Next semester I’m going to take the prelim exam (it’s actually more like a qualifying exam in most other schools). It is a course-based, oral exam. Students in our department are expected to be tested on 3 topics by 3 professors, and each faculty can ask questions for up to 45 minutes. In my curriculum, I choose waves in matter, polymer science, and quantum mechanics.

After several months of not sharing any of thoughts, I decide to compile what I learned during my first-year PhD (course-related) while preparing the prelim. This first post is sort-of the diary about why I want to do this. There are mainly 2 reasons for me to write these down.

The first one: PhDs need to write. We need to write all the time, not only about my own research. So maybe it’s a good time to pick this up.

Another thing is: in the last year, I feel like I’ve learned so much compared to undergrad. In my head, I kept thinking of why there is a difference in quality of teaching. One day, after hours of coding and writing final project, I realized that maybe it is related to the homework. Yes, the homework. The massive workload and tailored problem sets might be the key to learning. It is your knowledge only when you can actively create something with it.

The issue here is that I find it much more productive and efficient when I try to write down what I learned. This has been game-changing. I’m guessing maybe that comes from the power of Feynman Techniques: you only learn something when you can clearly explain, articulate, and teach someone who doesn’t know the material.

Hopefully that will lead to a more fulfilling experience of preparing the exam, and I will pass the prelim after this series finished!