How to approach biology and biomedical graduate school interviews

biology biomedicine graduate admissions interview prep
By Ryan E.

The graduate school application process is exhausting. Tailoring multiple applications for each school is a daunting task. A sigh of relief finally arrives when invitations to interview for graduate programs arrive. However, as part of the application process, interviews carry a lot of weight, and most students don’t get a blueprint for what to expect and how to best prepare. Knowing what lays ahead in the interview process allows you to relax and sit in the excitement of starting a new chapter in your academic career.

Interview expectations from field to field differ, but this is how I best prepared for applications to biology and biomedical graduate programs. 

Be prepared to talk about your previous research experiences. 

Graduate programs in the biological sciences will spend a lot of time evaluating your letters of recommendation and prior research experience ahead of interviews. You will likely be asked about these experiences and how they informed your decision to go to grad school. 

To practice for this part of the interview, I prepared an “elevator” speech of my previous research experiences. This entailed framing a research question, explaining what approaches I used to answer it, summarizing the results of these findings, and what I plan to do next. To prepare for unanticipated questions, I also read review articles in my field and a couple papers that provided the background and rationale for my project. The more comfortable you are with your own work, the more engaging and helpful your conversations with interviewers will be.  

Do your research on your interviewers and the program to come up with questions ahead of time. 


Towards the end of interviews, you will often be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. This is an opportunity to really get to know them or their research, and voice your interest in the program. Often, graduate programs will not let you know who you’re interviewing with until 24-48 hours ahead of interviews. This is for a specific reason: they don’t want you to spend an exhaustive amount of time reading about the research of each individual interviewer. However, it is helpful to jot down basics about what their lab works on to ask big-picture, overarching questions that can drive conversation and open-ended discussion. 

This is also an opportunity to convince your interviewer that you have done your research on the program and are seriously considering joining for graduate school. You can reference specific labs that interest you, courses you’re interested in taking, or training opportunities that are unique to the program. Interviewers are more likely to advocate for you when they can tell that you are passionate about joining. 

Attend as many prospective student events as possible! 


Attending as many student events as possible will give you a sense of how life is like outside of school and let graduate students get to know you. If there are any important factors guiding your decision on whether to move somewhere for grad school, now is the time to ask them! Prepare by drafting questions on topics that are important to you such as housing, life outside of campus, access to nature, etc.

Finally, relax and be yourself!


Most graduate programs in biology will only interview students whose applications were already impressive, so the hard part is over. During the interview, you are evaluating them as much as they are evaluating you. It’s important for you to go somewhere you feel yourself and can comfortably call home!

Ryan completed her undergraduate studies at Cornell University in Cellular and Molecular Biology. She is currently pursuing her PhD thesis research at MIT, where her work is focused on understanding how proliferating cancer cells reprogram metabolism to maintain the metabolic requirements for rapid cell growth and division.


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