(Or, some thoughts on science and communication)
I’ve finished my first year of PhD studies! Upcoming adventures for Grad Year 2 include a thesis committee meeting, new TA responsibilities, work on another Review, comprehensive exams, and more opportunities to participate in science communication! I’ve wanted to blog about my graduate application process for awhile. Here are some of my thoughts about the interview process (from an introvert perspective). Feel free to discuss/post comments below!
As evidenced from the title, I am an introvert (Myers-Briggs type consistently INTJ: The Scientist/Architect*). I’m absolutely content to enjoy a quiet supper and good book** after returning home from the lab. Although I look forward to research retreats, conferences, and scientific workshops; networking can be draining. When I received the schedule for my first graduate school interview, I described the event as an “introvert’s nightmare”. In actuality, my interview process was an amazing experience. I had the chance to visit amazing laboratory facilities, meet leading researchers, and explore new cities. While these events vary by university, I was typically interviewed by 10-20 researchers, graduate students, or post-doctoral fellows during each visit. Here are some tips for surviving graduate school interviews.***
- Be prepared and be yourself: The quality (not the quantity) of your conversation will impress research faculty. Be prepared to clearly and concisely state why you are interested in program X, the research in X lab, and why you will make a strong addition to X department. Be familiar with the research and publications of the labs you visit and be prepared to share what you would be interested to study during graduate school. Interviewers often ask about previous lab experience. Practice short (30 second) and longer (2 minute) elevator pitches of your undergraduate research projects. Remember to describe why your research matters and how these experiences prepared you for X research. Also, be prepared to discuss your future career plans (although it’s ok to be unsure!). But you also need to…
- Ask questions: Ask (intelligent questions) about their research!! Learn about course and teaching requirements, publication and funding opportunities, program length, and your responsibilities. If you are meeting with a student ask what they like the best and what they dislike the most about the lab/graduate program.
- Communication doesn’t always involve talking: Dress and demeanor (friendly, professional, and enthusiastic) also communicate interest in graduate research. Don’t dress in jeans and sneakers, but there is usually no need to wear a suit and tie–think business casual. Wear comfortable shoes (avoid heels) to walk around campus. I suggest close-toed shoes if you intend to visit lab spaces. In addition, check the weather ahead of time in case you need an umbrella or coat.
- Introverts, it’s ok to take a break: Interview days are often packed with campus tours, social events, lab talks, and more! Participate in the events, but also look for spaces to decompress. Is there time before interviews to walk around the campus? Is there a mid-day break? If so, it is ok to take the opportunity to re-charge and re-focus before returning to the interview process. Lastly…
- Don’t Stress! The fact that you were offered an interview is a good sign! Remember, you are also interviewing the university. Is this program a good fit for you? Plan to get a good night of sleep before the interview/s and don’t overanalyze conversations afterwards. Stay in the moment and enjoy the journey.
Are any of you preparing for interviews this fall? Happy adventures everyone!
*Sometimes referred to as the Mastermind personality 😉 What’s your type? https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test
** currently reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (and listening to Lin-Manuel’s glorious musical!) –thanks Ray!
***based on my experience interviewing at Microbiology programs in North America