In-Person Interviews

  1. This should go without saying, but look nice. This is an occasion to buy a suit for, although programs are loosening up a bit and you will probably be OK with some nice slacks and a very good shirt. For example, stay away from knit, unless you have an awesome sweater vest or something. I hear sweater vests ingratiate you to professors, as do elbow patches. Ha… I hope my professors don’t read this :)
  2. Have a bunch of nice copies of your CV with you. You might get punted from professor to professor to grad student to goodness knows who. And not all of them will have your CV on hand. In fact, it’s good to get one of those nice leather folders that has a pocket, a pad of paper, a pen holder, and sometimes even a calculator – ooh! Fancy!
  3. Don’t carry a backpack around, I don’t care if you did it in college – we all did, but this is an interview. Carry something nice – an attache or just a nice, plain, dark shoulder bag. Or just your folder.
  4. Do not make a poor judgment call. Just don’t. If there’s any doubt about whether doing something would betray poor judgment, STOP! This includes, but is not limited to: sleeping with other applicants, grad students, your potential advisor. Telling people lots of creepy personal information. Being really obnoxiously demanding of people who are being generous with their time. Getting drunk. Do not, by any means, let the grad students get you drunk. Or, hell, the professors, for that matter. I know it sounds fun. Just don’t let anyone get you drunk (or high, or whatever). It’s a trick, I swear. I repeat: IT IS A TRICK. (You can have a couple of drinks, as long as you know you can handle it). Basically, do not do anything that makes you look unstable, immature, lacking in common decency, or outright crazy. I have seen all of these things happen. This information will spread around the department like wildfire. Everyone will know in a matter of minutes. Your potential advisor WILL hear about it, and it WILL be your downfall. You will not get accepted. Do not. Even. Think about it.
  5. Unlike phone interviews, notes are not so great to have at this point. They’re distracting, and it makes you look like you don’t know the program very well. Use the plane ride, car ride, night before in the hotel, morning of – any spare time to memorize a few key words that will jog your memory as to what you want to ask and what you want to answer.
  6. The most important thing to remember is that, if you aren’t a good fit for the program, the program’s probably not a good fit for you. If you are uncomfortable at the interview, if you don’t understand what anyone is talking about, if your potential advisor tries to trip you up or make you look bad, this is a sign that it’s not the right school for you. You will know which schools are “right.” You’ll feel comfortable. You’ll be able to laugh at everyone’s jokes because you won’t be mentally throwing up. You’ll know how to answer questions because they’ll study topics you’re familiar with. Your potential advisor will be a nice person who does his or her best to make you feel relaxed and optimistic about the program.
  7. They may ask tough questions. On one of my interviews, my potential advisor talked about how great my current job sounded, and wondered why the hell I would want to quit and go to grad school. It really threw me off, because my real answer at that very moment would have been “Oh god, you don’t know the half of it, my job is terrible right now and this is currently my only way out!” No… wrong answer. I told her it was a good question, then took a moment to think about the real, logical answers why I’d want to go to grad school. Closer mentorship. More involvement in data analysis and interpretation. More opportunities for theoretical, rather than just practical learning. There were better answers, and I just gave myself a moment to find them. The point is, anticipate that there may be tough questions, just keep your cool, come up with the best, most succinct answer you can, and move on.
  8. General rules of politeness apply. Shake hands firmly, look people in the eye. Don’t just act, but be just as excited to meet the department secretary as you are to meet the lead scientist in your field of research. Say “It’s nice to meet you” and “It was nice to meet you” and “I would love to meet her!” Don’t call professors by their first names unless they offer, and maybe not even then (use your judgment). You may be tired, but act enthusiastic and cheerful. Do not be a silent, unenthusiastic, uninterested, uninteresting applicant. We will wonder just what it is that you’re hiding (e.g. lack of knowledge, lack of personality)
  9. Wear layers. Even if it’s hot out, wear light layers. This is so the massive amounts of sweat you will be secreting don’t show as obviously. Just a practical suggestion.
Published on July 8, 2010 at 8:55 pm  Comments Off  
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