ME Qualification Exam Notes

I completed my Qualification Exam for Mechanical Engineering in May 2022. The paper I covered was “Stabilizing Novel Objects by Learning to Predict Tactile Slip” by Veiga et al. and my exam was administered by Prof. Hsiao-Wecksler and Prof. Gazzola. I wanted to leave some notes that might help future examinees. This is based on my experience and how my advisor told me to prepare.

  • Go beyond the paper – Of course, make sure you know the paper and all the details very well, but you must know more than just what is said in the paper.
    • Know details about the techniques mentioned in the paper. For example, I was asked to explain the math behind support vector machines (SVM) that was just briefly touched on in the paper.
    • Know the papers that it is based on. I reviewed all the papers in the reference section and selected four that I thought were the most important and spent a bit of time reviewing them and discussing them in my presentation. Be able to talk about where your paper sits in the timeline of related research.
    • Don’t just regurgitate the details of the paper – critique, comment and add depth.
      • Do you interpret the results differently?
      • Do you see a problem with their methodology? How would you improve it?
      • What would you do differently?
  • Add an brief self-introduction – especially if you have not interacted with the professors much. Feel free to send it along early.
  • Share your slides with the professors. You might not be done until the last minute, but that is probably fine. I shared mine about 10 minutes before my exam when one of the professors asked for them. I didn’t share my back up slides as I didn’t want to give them any ideas of what to ask me about…
  • Have back up slides in case you you need to talk about a subject you are not super good at. In my above example of being asked about the SVM, I was saved by a back up slide about the SVM equations that helped me remember some of the details.
  • I was told that it was unlikely that the professors will have read the paper and while this seemed like the case, they were able to quickly cut to the heart of the paper. Don’t underestimate an experienced professor’s ability to quickly parse a paper.
  • You have some control over what is talked about. You obviously can’t skip important topics, but don’t bring up issues unless you are prepared to discuss them. My paper has an odd equation in it. I think it is typo, but I am not 100% sure. I had to discuss the equation, but I didn’t mention what I thought was an error and it never came up.
  • Additional notes about how it is conducted:
    • My exam actually lasted 75 minutes instead of 60.
    • I took my exam Friday afternoon, Monday was a holiday and I got the results from my professor Tuesday afternoon.
    • One of the professors is the ‘chair.’ I don’t think it really affects you though.
    • They are not allowed to discuss results with you. It will go back through the chain of people and the results – including comments and a letter from the Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Research will be sent to your advisor.
    • They can and will interrupt you with questions. I was told this was to challenge me, but I had already assumed that would be the case.
  • I did mine via Zoom which was required. I think this was beneficial as I could relax (I was in my advisor’s office) and just focus on my slides. I could also easily use presenter view in PowerPoint and all the other features to make life easier.

Qualification Slides

Updated 6/12/2022