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Answers to a potential interview question- Why now?


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Hello everyone!

I applied to 17 Ph.D. programs in various disciplines (social work, clinical psych, dev psych, CJ, public health, counseling psych) that all relate to my research interests in violence prevention. Some interview, some don't. I got my first invitation to interview yesterday (Rutgers, dev psych), and I've been putting together a list of potential interview questions. The one I'm having the most trouble answering is this: Why are you pursuing a Ph.D. now?

I know why I want to get a Ph.D., and I want to do it now because I feel ready, but I feel that I need something more profound than that given my age. Background: I'm a senior in college at a SLAC, three conference presentations with another accepted (ERN for those familiar), independent research project with first-author manuscript in prep, GRE 161Q/166V/5.5AW, GPA 3.992. I started college when I was 15 through a special program that let me skip the last three years of high school, and I'm 18 now, will be 19 when I graduate. 

The blurb in my opening statement about why now boils down to the field being at a pivotal time moving from intervention development to implementation and participant diversification. My interests lie specifically in implementation science, meaning getting into the field now would put me in the best position to make an impact. I planned to use this in interviews, too.

I felt really confident about this explanation until I went to a recruitment weekend at Penn and a person talked to me for an hour about how I was too young for a Ph.D. and needed to become an adult first. That really shook my confidence, especially since I'd already paid application fees, so I couldn't back out. 

What do y'all think? What else could I say to make it clearer/ more profound that I want to pursue this Ph.D. now? Anything else I should address regarding my age in interviews?


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  • 1 month later...

(apologies if this is a late reply at this point)

While I very obviously cannot provide a solid answer to your particular case (which, in every way, is exceptional), one method of answering this question is to affirm, as earnestly and sincerely as as possible, that you are holistically prepared to undergo a PhD. If I understand you correctly, you feel like there are meaningful and exciting opportunities to contribute to a recent development in the field, and that the arrival of such an opportunity gives you a leg up, so to speak, in affecting an important emerging trend in the research. But you might need to make the case (both to them, but also to yourself!) that, despite your relative youth, you're not only intellectually prepared for the demands of a PhD, but that you're socially, emotionally, and even financially* prepared for what will likely be long, strenuous, and potentially lonely couple of years. If you can point to now being not only a good moment for you to intervene in a meaningful development in the field, but also for you personally to undertake this kind of endeavor, I think admissions committees will have an easier time understanding that you're just an exceedingly gifted (and substantially younger) applicant than they're used to seeing. 

And while I don't want to compromise your confidence in any way, I would also want to know: what do you want from the PhD? Do you envision working in research? In clinical applications? In teaching? In other words, what does the PhD get you that you want? Also, why apply to PhDs in so many different disciplines? How could your research be done both in a criminal justice program and also a developmental psych program? Why not just one? 

Of course, best of luck with the application process!

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I see myself working in research. I'm not dead set on academia vs. industry, but I see more opportunity in governmental or nonprofit work than academia due to the shrinking market. The diverse disciplines I've applied to are the ones that compose violence prevention, and every professor I applied to work with has done interdisciplinary work before. Ends up, the clinical programs were not interested in me, but I have two interviews with developmental programs who highly value interdisciplinary collaboration (of the other eight programs left, only one does interviews). 

If you look at the violence prevention literature, no one discipline predominates. It is a blend of clinical, developmental, and social psych, public health, criminology, social work, sociology, and a few others. The critical aspect all researchers in violence prevention share is the willingness to work alongside communities, not just in them, to make fundamental, lasting changes. This requires a systemic social justice perspective, which is inherently interdisciplinary. You can't make the big changes from an academic silo- no pure psychological, CJ, or social work intervention is going to affect violence. Sure, I could have chosen a discipline to apply to, but there are so few people whose work is built with those values that I had to expand my horizons. I applied to programs that have that willingness and perspective in doing violence prevention work, regardless of discipline. I hope that makes sense!

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