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10 Pieces of Advice for Graduate School Interviews — Psychology In Action 18/2/19, 11(06 am

January 24, 2018 · Stacy Shaw

10 Pieces of
Advice for
Graduate School
Interviews
If you’ve gone into a store in the last week,
you've probably noticed that Valentine’s day
has already exploded in all of its heart-shaped-
flower-bundle-glitter glory. If you’ve talked to
a prospective Ph.D. psychology student in the
last week, you’ve probably noticed that
interview season has also sprung up in all of
it’s anxious-nail-biting-obsessive-email-
checking ugliness.

Tis the season!

The interview process is different at every


school, for every department, and no two
students have the same experience. However,
there are some basic pieces of advice that
apply to a wide range of Ph.D. Psych

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10 Pieces of Advice for Graduate School Interviews — Psychology In Action 18/2/19, 11(06 am

interview weekends. Below, I outline my top


10 pieces of advice for prospective students for
interview weekend.

1. You can monitor interview invites


online. One of the worst things about
interview weekend is wondering if you
are getting an interview. Admittedly, the
system is pretty awful. Most departments
who know they won't admit a certain
student will not send out a rejection until
March/April, even though interview
decisions are made much earlier. One
way you can try to track down the status
of invitations is by going onto The Grad
Cafe’s Search Results. The search results
are a place where prospective students
report if they have been contacted by the
department for an interview, or received
admission. So, if there are multiple
entries for interview invitations for
UCLA in Developmental Psychology,
the interviews have probably gone out.
But if there are no entries, they might
still be coming!
2. Be a nice human being, all the time.
This second piece of advice goes for all
facets of life, but it is especially
psychology in action
important for interview weekends. Be a

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10 Pieces of Advice for Graduate School Interviews — Psychology In Action 18/2/19, 11(06 am

nice human. Coming to visit a university


is an opportunity for you to see how well
you fit in with the campus climate,
graduate students, and faculty.
Psychology departments put a lot of
effort into interview weekend, so be
appreciative to all of those around you.
Be nice to the graduate students
transporting you, housing you,
interviewing you, giving you tours, and
the ones who hand you a much-needed
napkin at lunch. Be nice to the staff in
the front office, the parking attendant,
the reimburser, the faculty, the custodial
staff. People talk to each other and word
gets around real quick when there is a
rude or entitled prospective student
lurking about. On top of being a good
human, try to roll with the punches.
There are bound to be unexpected
challenges during interview weekend
(running late, coffee stain, acne
breakout, etc.). One of the greatest
strengths in graduate school is the ability
to remain flexible and stay focused, so
take the hiccup as they come and stay
positive.
3. Don’t wear new shoes!!! Many

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prospective students show up to


interview weekend wearing new shoes
that look chic and fashionable. Don’t
wear them. They will tear up your feet
and make you miserable. No one cares
what sort of shoes you wear-- this is not
project runway. This is academia, this is
professional, and wearing boring shoes
looks a lot better than walking barefoot
at the end of the day with blistered feet.
If you must bring fancy shoes, bring
comfortable ones as well (ladies, you can
tuck a pair of flats into your bag for
later). On a similar note, make sure to
wear layers because it is often freezing
outside and scorching hot inside the
building (but NO short skirts). You need
to be prepared to adjust to any
weather. Oh, and you don’t need to wear
a double-breasted suit either. Just look
professional, and bring your intellectual
A game.
4. Know the research. While it’s a no
brainer that you should be able to recall
the major findings in the last five studies
your potential PI has published, you
should also take the time to have a
general sense of what other faculty study.

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At most interviews, you will meet with


other faculty and familiarity with their
area of research can go a long way.
Starting a conversation with “so what do
you do?” just makes things awkward.
During your travel, look up featured
publications faculty often have on their
websites and read the abstracts. Simply
having a vague idea of what the person
studies can earn you much more respect
than having no idea.
5. Prepare a response to “So tell me
about yourself.” This question is pretty
lame, but when energy runs out at the
end of the day, it’s a low hanging fruit
that many people reach for to start a
conversation. While no one can really
explain who they are in just a 30 minute
interview, try to come up with 3 easy
things you can talk about. For example,
my response usually went something like,
“There's really three main things about
me, there’s my research, there’s what
inspired me to go to graduate school and
study psychology, and then there’s what
I like to do for fun.” I would then give a
brief overview of my research interests, a
quick background of what made me

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prepared to succeed in graduate school,


and then I usually talked about one of
my dorky hobbies. You can also talk
about your family, or your dog. Fun facts
can help you come off as more
personable, so try to pick something
interesting about you. Saying you like to
cook, run, or do yoga is a little boring
and forgetful. Instead, tell us you finally
mastered the chilli renello, you beat your
9 minute mile, or that you are working
on your handstands.
6. Always stay engaged. A lot of people
equate graduate school to a marathon
race where speed doesn’t matter as much
as stamina. In your interviews, you will
be exhausted. Your mind will feel empty,
you will be tired of talking about your
research, and you’ll just want to curl up
in a corner and check out. Don’t do this.
If you need a break, take a walk if you
can, or find a bathroom and just take a
minute to close your eyes. When
prospective students are seen sitting
alone and playing on their phone, it
paints a picture of disinterest. One can
think, “How will they last 5-6 years of
graduate school if they can’t even keep

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up with interview weekend?” You need


to be on, all the time.
7. Get to know the graduate students.
If you ask me, graduate school isn’t
actually a marathon, it’s an extremely
long relay race. You will need friends to
pick you up in your low moments, to
keep you motivated, to take notes in
statistics class when you have travel to a
conference, and to enable your addiction
to the campus taco bell. While normal
friends are necessary, graduate student
friends provide a special kind of social
support. They are fellow allies in the
trenches with you who can truly
empathize. A department with good
culture is worth its weight in
publications. Talking to graduate
students at interview weekend will give
you an idea of what the culture is like,
and they will also be honest about their
experiences with faculty and the
department. Get to know them well and
thank them for taking the time out of
their schedules to meet with you.
8. Bring questions. Toward the end of the
interviews, you will likely be asked if you
have any questions for the graduate

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10 Pieces of Advice for Graduate School Interviews — Psychology In Action 18/2/19, 11(06 am

student, the faculty, your POI. Never


leave them hanging. Prepare a list of
questions and always ask something.
Even if it’s something not related to
research, such as “what makes a good
graduate student?” you will come off as
being prepared and engaged.
9. Send a thank you. After an interview
send your deepest thanks for a great
experience. I think it best to send hand-
written cards in the snail mail to POIs,
but you can also send some/leave some
to graduate students who housed you.
But no matter what, at least send an
email thank you. It help brings a sense of
closure to the experience and reminds
the receiver that you are a nice human
being who is truly grateful for the
experience.
10. Choose carefully. If you get lucky, you
will interview at multiple universities. If
you are even luckier, you will be granted
admission to a few of them. The decision
of where to go is sometimes quite easy,
but other times it is a very difficult
choice to make. Know that no matter
what place you go to, you will always
miss out on awesome opportunities.

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When I received a few offers, it almost


felt worse than just getting one offer
because I had to look amazing, wonder,
and brilliant departments, faculty, and
students in the eye and say “no thanks.”
It’s an awful feeling, but this is all part of
the process. Every faculty member I met
on my interview journey clearly
communicated that they wanted what
was best for my educational journey, so
in the end you just have to listen to your
gut. While I wish there was a way to
work with all of our research heroes, the
reality is you get one only one ticket.
Chose carefully and enjoy the ride!

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