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Lunch Interview

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Always start with small talk! Remember that your POI is accepting you to work with them for years, so they want to make sure they can get along with you. If you're all business all the time or come across like a salesperson, you may be hurting your chances more than you're helping them. Let your POI take the lead on the conversation.

Also, don't order anything messy or hard to eat (so don't order a prime rib sandwich which might drip on you or something which requires constant knife-and-fork work to eat). 

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I second the recommendation to always start with small talk. It's much easier to transition from small talk to research than the reverse, so if you start with research, you might not get to know the personal side of the faculty member (and they won't know about you!). A good small talk topic to start is to ask them about the restaurant and what they like there (assuming they picked the place because they liked it!)

Letting the professor take the lead is a good idea---they'll eventually switch it over to the research. 

That said, also be prepared for the fact that the faculty member might actually be a terrible conversation partner and might be more awkward than you are. Maybe some fields have professors that are just better at talking to people, but I think it helps to be prepared to take the lead in the conversation just in case. Usually, if a faculty member is selected to do an interview, then they are probably good at it, but remember that academics aren't trained for this stuff and it can be really terrible!

Tips with the food that might be obvious:

- I generally wait to see what the faculty member would order first, then try to order something that is in the same range. e.g. if they get a $12 sandwich, I wouldn't go for the $20 entree. Of course, if you need to meet dietary needs, then do what you have to do.

- Take small bites so that if you are asked a question while chewing, you can finish your bite and answer within 5 seconds or so. 

- Other foods to avoid ordering: pasta dishes with lots of sauce (I get sauce everywhere) or something that will take much longer to cook than what the faculty is ordering, 

- Unless there is something really wrong with your food, I wouldn't send anything back to the kitchen


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I had a lunch with a visiting professor once who was an expert on giving lunch talks. Some useful advice would be to take either small bites or store the food under your tongue/in cheek while you talk. Make sure you eat cleanly, and use the napkin to catch food that will stain your shirt/pants. Since you may have more interviews after lunch. Also the most important thing is to be polite to the waitstaff; always thank them for refilling water, do not harass them, etc. Believe it or not there are people out there who mistreat waitstaff during interviews which is an obvious red flag, so be extra polite. Also sometimes they'll bring members of their lab along, you can ask them questions about their experience and research to get a bite in here or there as well. 

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