Major life update — I passed my qual!


At a certain point in the educational trajectory for graduate students, they officially become a candidate in pursuit a doctoral degree in their field. The process in not standardized across institutions or graduate programs, and as a result the main component of this transition point can be known as “the qualifying examination”, “the comprehensive examination”, or others as well as their shortened versions (e.g. “Comps,” “Quals,” “the Qual”, etcetera). In my toxicology training program, passing “The Qual” entails writing a condensed research proposal in the form of a grant (I’ve heard it compared to an NIH F31), a brief presentation before your thesis advisory committee, and an oral examination. The latter portion is, as one would imagine, the most stressful, but succeeding makes it well worth it. Succeeding means earning a snazzy Master’s degree in Toxicology #nbd

On September 20th, I successfully passed my qual (woot!). I mean, I was wearing my Presentation Pants (1), so of course it went well. Instead of writing about what happened, I’m going to provide some stats that will paint the picture just as well, because, hey- why not? It’s more fun to do it this way ~*~*

Duration of exam: 2 hours

Graduate student to committee member ratio: 1:4

Volume of coffee consumed/committee member: 2 cups

# of times kicked out of room: 2

Time spent on presentation: 20 minutes

Volume of sweat sweated:  approx. 4 gallons. #athletic

Lower estimate, # of times I took town and re-tied my ponytail during exam: 10 #nervoustick

# of scones consumed per person per hour: 2 (shout out to Tim and his accidental purchase of an America’s Test Kitchen subscription)

# of times PBS news hour displayed on my screen before my committee: 1

# of gummy-bear-squiggles drawn on the whiteboard: 2.5

Sound-proofing quality of the room:negligible.

Time elapsed between my Qual and Tim’s: 2 hours

Distance ran after exam: 7 SUPER BLISSFUL miles.

Average time spent in the Env. Med Conference room per committee member:  2.66 hours (Ten points to anyone who determines how this is possible!!)

Revisions to document requested: 0 (!!)

Confidence in my project moving forward (scale 1-10): 10 #ayy

In summary, I’m feeling pretty great. My committee (which has the expertise of toxicologists, geneticists, and a muscle development specialist) was happy with the project proposal, and thinks I can do it. And, importantly, I think I can do it. Sure, there are definitely times where I worry that my project is trash, but these feeling subside when I think rationally. Passing my qual has given me an extra boost of confidence to drive me forward and should prevent those negative thoughts from taking root.

Now, all I have to do is… all of the experiments I just proposed.

 “Headed to the moon, not now, but soon” – Alexi Pappas


  1. Presentation Pants (n): Ashley’s favorite off-white Calvin Klein pants that she has worn to every important presentation in graduate school.
  2. Third-Person omniscient (n): The point of view that Ashley sometimes switches to when she forgets this is her personal blog and is written in first-person.
  3. #nbd: no big deal. What the kids are sayin’ these days in regard to something really super awesome and exciting that is downplayed ironically to convey composure.
  4. Deadpan (n): A type of humor delivered with an impassive, expressionless, matter-of-fact presentation.

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Toxicologist & marathon runner

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