Congratulations! If you have been selected to interview at a Biomedical PhD program (e.g. Biology, Neuroscience, Biophysics) that means you were selected from a pile of hundreds of applicants. The program is willing to fly you in for interview weekend and take the time to show off its program and city. Let that act as a confidence booster, but you still have to survive interviews!
Interviewing at various PhD programs was one of my favorite memories of the PhD process, so buckle down for an overwhelming weekend filled with science-filled discussions, fun events, and meeting potentially life-long friends.
Although each graduate program has its own unique interview weekend for recruitment, I will briefly summarize the structure of the weekend, which takes place over 2-3 days.
Interview weekend breakdown
1. ~30-45 minute interviews with faculty members
On your application you provide a list of faculty members with whom you would like to interview, and the program tries its best to accommodate your choices. Usually, one or two of your interviewers will be faculty members who are on the admission’s committee. You won’t know who it is, but sometimes if you get a wildcard interview with a principal investigator (PI) who you did not choose, that could be why.
Interviews will roughly consist of talking about your research, hearing about the faculty member’s research, and a period for questions about the program/lab. Come prepared. Know your research material well, and look up the faculty member prior to the interview, so that you are somewhat familiar with his/her work.
2. Campus/Housing tours
Current graduate students will show you around the facilities, and student housing. During the lab tours, make sure to ask about core facilities (e.g. microscopy, behavior) if that will affect your PhD work. Depending on the city, housing could be a deal breaker, so make sure to pay attention and ask all of your questions (i.e. rent costs, housing availability, couple’s housing, % rent increases per year, how easy it is to switch apartments, etc.)
3. Faculty social events
There are usually two kinds of social events during interview weekend: events with a mix of faculty and students, and events with just students. Faculty social events are fun shift in power dynamic because eminent scientists who you look up to become completely accessible, and will often approach you to try to convince you to join the PhD program. You can also use this as a chance to talk with faculty members who you did not get a chance to interview with.
4. Graduate student social events
These are usually in the evening, and can range from karaoke to open bar events to house parties. Essentially, it’s a laid back opportunity for you to see how you mesh with the current graduate students, and to get the ‘real scoop’ on the graduate program. This is where you can ask the basic quality of life questions—what do grad students do for fun? Is there a supermarket nearby? Are you miserable? You get the idea.
5. ‘On the town’ events
PhD programs are long (~6.5 years), so you want to make sure you are in a city that you like—that is, when you have time to break away from the bench! Interview weekends usually try to showcase the city that they are in, either with day tours of different neighborhoods, or dinners at some of the best restaurants. Have fun, but also pay attention to the culture of the city—do you see yourself here for the next couple of years?
So now that you know what the interview process entails, how do you prepare to present your best self? For more tips, see “How to ace interview weekend for PhD Biomedical programs”
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