Interview weekend for prospective science grad students -- Twitter advice

It is Interview Weekend for my department, where prospective graduate students are coming to be interviewed in an all-day battering of the same questions over and over again. How do you navigate interview weekend? What are people going to ask? How do you prepare?

Ideally, your current undergraduate advisor and lab members will help you prepare to some extent. But not everyone is as privileged to have a lab or even accessible advisors. So, if you have found this post and are a prospective graduate student going into interview weekend, here is some advice from the folks of Science Twitter.

Standard questions you may be asked and should have answers for

Clearly, the standard interview questions will be about you and what your abilities are. Don't fall victim to some of the typical things that trip up anyone, like repetitive or redundant phrasing or not concise wording of what you've accomplished up to now. Remember to keep things only a couple minutes long when you're explaining to someone what you do -- you don't have all day when you're sitting in a room or at a table with potential advisors. If you can tell your friend or parent what you've done on a project or as an undergraduate that has prepared you for graduate school in about 2 minutes, you're doing really well for preparing for interview weekend.

Asking questions to your advisor and others in the program is also really important

The interview weekend process is both about you trying to get into graduate school but also about the program and the people in that program trying to impress you enough to attract you to their program. Obviously you can only pick one school, so first impressions are really key from your advisors and the people who are in that program.

The key points here are asking about the dynamics within the department -- advisor-student relationships, are certain PIs more hands-on or more hands-off? What do you need as a trainee? What do you want to learn and how is that going to be achieved? Do you get along with your prospective advisor's personality? How about your prospective lab mates?

These are the people you will be shoulder-to-shoulder with for the next ~5 years. As some people have said:

Beyond graduate school: have you done enough research to know graduate school is truly for you?

The statistics aren't good for people going into research fields that are extremely competitive and already saturated with post-PhDs applying for +200 jobs a year. What does a PhD add to your future career or life goals? Are you only looking at professorship or a life in research? Have you looked into other positions that PhDs who don't go into research or academia hold? Would those interest you?

On top of that, does the program you are applying to support training graduate students towards non-academia jobs? How? What's the program placement rate of graduates who end up becoming academic faculty? Where did PhD graduates post-doc? Where did the PhDs who went non-academic career paths place? Was there training within the program that led to either of those paths or was that something that could have occurred at any program?

The area: is it for you?

All institutes are different. What sort of things do you need to survive? Proximity to a city? Distance from a city? Cost of living versus your funding -- how much are you willing to spend on a place versus how long do you want to commute? Roommates? Family? All things to consider -- and don't be shy about asking. I needed to know cost-of-living and average rent prices because I knew my funding was going to be bare minimum.

And really remember: the ENTIRE weekend is the interview

For many undergraduates and post-bacc interviewees, this may be the first very-involved interview process you have been to. Just remember all eyes and ears are on you, so be professional.

And sometimes (and far more often than you may think), silence is the best route. Be engaging, but know that this is a two-way interview... if you're talking the entire time, how are you suppose to get information about the program? Also, vice versa -- if someone is talking the entire time, they may not be answering your questions that you need answered.

And as the wise Dr. Bryan Williams Jones once said (in an unrelated tweet), don't forget rule #1 in social situations:

If you have more advice about interview weekend for graduates, please leave a comment below!

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