PhD Qualifying Exam

So every student doing a PhD at UIUC (and I think any US university) is expected to pass a qualifying exam. The qualifying exam gauges whether a student is competent enough to continue in the PhD program. However, it's much more than that. I think it's more of a test to see how well you can do a presentation and answer tough questions during the presentation; as well as trying to not sound stupid in front of a very smart audience.

Anyway, I took my exam two weeks ago. It was an oral presentation where I was assigned two papers: The jastadd Extensible Java Compiler and Automatic Test Factoring. Both papers were about tools (something that I interested in as I mentioned in my research statement to the exam committee).

It's interesting to note how the two papers are somehow connected with me. I first saw the JastAdd system while I was at OOPSLA '07. I had even talked to the authors of the paper, attended their poster session and even their demo session. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I did not attend their presentation session so my presentation was not influenced by theirs. I was already interested in studying this paper in-depth because of the system. And having it chosen as my qualifying exam paper gave me even more motivation.

The second paper was interesting because, Danny, one of my colleagues from the same research group is now working under Prof. Michael Ernst. Danny had referenced some of Ernst's work before. So I was familiar with some of the terminology in the paper and was able to use that to my advantage.

It's just interesting to see what a small world it is....

My slides for the presentations are available here: JastAdd.pdf and AutoFactoring.pdf. I am not sure how interesting they would be on their own but they are pretty to look at.

And I just found out that I passed! The committee had this to say:

"The committee were impressed with his performance and background knowledge".

So that's one crucial step toward completing my Ph.D! :)

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