young student and professor in an interview discussing the work

Previously: The Admissions Committee Process

By Dr. Chloe N. Poston, Associate Director, The Leadership Alliance

Once you’ve applied to graduate programs, the next step for many programs will be an invitation to campus for an interview. Often these interviews will be a full day of meetings with professors, postdocs, and graduate students in the department. By using the tips below, you can impress the department and learn more about the program.

1. Do your research before you arrive. When you are invited to interview, try to get the names of the people who you will speak with during the interview. Then, learn as much as possible about each person’s research and career trajectory. This information will help you to have more meaningful conversations during the interview day. It will also demonstrate your interest in being a part of the department.

2. Dress appropriately. While most labs tend to have a casual dress code, you should still plan to dress as if you are attending an interview. A full suit is not required, but you should plan to dress business casual. Your safest bet is to go for dress-pants and a collared shirt. Remember to wear comfortable shoes as you will likely be walking a great deal around campus.

3. Come with a list of questions. The interview is a chance for you to learn about the department. You should have a list of questions about research groups, funding, and campus and department culture. Not only will you learn more about the place you may call home for the next 5-7 years, but your curiosity will also show interviewers that you are carefully considering your options and taking the process seriously.

4. Practice your responses. An easy way to get rid of nerves before an interview is to develop responses to common questions (2). For example, most people will ask you to tell them about yourself. This question is a great opportunity for you to tell your professional story. Your response should include your accomplishments, and describe why you are interested in pursuing a PhD in that specific department. While your response should not be rehearsed, you should know the key points you want to make. This technique can also be used to answer the question, “what are your research interests?” Providing polished answers to these questions can set you apart from other applicants.

5. Remain professional at all times. You may think that the interview begins when you sit in a room with professors and answer questions, but graduate school interviews begin the moment you come to campus. Everyone you meet is evaluating you in some capacity. This group includes the graduate students and postdocs you may meet over lunch or a mixer. If alcohol is served, limit yourself to one drink and focus instead on networking with people in the room. By leaving a positive impression on everyone you encounter on campus, you are more likely to have a favorable admissions decision.

Action Items

  1. Develop a list of questions.
  2. Practice your responses to common questions.
  3. Dress professionally and remain professional at all times.

Up Next: The Post-Interview Process