My current goal for the duration of my tenure at ASU, is to visit every wilderness area in the state. There are 90 wilderness areas in Arizona (check them out here), which vary in size and remoteness. So far, I’ve only been two 9 of them, so I have a long way to go! I will make sure to write a post about each one as I visit them, and I will write about the ones I have already visited as well.