January 28, 2010

Interview Weekends are here: ARE YOU READY? Tips to get you started….


Mayo Graduate School (MGS) is having our first of two interview weekends this Friday to Sunday. If you have never been to an interview weekend, let me tell you, they are very fun and interactive. Here at Mayo Clinic we do all we can to make sure you get the full Rochester welcoming. This includes doing your interviews with some of the best scientist, getting tours of our many core facilities (including our new Genomics core), listening to poster presentations from the graduate students, have lovely socials, dinners, and lunches with faculty and students, and you also get to see the town (go bowling, rock climbing, visit Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, visit students homes, and see night life).  I know it will be very nerve wrecking when you begin your interviews and don't worry we all have gone through them. To help you get prepared for your interviews here are some great tips from MGS students, post-docs, professors, and Deans! 

 "Be yourself ~you are already one step in the door. Have confidence in where you come from and remember all the hard work you have accomplished to get you where you are today. Also, ask the current students the questions you are afraid to ask faculty.....believe me they will be completely honest with you! And if all else fails simply smile and enjoy your time with the experience." Jessica Silva-Jess (4th yr MGS Biochemistry and Molecular Biology/Cancer Biology student) 


"Be excited about the school, even if it’s not your top choice act like it is because nobody wants to hear their playing second fiddle; also I think they are more likely to give you an offer if they think you’ll take it.  It’s not the most Politically Correct tip, but it’s true." Alyson Smith (4th yr MGS Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics student) 


“Always have some questions prepared to ask them about their work, do your homework. Practice with several different people ahead of time so that you are comfortable thinking on your feet. Don't be afraid to say "I don't really know". People have respect for being honest about your knowledge and areas where you need improvement.” Dr. Rebecca Laborde (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)


“Be ready to answer out of the box questions like about troubleshooting, your experience in the lab, and other things non-related to science.” Dr. Martin Fernandez Zapico (Assistant Professor of Biochem/Molecular Biology and Medicine, College of Medicine) 


1. Make sure you convey enthusiasm and sparkle and interest during all your interviews, even if it is the end of the day. (I used to keep chocolate bars in my purse and eat them in the restroom if I felt my energy flagging--especially important in the late afternoon!) Try not to droop or appear exhausted, even if you are.  Also try to appear very interested in the work of *everyone* you talk to, even if you aren't.  It helps to sit on the edge of your chair at all times--try not to lean back or slump down.2. Another trick----say "what a great (or interesting) question!" if you're asked something that is kind of hard to answer.  It gives you time to think up something.3. Pause for 1 second and smile as sincerely as possible before answering questions.  (Don’t overdo it--but remember that smiling is easy to forget to do when you are nervous, but it brings an automatic positive response from whomever you're talking to.) (Depends on the question of course--don't smile if the question is about death of course 🙂4. And if they ask you "what is your weakest issue/worst trait"--you can't go wrong by saying "I tend to work too hard/get too absorbed in my work and neglect my social life". Or, "I tend to ask too many questions because I am so curious" win-win! 5. This sounds dumb, but think of interviews as a "first date" kind of situation.  Dress appropriately and act appropriately--be friendly and polite (this is not the time to display your quirky originality, for example).  Be curious about the other person.  Smile.  Don't be desperate.  Don't talk about yourself too much.  Compliment and ask questions about the person's own research.  Give thoughtful answers if you are asked something, and as honest as you can in your answers without being negative.  Don't talk bitterly about your past--talk about what you learned, even if a previous research experience wasn't ideal.  Never run down anyone/anywhere you worked with previously.”  Dr. Karen Hedin (Associate Professor of Immunology, College of Medicine Instructor in Pharmacology, College of Medicine, NIH IMSD and PREP program)    


1. Ask the interviewer about their research if they ask you if you have any questions! 2. Maintain eye contact with the interviewer, face them, maintain a good posture, don't chew gum!  😉 3.Be enthusiastic, energetic, excited about the prospect of matriculating at their institution.  Have an answer for why you are interested in their institution. 4. Always be in the interview mode and don't drink too much when you go out with the students.  🙂  They are taking notes! 5. Be able to explain your research succinctly.  Explain the goal, hypothesis, and your role in the project.  Have a 2-minute version that includes the big picture. 6. Have answers ready as to why you want to be a scientist, where do you see yourself in 10 years, know what it takes to be successful in whatever career path you are taking (e.g. creative ideas, collaboration, papers, grants….) 7. What are your strengths and weaknesses? 8. Do your homework on the interviewer's research. 9.Be prepared to go to the white board and draw the pathway you are studying. 10. Determine how students are funded. 11. How many PI's can take students? 12. Very important:  what are the graduates doing now? Are they where you want to be or are they working at Kwik Trip? 13. How long does it take to get a PhD?   Mayo's average is 5.2 years in MPET.  In many programs, including Duke's, only ~60% of the pre-docs have completed their PhD after 7 years!” Dr. Dennis Mays (Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, College of Medicine, NIH IMSD and PREP program, Office of Diversity)

And finally from our great Deans!!!!!!

"Be inquisitive and ask a lot of questions about the school, the admissions process, and the science projects of each of the interviewers." Dr. Jim Maher (Professor and Vice-Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Mayo Graduate School: Director, NIH IMSD and PREP programs)

"Remember that when you are invited to interview, you have been selected from a large and talented pool of applicants; approach the interview as the "winner" that you are--be positive, poised and confident!" Barbara Porter (Assistant Dean for Student and Academic Affairs, Mayo Medical School)


Thank you for all these wonderful tips! Also remember that these tips are not only for school interviews, they can be used for any type of interview you are going to. Good luck on all your interviews!


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