some_throwaway Posted January 29, 2014 Share Posted January 29, 2014 I'm writing up a review of the weekend because that's the topic I most wanted to see a few weeks ago. Based on conversations with other interviewees, I was not alone in that desire. How I got invited: I received a personalized email mid-morning on January 10 inviting me to the Open House weekend. I contacted the designated travel agency within an hour and the flights were finalized quickly. Then I stumbled around in a daze for the weekend intermittently panicking before I pulled myself together and started preparing. General advice: Re-read your statement of purpose, think about what your letter-writers may have written about you, etc. Basically, know yourself and know what they know about you. You will be asked a million times why you want a biostatistics PhD, so have a coherent answer that also happens to be true. Prior to applying, I had put a lot of thought into why Harvard was a good fit, who I might want to work with, and (vague) possible dissertation topics with each potential advisor. It is not guaranteed, but I ended up interviewing with every person I identified in my SOP (plus a few others). Even if we did not cover it in the interview, it helped ME to know that I had read their most recent papers, knew the titles of current grants (check NIH RePORTER), and could articulate how my previous experience and background might fit into their research plans. The department has a relaxed atmosphere and is much, much friendlier than I expected, but you still need to do your homework. Weekend structure: Thursday I arrived Thursday afternoon/evening and hung out in the hotel room with my roommate. Our interview schedule was released via email some time Thursday evening. (This is not the department being tricky. It became clear on Friday that nailing down faculty schedules is an administrative nightmare.) My hotel had terrible internet, so I did minimal research on the 2 interviewers not in my SOP. Friday This is a full day! Current students take you to campus, so don't worry about how to get there. Be prepared for 25-minute walks in the cold to and from campus. Once at HSPH, you'll get an overview of the department and PhD program followed by some short research talks. Lunch is served, and interviews commence in the afternoon. Mine were mostly very informal conversations, but they are a lot like speed dating and you will get exactly zero time in between to reflect on what just happened. My 3 SOP interviewers had obviously read my whole application, while the others likely skimmed it (at most). No one grilled me on whether I could handle the coursework or tested me on statistical concepts. However, I had prepared a way to clearly explain what relevant research I had done before, and that definitely came in handy again and again. Have an answer to "What are your career goals?" that shows both self-awareness and flexibility. Figure out ahead of time what you think you need to learn about the department to make a decision. For the informal conversations, you'll need to gently steer the conversation so that you get answers you want. Have an unending supply of questions for the inevitable awkward moments. After the interviews, you'll stop at the hotel and head to dinner with current PhD students. This is your chance to ask about qualifying exams, get some info on good mentors, assess if the stipend is livable, etc. We headed out to a bar with current students afterwards. (Don't get drunk -- even if it doesn't make it back to the admissions committee, it's not the right way to make a good impression on future classmates. Talking about your rough Friday night at Saturday brunch is also a bad idea. While I'm sure the faculty have all been there and done that, it shows that you can't separate your personal and professional lives.) Saturday The brunch is your last opportunity for faculty interaction, but you will probably be too exhausted to make the most of it. Spend some time beforehand assessing what questions you could still need answered. Almost everyone else will be out of them, and asking questions about the program can help smooth over the distracted "Ahhh! I have so much to think about!" silences. Afterwards, I explored Boston until my flight left Saturday night. If I had to do it again, I would choose to stay until Sunday. Costs: I paid for taxis to and from the airport, but that will be reimbursed. Hotel was pre-paid by the department. Other than the taxis, Saturday afternoon snacks and activities were my only out-of-pocket expenses. My biggest financial burden was purchasing appropriate clothes. What people wore: On Friday, there were only a few people in suits. For the most part, women wore sweaters/button-ups and dress pants and men wore dress shirts and slacks. Pick a professional outfit that is also comfortable and warm. The "tour" portion was entirely indoors but included lots of stairs, so wear high heels only if you can manage multiple flights of stairs in them. A few people changed into nice jeans for Friday dinner, but most people stayed about the same level of dressiness. Saturday brunch is more relaxed, but most of the applicants were still not wearing jeans. "Am I going to get in?": I have no idea. If you've been invited to the Open House, this is the question you want me to answer the most, but I can't answer it (even for myself). The department initially said the interview weekend would have 15-20 students, but 22 interviewees were there. So at least this year, it seems like they underestimated interest in the program. If they still have 5-10 (?) international students to add, you can see how 15-18 spots might fill up quickly. You do have a chance, though! Far fewer people had the superstar Ivy League pedigrees I expected, and no one gets invited just because of a 4.0 GPA or great GRE scores. Every single interviewee got picked out of that application pile for a reason. Figure out what your reason is (try asking your recommendation writers if you can't identify yours), and see where it takes you. Lelouch Lamperouge, realllllJulia, echlori and 3 others 2 4 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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