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Two Portuguese Ph.D. Students Pass Qualifier Exam and Comment on their Experience

Two Portuguese Ph.D. Students Pass Qualifier Exam and Comment on their Experience
The qualifier exam evaluates the student’s general knowledge and preparation for undertaking a doctoral program in his or her chosen area of study. Recently, two Portuguese Ph.D. students in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), under the Carnegie Mellon | Portugal Program, took their qualifier exam after only two months of study at Carnegie Mellon University. Jerónimo Rodrigues and João Mota were encouraged to take the exam by their professors, and they made it through with good results.

“I cannot say the qualifier is a pleasant experience,” says Mota. “In ECE, [the exam] consists of three people trying to find flaws either in your research or in your background knowledge.” In Mota’s case, the adjudicators focused on the applications of his research, which is to develop distributed algorithms that are as fast, or faster, than the centralized ones. More specifically, compressed sensing is a new paradigm in the acquisition of signals that states that it is possible to acquire signals in an already compressed form [in the usual paradigm the signals are compressed only after their acquisition]. This theory has countless applications.” Mota says that practical application is the weakest part of his research because he is doing “something that nobody else had tried before.” Mota’s goal is “to give my contribution to the theory of compressed sensing.”
____________ “Perhaps the most important aspect of the Carnegie Mellon | Portugal Program is the interaction with the faculty and students of both universities,” says Mota.
Rodrigues says that he could have improved his score if he had taken the exam at a later date, but he is glad to have gotten it out of the way. “It is good to know early if we meet the requirements that Carnegie Mellon sets for a student,” he says. Rodrigues’ work involves “a Vision algorithm compiler, for the Honda industries,” the major goal of which is “to automate the process of inserting parts onto an assembly line.”

Mota and Rodrigues both have some advice for their colleagues who will take the qualifier exam. Their first tip is to know the requirements of the qualifier and what is expected of the student who is taking the exam. “You should know how to give a general idea,” says Mota, “not only of the proofs of your results, but also of the proofs of other people’s results that you use in your work. It is also important that you know the definition of all the important words you say and write.”
__________ Rodrigues encourages students to meet frequently with both advisors, from Portugal and from Carnegie Mellon University.
As a final suggestion, Mota says, “don’t panic. The goal of the qualifier is to see if we can represent Carnegie Mellon at a scientific conference. So, expect the committee to be aggressive [in the nature of the questions]. It is their role to question every detail of your work and this might be uncomfortable to you. Instead of panicking, try to get out of that area of discomfort graciously, by leading the conversation to where you want.”

January 2010