In the previous post , I mentioned some aspects to take into consideration when you start looking for, narrowing down and applying to grad school. I’m not sure how similar is this process in your country (if you’re not form the US) to the process in the States (where I went to school), but if you want to share info on how it is in your country, please drop a line in the comment section, or if you have a blog, feel free to do trackback (if you’re on wordpress).
Anyways, so say that you’ve completed the application process, you asked for really kick-butt letters of recommendation, you’ve gone online and submitted everything you need, asked for transfers at school, taken the GRE … in other words, everything you needed do is done, and all there is now is to hope (and pray if you feel so inclined .. I did .. every-single-day) in order for all the documents, information, forms, you name it, to reach the grad school(s) of your dreams.
The waiting period starts.
Depending on when you apply (usually the earlier you do the sonner the offers for interview or even acceptance start to come) you may get a response within a few days (like for the school I went to, which invited me for an interview within 14 days or so of getting my complete app. packet) or my other option, a lovely state school in which I did a summer internship (the recruiting officer called me at home, and talked to my mom and my (then) boyfriend). Other schools might take their time. And yet others may not reply until you think the time is up (I had this friend who went to an Ivy League school and she got the call about 2 weeks after the due date for answering was past … the school invited her for an interview and didn’t give an answer (positive or negative) until the second week of May of that year ….. she’d already replied to another school to which she had to go through the process of telling them she’d been accepted at her dream school and was not going after all to her 1st response school … those details are unknown to me, but this DOES happen more ofter than you think). So, usually the sooner you send in all your materials, the better (in my opinion) the chances of being called for an interview. Here are a few things to take into account:
- Be courteous at all times. You may think some “low-level” secretary is contacting you, when in fact the recruiting officers are very likely to first get in touch with you, then “pass” you on to the personnel in charge of making hotel and transportation arrangements. That said, be nice and courteous to every single person you come in contact with, say your good mornings, thanks, etc … be patient and polite above all. This will earn you cookie points, and might even help you get noticed form the rest of the crowd.
- You might need to pay for a few things beforehand (I bought my ticket and other transport thingies) … so KEEP ALL the receipts (and make sure there’s enough money left in your credit card). While I was told some things would not be refunded, in the end I was refunded for everything, from the plane ticket, to the shuttle service, meals, etc … Hotel arrangements were made by the grad school, thus my pennies were not spent there. Make sure to keep all your receipts, whether in hard copies, or electronically.
- Be sure to read beforehand and be well versed about your past research experiences. I did 2 summer internships prior to starting in grad school. I thought I remembered everything, since I was only 21 at the time and I thought my mind would not fail like those of “ancient” grad students …. thank goodness I read abstracts and other materials to freshen up my head …. the interviewers will more than likely ask you about your prior research experience(s) .. thus you earn points if you can intelligently and succinctly talk about previous projects, accomplishments, experiences. If you are interviewing with a collegue of one of your (soon to be former) mentor(s) be sure to acknowledge that opportunity by being as ready as you can. All these things can make a small but tangible difference, and might help you to get a position in the school/department of your dreams.
- Do not bad mouth people … especially PI’s …. you never know who or how others get to know and interact with each other, so badmouthing is a definite no-no. This is not grade school, this is a step forward into adulthood. Having that sort of attitude (even if the PI or personnel at the previous school are a-holes) will take points off quickly. Remember that above all, the results from the interview will impact whether you get an offer from just your safety school, or from your safety school AND your dream school.
- Do your research in terms of getting to know your interviewers. This is something I didn’t do. I didn’t know you could ask who would be interviewing you so you could get that info beforehand and have ammo to ask potential PI’s what their projects or interests were …. This is particularly important if you are interviewing with someone who is very high profile in your field(s) of interest and has open positions for grad students. Luckily I have a bit of charm, so I quicky picked up on what the group of students in my interview section was dicussing about the interviewers and I phrased my questions so that it would not appear as if I was completely ignorant about what their research was about (though I was).
- Improvise cleverly … this relates to the previous point. Sometimes your interview might be in the office of a particular faculty person, or maybe it’s drinking coffee at a cafe ….. if it’s the first case, then quickly glance around the office or lab space, pick up a couple of words from the titles and phrase your questions in a manner that the (potential) PI can describe his/her work. This may help you stand out from the rest of the interviewees.
- Do not get drunk or high … ’nuff said.
- Select your clothes carefully and make sure everything is clean. The worst thing is when someone stinks, even if they are nice, looking and beign clean adds an extra level of respect. And it’s easy to have stinky clothes without even noticing it (when you live in a dorm with a roomate who cooks all sorts of stinky food, or forgets to take out last week’s pizza and now everything smells like last years yogurt … ewwww). So do your homework, do your laundry, get some febreeze, and iron things if needed prior to the interview. If you know you sweat extra hard when you’re nervious, maybe a super strength deodorant can help, or an extra pair of socks. For us ladies, you know that mother nature is crazy, so plan accordingly even if you had your monthly visit a week ago.
- Keep all the necessary documents (addresses, reservations, phone numbers, contact info) in a separate folder or place and carry it with you everywhere you go. Even if your luggage was lost by some incompetent idiot, having those documents at hand will save you some of the grief, a lot of time (especially if this is one of the first times your traveling all alone) and may show your interviewers that you are genuinly interested in them, and you are respectful of their time. It shows you are taking things seriously by keeping a close eye on those types of documents.
- Arrange for extra careful people to take good notes if you need to take several days off from school to go to the interview(s).
- Remember to talk to your professors and instructors to let them know when you’ll be out. Wouldn’t it be terrible if you had to go through wayyy too many hoops because you forgot to tell them in advance so they knew you weren’t just blowing off the class, or goofing off.
- Turn your cell phone off. Not only will the beeps or “pimp-y” notes will throw you off, but it may be percieved by your interviewer as you not being sufficiently interested (and respectful) to turn off all of the outside noise and pay attention to them, who could very well impact your future in more than one way.
- Carry enough money to pay for things like food, or cover tips, etc …. you never know when ATMs will be all crazy and without service, so be prepared accordingly.
Like I mentioned earlier, these are just some of the aspects to consider while preparing and going for the interview(s) at your potential grad school. Be confident, be careful, be kind and above all …. be respectful. I’m sure you will do great.
Next up are some things to take into consideration once you’ve got offers and once it’s time to move. The final part will be on what to expect on your first weeks and some bits of wisdom I acquired through the years.