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The Interview: Great or Greatest?

Alright, you've done it! You've gotten though all the boring, probing, and possibly expensive paper work that it takes to get into gradschool. Not only that, but your paper-self is so sharp

 
poised, and snappily dressed that the school actually wants to see you, the man behind the curtain. This is terrific news!

If you're interested, here's the rundown of my own interview itinerary from UAB.

By the way, it's 100% Free!

Boy, are you in for the by far best part about applying to gradschool. You've never felt so important! Are you nervous? Do you want to make a good impression? Well, so does the university! Keep in mind that the interview is 50% them interviewing you and 50% you interviewing them, and they have a lot more money than you do.

For starters, the whole interview is totally paid for. Live far away? They'll buy you a plane ticket! Driving? They might even pay for your gas! You'll be taken out to nice restaurants, given a nice hotel room, and generally shown pretty much the red carpet treatment every day you're there. It costs you nothing, that is, except for your time, enthusiasm, and thoughtful consideration, which I'm sure you'll have in spades.

They're spending a lot of time, money, and energy on you, aren't they? What do you think the chances are that they won't extend you an invitation after all that?

Prepare Your Mind

Now, on the token of the university trying to make a good impression on you, you really ought to try to look past all the free fun you're getting as best you can and examine the program's facilities, faculty, benefits, and location because these are the important things for you when it comes to making your decision about the program. Depending on where you live, this may be the only chance you get to set foot on campus before you start classes sometime in August, so take it alllllllll in. Savor the flavor.

You'll probably get the chance to choose (more or less) the faculty members who interview you, so choose ones doing something you like ( and whom you've maybe emailed before). When I had  my interview with UAB, even though I got to request professors, most of the ones I requested were busy, so I got paired with faculty in similar fields as the ones I asked for. Even still, I was given a full itinerary long beforehand, so I had plenty of time to look up the faculty I sat down with. That way, I didn't have to go in blind, and I wasn't so nervous.


Interview Your Interviewers

Before you get to the interview, think about things you want to ask your interviewers. Come ready to fire from the hip and not only will you impress your interviewers, but you'll also be better informed by the time your time is up.

Remember what I said about 50/50? Well, don't slack on your 50! Ask tons of questions! You'll probably be interviewed mostly by professors, so ask them about what they do and how they do it--they'll love it--and just verbalize observations or curiosities you have along the way. It should be pretty natural since you're looking at a program doing things you're interested in anyway. They'll know how knowledgeable you are by what questions you ask them and what comments you make, so in a lot of situations, you can even set the pace (it's a lot easier than it sounds). They'll probably like you more if they feel like they just had a discussion and not a survey.


What will they ask me, though?

Alright, you big baby. Yes, you'll have to answer for a few things; for instance, "Why did you decide to attend graduate school?" or "What makes you interested in our program here at X University?" This is junk you probably already answered in your application essays, but do you're best to be honest. Honesty is going to be your greatest weapon here because they basically already know what you're going to say, and I'd wager they don't care much about it. It's like when you say "Hey, Bob, how's the family?" and Bob says "Just fine." But you can be a more interesting Bob by actually talking about how you found the information and what you were thinking about when you chose to apply. What kind of schools were you looking for?  What do you hope to learn in this program, and what do you want to learn from the interview? Like any starter, it's not the thing to dwell on. Don't waste time talking about which organelle best fits your personality or what dead physicist you'd rather have lunch with. Talk about the research and the program. You can even tell them about your scientific philosophy and how this is going to help you follow it. That's bound to be impressive!

Be Yourself

I know you're going to be nervous. Everyone is. But what you have to remember is that all you're there to do is show them who you are. You don't have to turn it into a theatrical performance, just act the way you are. Here it is as it was told to me: if a program doesn't want you for who you really are, then it isn't one for you and you would probably be miserable in it anyway. There are plenty of places out there that fit your personality, and you don't want to be stuck with one that doesn't. (That's probably good relationship advice, too). Besides, no one in all the world can say what all makes the judges choose one hopeful, well-qualified student over another, so don't be discouraged if you're not chosen. Don't worry; you'll find a good one. In the meantime, keep enjoying the free meals and travel that come with future interviews!

P.S.: If you've gotten this far, your chances are very good. So relax!
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