Reflections on our Oral Exams
I’ve been thinking about our oral exams quite a bit since I came here. Some of us on the faculty are proposing that we switch from the current system to more of a portfolio-based defense. UCLA has a good model for this, but the Graduate School said no the last time we proposed it.
It seems strange to me that the students who are most engaged in the program seem to stress so much about them, while the minority who really should have prepared much more do not seem to take it seriously. These are the ones who are bowling for a retake. On the other hand, I wish there was a way that we could pass some students with distinction.
I’ve noticed that more and more better-prepared students are studying together in groups. I think it greatly helps to get criticism, feedback, and build confidence. My only fear is that the group members tend to resemble each other somewhat. Some almost seem to match each other word for word at times, which is very disconcerting. I really can’t strongly enough encourage students to be present themselves as the unique future professionals that you really are, especially on the first question. You should mention the basics, but I really encourage you to briefly expound on your particular passions and philosophies. I would hope that after two years in our graduate program that you have some ideas of things you like and don’t like about the profession. This first question seems to me like the perfect time to start describing your philosophy. What would you look for in an employer? How would you change your library/ archive/ information center once hired? What are your library dreams? I get excited when I hear mention of any non-assigned LIS reading that influenced you.
I also have one tip that I often share with my advisees who ask: Do not read the questions (or sub-questions) aloud! You have only around 8 to 10 minutes to answer each one. Reading the questions makes it seem somewhat as if you have not truly prepared. The last tip is to not try to memorize everything. Cover details, use proper LIS terms (correctly), but you don’t want to seem as if reading from a script. Trust me, you don’t want to do that in an interview either.
These are only my personal opinions, but I hope are of some help. (back to grading...)