Gravity's Rainbow

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Grad School Recruitment Weekend


I heard back from one of the grad schools I applied to – I made it through the first round and they want me to come interview! Interview isn’t quite the right word – it’s four days of socializing and meetings under a microscope benignly termed “recruitment weekend.”

I’m somewhat terrified. I know as an intervert it’s going to be exhausting for me. I’m going to have dinner with the department while still drugged (and stupid) from my flight. But I’m also really, really excited. Grad school interviews (at least in my field) are two directional. I’ll have a much better feel for the program and professors after the interview. Plus, I’ll get to meet and talk science with lots of awesome people – even if I don’t end up at a particular school, I’ll get to know more people in my field, which will be handy when I run into problems and need advice or want to collaborate.

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  1. Ooh, good luck! My first grad school interview ever was one of these weekends, and I kinda made an ass of myself. Of course, I was totally unprepared, too–didn’t even have a good handle on what kind of science I wanted to do at that point.

    • Any advice for NOT making an ass of myself?

      • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Ever.

        If you can, research departmental faculty/grad students and their interests so you can at least nod knowingly or ask a couple of relevant questions in your interviews. If you can show that your interest extended far enough for you to know the department’s overall research picture and faculty and grad student involvement, that will help you (a) make a good impression and (b) have something to talk about when you’re running out of ideas for being social. Also have prepared your “elevator bites,” your quick rundown of what you want to do–just general enough, not too specific–so that you can address that right away without stumbling. Do a lot of listening, try to ask a lot of questions, don’t overtalk people.

        You’ll be fine. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s information gathering of an important kind for you.

      • Well, from what I can tell you’re in much better shape than I was. But, in the vein of Not Doing What I Did:
        (1) Do some advance research on the profs you’ll meet with in person.
        (2) If possible, talk with your prospective advisor or advisors about specific projects you might do, down to individual experiments, methods, and training you might want to prepare. The more detail, the better.
        (3) Remember that everyone else in the group of candidates is just as stressed and awkward-feeling as you are. (I freaked out a bit when it turned out there was another candidate for the same lab.)
        (4) Never try to pretend you understand something someone has told you when you actually don’t. It’s much better to admit ignorance. Just thinking about the one occasion when I tried to bullshit someone mid-interview makes me want to hide under my desk to escape the awkward.
        (5) Go easy on the Japanese beer at the grad student social.

      • The “elevator bites” idea is great, Emily. And ditto the point that the interview is about information gathering for you. Even considering that I made an ass of myself on that one interview, I learned what to expect and what I wanted to know about a prospective grad school and advisor—and I did a lot better the next time round.

        I think you’re going to do great, and I think you’ll have a chance to do great at more interviews than this one.

  2. Yay! This is really exciting to hear! Funny thing, but I never did one of these things as an applicant, and my current place takes a purely recruiting approach (you’re already in, and we’re trying to convince you to come), so I’ve never even properly done one on the other side. What we do do, though, is a lot of fun, at least from my side of things as someone who goes to the dinner and helps to organize the party and the hikes and such, all the while trying to sell our school. I hope you have a great time!

    And FYI — everyone is jetlagged, tired, and sometimes even drugged at the department dinner the first night, so don’t worry about it.

  3. I think your mindset is totally right about recruitment weekend – you’ll definitely shine during your meetings with faculty, and your involvement with meetings should’ve given you plenty of experience by now. But really during most weekends I’ve been involved with, all one really has to do is come off as a normal person able to carry on a minimally scientific conversation. The valuable thing is to get a handle on who you think you’d like to work with (and 80% of the people in my program find that they surprise themselves). And the most important thing I got from my recruitment was a sense of who my future classmates, and colleagues, would be. I know everyone has different reasons for choosing which school they attend, but that’s what a difficult decision came down to – who I’d rather spend years of my life working with or befriending.

    Unfortunately, you’re right about the forced socialization being exhausting – be sure to give yourself some rest after the weekend’s done!

  4. That’s great!! Make sure you go to the interviews. I didn’t go to mine because I didn’t want to leave my students at that point in the semester, and what a mistake that was. If I took the opportunity to see the campuses and talk to the people there, I would have made a very different choice of my doctoral program.

    And don’t forget to share how it goes on your blog. 🙂

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