Well, I've mostly gotten my voice back.
I've been trying to decompress and really work through my experience this past weekend, and I think I'm ready to write about it. I'm not going to focus much on the specific content of the three interviews because there are plenty of forums and threads that contain very accurate and helpful information on that. Go find it. Rehearse your answers in front of a mirror, and remember that you're being interviewed for a reason and not by chance.
Last Thursday, I drove to WMU. It took about nine hours, and I was hungry by the time I got to campus. My host picked me up, and we went off to the first social event and dinner. My host told me right away that the most important thing for the weekend was that I network with current graduate students and make them like me.
It was around this time that I realized that as much as I had prepared myself, I was in no way prepared for the other applicants or the current students. I'd spent hours reading my own resume and statement, the recent publications of the professors in the department and their CV's, and about the school. I even looked up the other applicants as best as I could-- but I didn't consider the current students. Looking back, I can't really say I could have know just how important it was going to be. So there I am, in my travel clothes (sweater and leggings- thank goodness it was even somewhat fashionable) in a pub/restaurant with a dozen other applicants and current students that outnumbered us. There I am, being dragged around by my host to another group of names and faces that blurred together almost immediately, and it's so loud I could barely hear the names in the first place. This person is mentored by Dr A, this one by Dr B, this one by Dr C. They study this, and that, and the other. They're from this location. Talk to him, now her, now her, now him.
I was able to eat maybe a third of the salad I'd ordered before it was taken by a server while I was being introduced to more people. I basically used by bourbon-and-ginger-ale as a teddy bear/ comfort object as I walked around. People kept asking me questions I'd failed to expect: "are you more traditional I/O or OBM?" Dude, I only found out about I/O a year ago. I don't know the difference. "So what organization do you want to work for?" Why would I know that right this moment? "So what's your specific focus?" Man, I'm an undergrad still. I'm here to narrow my present focuses, I don't have just one. (I'd decided not to tone my personality down for this process, which only bit me in the butt once and in a minor way. I also had decided to not lie or exaggerate much, which I think came in handy.)
It kept going on like that. I kept my head above water, barely. I smiled and clutched my drink and didn't react at all when I dropped my tiny straw. Trust me, it was very impressive.
My host was exhausted from pulling an all-nighter the evening before, and we got back to her apartment around eleven. She'd prepared her room for me to stay in, and she and her boyfriend had a futon in the living room. I didn't find it that weird, maybe because I use my bedroom as a guest room sometimes too. Anyway, we were only there for a few precious hours of sleep each night.
Friday was a Research Day from 8-5, which meant sitting in a lecture hall listening to current graduate students present studies they'd either recently completed (mostly dissertations) or that they were still working on. I'd missed breakfast due to a miscommunication, so I was sitting at around 12 hours without eating. I was able to speak briefly to a faculty member with whom I'd be interviewing the following day, and she went out of her way to compliment me on my personal statement. That did a lot for my nerves, but my stomach was not as easily quieted. We had a two hour break for lunch and around fifteen of us to a nearby bar/restaurant. We ordered and paid immediately, citing our slight rush. An hour went by, and our server hadn't returned. Another half hour went by, and we started to get nervous. We got our food exactly twenty minutes before we needed to be back in our seats, and asked for boxes. I loaded my untouched assorted veggies and hummus into a styrofoam container and sadly headed back to the lecture. We arrived late and had to stand at the back of the room until there was a break. I tried to pay attention to the data instead of my future dinner. We wrapped up the day and went right to the dinner location.
I could not make this up: after being seated and served our drinks, largely alcoholic, we were told by a member of the staff that their chef had quit and walked out about twenty minutes before we'd arrived. Hello, 24 hours without food! One of the students made the call to move to a burger joint nearby, so we all drank our beer/whatever as quickly as possible and I started feeling tipsy right away. We got to the other place, and the only thing on the menu I could eat (meaning that didn't involve meat) was a side order of fries. I tried to choke some down, but I lost the fight. At this point I'm basically speed-dating. A current student would come chat for a bit, leave, and another would take their place. I had some great conversations and learned a lot this way, all without having to stand (which was good because I felt pretty woozy). My host and I left around eleven, and we all went to sleep.
Saturday came, and with it came three interviews. I believe I was the only applicant with more than two interviews, which was odd. Also, I didn't know I'd have more than one-- I guess I assumed that I'd have some sort of panel interview? That wouldn't really make sense, but I hadn't fully considered it. Anyway, I nearly overslept. (By the way we are sitting pretty right at 36 hours since I've eaten. That's right. 36 very long hours.) I arrived to the "holding room," if you will, and nearly fainted from happiness when I was greeted by a full spread of bagels and fruit. Food, at last! I was the first interview of the day for Dr. A, so I actually only had time to eat a mandarin orange before our meeting but it was enough to perk me up for a moment.
My interview with Dr. A was very conversational, and they mainly focused on my personal statement and the variety. I've been in debate groups relevant to the constitution; I've competed in events revolving around medical knowledge; I'm a founding member of a theatre honors fraternity on my campus; I'm an election inspector for the State of Michigan. I was honest with them in that I just did things that seemed interesting and fun and kept up with all of it as long as I was able to. With some things, the involvement ended when I graduated high school, and some things still float in the background of my life. We talked for our allotted 40 minutes and were interrupted by someone telling us that their next interviewee was waiting. Dr. A was very straightforward in the dire lack of funding their department has, and this was a shock to me based on the department's reputation.
I went back to our holding room and finally got to eat my bagel! And another orange!
More networking while I waited for my next interview. By Saturday, I'd begun to bond with a few of the other applicants and the mood in the holding room was generally cheerful. As far as I know, no one really felt like we were competing directly with each other, and no one tried to hurt any other applicant's chances. The feeling I got was that it wasn't up to us, so why not be nice to each other?
My second interview, this time with Dr. B, was also conversational but this time focused on my work history and what each job has taught me about myself and how my experiences relate to I/O. Their office was frigid, so I hid my hands while attempting to maintain a sort of "power pose" and not fold into myself. Dr. B asked how I planned to fund my MA, and they too mentioned a lack of funding. Again, we ran out of time. In both cases, I was told that running out of time was a good sign.
Lunch was an array of delicious hot sandwiches made by the current grad students with cookies, chips, and some veggies. I was so excited about being able to eat normally that I definitely ignored the rest of the room for a few minutes while I ate. During lunch, the faculty holding interviews joined us and so, more networking. I still had another interview after lunch, so I made sure to take a short walk down the hall to clear my head after the business of lunch.
My third interview was with Dr. C, who had some serious structure going on. They had a list of questions, with 4-5 circled for each applicant. They asked me very specific questions that I sometimes could not answer due to lack of knowledge in I/O and OBM, so I did my best to supply information that was comparable. They stated that they didn't fault me for my lack of knowledge due to my school's absence of any I/O or OBM courses, and also mentioned that they were impressed with my ability to supply the other information to substitute. They asked how I planned on getting more to read, and I replied that I legitimately didn't think I'd be able to find resources on my campus. They stood up, went to a bookshelf, and chose a book. Next thing I know I'm holding a copy of Bringing out the Best in People: How to Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement by Aubrey Daniels. They said "here, borrow this and let me know what you think. It's my favorite starter book in OBM." So I'm thinking, okay, they forgot that I'm not local. I sort of said that it'd be great to read on the long drive home, and they just nodded and said "Yeah, okay." So, okay maybe they didn't forget, then. This book caused quite the stir once I returned to the holding room. No one else had gotten a book. The current students even seemed shocked. I am not putting any meaning behind the book, I'm firm on that. Even if it shows some connection made on a human level, I absolutely will not believe that it in any way predicts the decision to be made. Now, Dr. C also asked me about financing, and by this time I was expecting them to bring it up.
As I mentioned in the Venting thread, the lack of funding doesn't fit with the reputation, output of research, or the rather elite selection process (only 2-4 students are expected to be taken on this year). What's the issue? I'm not privy to the reasoning.
For dinner we all had a chance to change to slightly less formal attire (I posted a breakdown of the attire seen in the Interview Weekend Attire thread) and went to an amazing Indian restaurant where we had a buffet style dinner of so much delicious food, I never wanted to leave. The wine was flowing, and this time the faculty was footing the bill. Everyone was more relaxed now, and many current students began questions with "so now that interviews are over, I wanted to ask..." One thing I picked up on then was that some applicants began to change their stories slightly. They'd admit to having less experience in some matter, or that they had to retake classes to get their GPA where it is-- they became more human. This was when I became so glad I'd chosen to be straightforward from the start, because people noticed that my story remained unchanged. I showed the faculty the most professionally honest picture of myself possible, and so I would have no false image to maintain. Lying is a lot of work, and I have other things to focus on. I didn't hear of anything major that was lied about, but there were a fair number of applicants who hadn't been the most honest version of themselves until after interviews. I don't think that's evil by any means, but I did make a different choice.
After dinner, the grad students took us to a huge and super loud bar. I had bonded well with some people and stayed mostly in a group of five to ten applicants and current students. I had someone drive me to my parents' hotel around half past midnight after drinks and goodbyes.
On Sunday, I slept for nearly the entire ride home, showered, and fell asleep before dinner and slept until I had to get up for my 8am Monday class.
Overall it was a really valuable experience, but I kind of hope I don't have to go through anything like it again. I was hungry, exhausted, and always felt like I was about to be late for something. I expect to hear back by the end of the month, and made sure to send out all the thank-you notes on Monday evening. I've gotten three responses out of the five notes sent, which is decent.
I suppose that's all for now, folks.
You know the drill: ask and I'll answer!