How I’m Preparing for Graduate School Interviews

Hi, friends! I mentioned in a previous post that I have been invited for interview weekends at a couple of the graduate schools I applied to! I am so excited! Graduate school interviews usually span an entire weekend, because they include the interview itself, information sessions about the program, a formal dinner with faculty members and current graduate students, and a campus tour. It’s not only an interview for the admissions committee to learn more about their applicants, but a recruitment tool to convince students to accept their admission offer. Interviews are a critical part of the graduate school application process, so I spent this past weekend preparing for my graduate school interviews. Here’s what I did:

How I'm Preparing for Graduate School Interviews

Buying the right clothes

As a Florida girl, I don’t have much experience with winter weather, but that’s about to change during my graduate school interviews. I will be interviewing at a couple of universities up north in February, when it’s surprisingly still pretty cold by Florida standards (around 30-40 degrees F). I don’t have the appropriate clothes for this weather, so I need to find clothes not only for the interview, but to help me deal with the cold, too. My choice of clothing is important because I need to look clean and professional (appearance is important for this kind of thing!) for the interview while also keeping warm.

I ended up buying two really pretty and warm coats, along with some long sleeved shirts, and a comfortable pair of snow boots.

My mom helped me plan my outfits based on the interview weekend itinerary. Here’s what we came up with:

  • An actual interview outfit: a casual professional look, complete with a black blazer, slacks, a blouse, and comfortable not too high heels.
  • A dinner outfit: interview weekends often involve a fancy dinner with current graduate students. I plan to wear something a little more casual than I will wear for my interview, like a nice sweater, black jeans, and boots.
  • A campus tour outfit: we will be doing a lot of walking outside in the cold, especially during the campus tour. I plan to wear a warm jacket, long sleeved t-shirt, and comfortable walking shoes.

Deciding what to wear on an interview trip is very important. You have to wear comfortable, professional, and warm clothing that’ll make you look and feel sharp for your interview.

 

Reading up on my previous research

Because the graduate programs I am applying to are heavily research based, I know I will be asked during my graduate school interviews about the research I have conducted throughout my undergraduate career. This is a key question because the main purpose of the interview is to confirm that prospective students can clearly explain their research and answer questions about it. For that reason, it is a bad sign if interviewees cannot clearly communicate key details about their research. I want to review my previous research to ensure that I will be able to explain it well.

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I have spent almost three years working on one project, so I am familiar with that one. However, I worked on a different project this past summer. I haven’t touched that project since then, so it’s likely I’ve forgotten some minor details about it. I want to review my old notes and my PowerPoint presentation to help me remember these details. This will prepare me to clearly explain my research and to answer any questions about it that the interviewers might ask me, because I know they will ask those questions.

 

Reading up on the faculty members

As an interviewee, it’s important to know which faculty members will be interviewing you because it’s likely you will be working in one of their labs in a few months! These faculty members have lab websites, that can be easily found under the department’s “faculty” or “research” page. Looking at these lab websites will help you get a better sense of the dynamic in the lab and the research that’s going on in it. You can also find their recent publications or news.

I have looked at the websites of professors whose research interests me. Knowing the background of these faculty members will help me decide who I want to work with when I am (hopefully!) admitted. Knowing about your interviewer’s research will also be a great conversation starter, since professors love talking about their research. In any event, it’s a good idea to be familiar with your interviewers and with professors in the program.

 

Rehearsing answers to standard graduate school interviews questions

With just a quick Google search, you can find many standard graduate school interviews questions. I have looked at these questions and rehearsed my answers. This way, I will be prepared when they ask me these typical interview questions and (hopefully) won’t crack under the pressure of the interview environment. Here are examples of some common questions interviewers might ask:

  • Tell me about your research. (We talked about this and are prepared, now that we’ve looked over our notes from our projects).
  • Describe your greatest accomplishment.
  • What is your field of interest? Why are you interested in it?
  • Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it. What would you do differently? Why?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • Where else have you applied?
  • What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
  • Why do you think you would be a good fit for our program? (The more specific your answer to this question, the better, so it might require additional research into the program.)
  • Do you have any additional questions for me? (I’ll go deeper about this in the next section of this post!)
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It’s easy to be anxious and forget simple things while you’re under the pressure of being interviewed. Rehearsing your answers to these common questions in advance will make it easier for you to remember them when it’s interview time.

 

Preparing questions to ask the interviewers

In the last section, I mentioned that the interviewers might ask, “Do you have any additional questions?” I’ve read that the only way to get this question wrong is to have no questions! Especially as scientists, we are supposed to be inquisitive. After looking online and finding some great articles on good questions to ask your graduate school interviewer, I have compiled a list of questions to ask during my graduate school interviews. For example, I want to ask:

  • Where can I find out more about scholarships and fellowships?
  • Will there be opportunities to TA? (Most students want to get out of having to TA, but I actually want to do it! This is important to me because I have always loved teaching. I hope these programs will give me a chance to TA!)
  • What is your mentorship style like? Are you more hands-on or hands-off?
  • How is the dissertation process structured?

Coming prepared with questions shows the interviewers that you are interested in the program. For that reason, I’ll keep these questions in mind for when they ask me if I have any questions.

 

Visiting schools for interviews is an important part of the graduate school application process. I have prepared for my upcoming graduate school interviews by buying the professional and warm clothes, brushing up on my previous research, reading up on faculty members whose research I am interested in, rehearsing standard interview questions, and preparing questions to ask the interviewers. I know that my interview experience will go much more smoothly now that I am prepared. Let’s go and conquer these interviews!