So you’ve received an email inviting you for an MD/PhD interview. First of all – congratulations! You are one step closer to becoming a physician scientist.
On the interview trail, you will have the opportunity to meet some of the nation’s brightest minds – students, professors, clinicians and directors. You may feel a bit anxious or intimidated at first. However, do not worry - soon you will realize that your MD/PhD interviews are potentially the most fun part of the entire application experience. Here are three tips to make the most of your meetings:
1. Talk about what’s changed
Most of your interviewers are excited to meet new students and want to learn more about them. Many will have already read your application essays and activities sections. Do not regurgitate your application when they ask you questions; instead, try to share something new.
Talk about how your motivations and interests have changed in the months since you submitted your application. Maybe you came across a cool new article on the gut-brain connection, and now want to rotate in a lab that studies enteric neuroscience. Perhaps you realized that volunteer experience in middle school you forgot about was actually instrumental to your physician scientist ambitions. Share these new details as much as you can. If possible, try to discuss different topics with each interviewer. When they meet later to discuss your candidacy, they will have a full picture of what you bring to the table.
2. Know How to Present Your Research – At Multiple Levels
On interview day, you will meet interviewers from all backgrounds. Many will be professors from a completely different field than your own, while some may know your research better than you! Depending on your interviewer, you will need to discuss your research at different depths, as you deem appropriate. While you should never script your research talk word by word, you should practice giving presentations in two different contexts:
- The Elevator Pitch: Know how to talk about your research without any jargon for one-to-two minutes max. Imagine you are explaining your research to a friend, family member, or stranger on the internet.
- The Chalk Talk: This is the more technical version and longer. This is also the talk you should give when your interviewer asks, “Can you tell me a bit about your research?” Prepare to speak for 10-20 minutes on all aspects of your research, while still defining jargon in terms a layperson will understand. To prepare, imagine you are presenting in a research conference or to fellow lab members. The only difference is that most of the time, you will not have the chance to draw any graphs or tables – everything is verbal.
After practicing both talks enough times, in practice and interviews, you will slowly but surely learn to make flexible “hybrid” speeches. In real MD/PhD interviews, you will need to be as flexible as possible, as your interviewer may decide to shift topics from your research to something else. Don’t take it personally! Your interviews are often time-restricted, and your interviewers want to get to know you beyond your research.
3. Catch up on recent advances in science
The MD/PhD interview is often quite different from the standard MD interview, in that the interviewer will often spend significant time discussing their own research. By scanning online journals such as Nature or The New England Journal of Medicine, you will be able to connect with interviewers and their research, even if you have a different background. You will also show that you are open to engaging and collaborating with investigators across disciplines.
Bonus tip: use your undergraduate professors to your advantage!
Prepping for your interview does not have to wait until you receive your first invite. If you are an undergraduate student looking into the medical or physician scientist path, make an appointment with your local professors’ office hours! Looking back after completing a total of twelve MD/PhD program interviews, I can now safely say that the best interview preparation I could have ever done was interacting with my undergraduate professors.
Most professors, and especially lecturers, love to talk about their research! Meeting them for a chat will give you a friendly environment to practice asking questions about professors’ research in different fields, discussing motivations for becoming a researcher and physician scientist, and elaborating on your own research ambitions. Along the way, this will give you the opportunity to work on the previous three tips.
With a little bit of practice, you will set yourself up for a fantastic experience on interview day. You will be able to make connections, adjust your conversations, and think critically in real time, toe-to-toe with your interviewer. This is a skill which will benefit you not only in interviews, but also for the rest of your career!
Cambridge Coaching has the most qualified team of medical school writing coaches available anywhere. Our team is composed of MD, MD-PhDs, and professional writers because we understand that the best coach is going to help you produce a dazzling AMCAS essay, as well as a suite of supplementary materials that provides a persuasive, integrated argument for why you belong in medical school.
The challenge of the medical school application process isn’t just due to the workload, either. It has to do with the sheer competitiveness of the system. You can’t take anything for granted; every aspect of your application has to be solid - your GPA, your MCAT, your recommendations, your interviews, your activities, and your personal statement. That’s why we go beyond the usual options and offer coaching that covers the entire application, not just your personal statement. While we are happy to work with clients on a single essay or drafts, we find that we achieve the best results with clients who work with us throughout their application process - from the MCAT through to the admissions deadlines.
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