I had no idea what to expect when starting graduate school interviews! First, I had not thought too hard about interviews because I didn’t want to get my hopes up that I would even get any interviews. I took a non-traditional path and worked at health-focused start-ups in the Bay Area rather than working as a research assistant in a lab or something that more clearly led to a PhD in psychology; I was not sure whether this difference would help me or hurt me in the application process. Luckily, I think it helped me! I ended up getting a number of interviews, which I felt completely unprepared for.
The first thing I did was lots and lots of research. I heavily researched each faculty member who I was interviewing with; I read all of their papers, listened to podcasts they had been interviewed on, and looked for snippets of their lectures on YouTube. I went all out and I 100% believe it was worth it. This kind of research helps you learn about their research focus, but also about how they engage with the community.
The other thing that was really helpful was talking to another trusted friend who was interviewing at the same time. My friend was interviewing for clinical programs so we were on different tracks, but he had so much insight into good questions to ask and seemed to understand the unspoken rules of interviewing for graduate school more than I did. We chatted about the process, discussed our anxieties, and answered practice questions with each other–all of which made me feel a little more at ease.
I think anxiety is one of the hardest parts of this process; making it to the interviews means that you are qualified and would do well in a PhD program, but the interviews are all about fit. I kept reminding myself that if the program or faculty member did not see my interests or goals as a good fit for their program, then I probably would thrive there any way. It has to be a match on both sides. I also remember interviewing at a few places where I felt uncomfortable with faculty or the students gave me bad vibes (I wish there was a better way to describe this!) and, in hindsight, realize those were all great reasons to be comfortable with being rejected, waitlisted, or turning down an offer. For example, I remember one program where students from one lab were talking about favoritism and clearly not including some applicants. Take note of these observations and feelings because they tell us more than what students might say about their experience in a program. If students look and act miserable and say the program is perfect and they wouldn’t change a thing, don’t believe them.
Lastly, when you get your interview schedule I recommend reading a little bit about everyone who you will interview with. If you are interviewing with every faculty member at a program it might take some time, but coming in prepared with at least one thoughtful comment for each professor indicates preparation and respect.
For the next post I will talk about the financial side of the interview process–how to cut costs, make the most of your visits, and manage anxiety.