When I arrived in Belgium about two months ago, I scarcely could have imagined the tumultuous events that have since transpired – the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have cast a spell over the entire world, and it has certainly been an interesting and highly unusual time to be living abroad.

I’m pleased to report that my European adventure has thus far been a very positive one – about which I will hopefully remember to write more later. It has been possible for me to continue work on my Ph.D. research and another project at the von Karman Institute from the comfort of my tiny cottage in Rhode-Saint-Genèse and progress has been pretty good, all things considered.

In particular, I was proud to present my preliminary Ph.D. examination a few weeks ago. In my department, the prelim exam is essentially the penultimate hurdle that students must cross before they can earn their doctoral degree. The idea is to present the concept which will form the core of your doctoral research and your eventual dissertation – you present a comprehensive review of literature on your topic of choice, and outline what you intend to do and how it will be different and worthwhile from research which has come before. Then, your doctoral committee (3-5 professors) can grill you on your work (or, frankly, on anything else) before they decide whether or not you have done enough to pass into the final stages of the Ph.D.

My presentation focused on the high-fidelity computations which my advisor and I have done on the topic of high-speed boundary layer transition in conventional hypersonic wind tunnels (a mouthful, I know). I enjoyed the opportunity to collect everything that I’ve learned in the last 2.5 years of working on this project and present it to my committee, my labmates, and the surprising number of friends and acquaintances who tuned into the online presentation. After a fairly thorough Q & A session in which my committee members offered some very useful feedback and suggestions, I’m delighted to say that I passed. Now my task is to complete the research I outlined and finish writing my dissertation; hopefully, next year I will hopefully be able to defend it in front of my committee, instead of in front of a webcam from 4000 miles away.

Categories: Grad School


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