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AlexM451

Interview questions and etiquette

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So I just got my first interview invite from Yale Microbiology, and yes, it has made my winter break. But now I'm stuck with some new questions: what are the interviews usually like? Do any of you know what kinds of questions you would ask about a science program? Also, what do people usually wear for these things?

Good luck to all of you

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That is so awesome!! CONGRATS!!!

My mentor told me I should wear a really nice tailored suit and have my hair done for interviews.

how would you do your hair? shoudl you bring anything?

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I dunno. I have never "had my hair done."

But my mentor told me specifically that she wanted to give me some guidance if I wouldn't be offended. And that is what she told me, buy a suit. Then she said, "And I would never go to an interview without having my hair done." So I am assuming I will be going to a salon the day of the interview to look super polished. Great! More money out!!

I have no idea about bringing things. A bottle of wine to bribe them?

Probably just yourself and your fabulous ideas.

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I REALLY don't think you should go to a salon the day of an interview. It depends on what type of hair you have, but if you go in for a cut or color, not usually a good idea to time those things right before an important event (in case they cut it wrong or something, etc.) And I mean, it's not like you'd want an updo like you were going to prom or something. I think the emphasis is to look polished, i.e. don't put your hair into a loose/messy ponytail. My take is to just look neat, same as you would if going to any job interview, etc.

Edited by alexis

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No, she didn't mean a cut or color, just a style. I don't know about you, but my hair ALWAYS looks better and more together when a stylist does it.

I am not saying this is the right approach for everyone, just saying the specific advice I got.

Edited by captiv8ed

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Ah okay, guess it just depends on the hair then. My hair is straight and boring, and the only time I go to the salon is to get a fancy style, so I forget that others can get more "normal" styling done :)

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I REALLY don't think you should go to a salon the day of an interview. It depends on what type of hair you have, but if you go in for a cut or color, not usually a good idea to time those things right before an important event (in case they cut it wrong or something, etc.) And I mean, it's not like you'd want an updo like you were going to prom or something. I think the emphasis is to look polished, i.e. don't put your hair into a loose/messy ponytail. My take is to just look neat, same as you would if going to any job interview, etc.

You can tell a stylist that you're going for an interview and you need a neat look - they can do that sort of updo and it normally does not cost as much as a prom type updo..or you can go to the salon earlier and ask your stylist to teach you an easy/neat way to do your hair for an interview. I think this is good advice for a lot of college kids who have done the "wash and dry" style for a long time and I think it can help with confidence sometimes too.

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I should give a bit more of an explanation. I am coming from an extremely non-traditional background, and highlighted some of those non-traditional experiences as strengths in my app. My mentor wants me to make sure I show the interview panel that I can indeed transcend my past to give a middle class appearance (which I have all sorts of issues with, especially since I am applying to sociology programs, but I know why she is saying it). So she wants be to be super duper polished. She does a lot of TV interviews, so I am guessing that is why it is so apparent to her. It never even crossed my mind until she mentioned it.

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Your best bet as far as dress goes is to e-mail the program contact to ask. One of my invites specifically says to dress casual, and AFAIK, this is the norm for biology programs. You'd look hilariously out of place in a suit. I'm sure this is different by field, though.

(I'm a fairly fashion conscious individual, but generally speaking, biologists don't care about how you dress. Male biologists often are the type who will wear cheap button-downs with cheap khakis at their most formal. And if they are forced into wearing a suit, it will be a sale from Men's Wearhouse that's too big on the shoulders. If you find yourself worrying about how you look for anyone but yourself, you've gotta relax.)

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My natural sciences prof dad gave me strict instructions when I started making the rounds of history departments: no suits, no jeans, no obvious makeup. Neat, clean, ironed. I ended up often wearing a royal blue tailored button-down shirt over a white shell tank, black slacks, black shoes. The profs and grad students I met with were all wearing khakis or jeans and sweaters or button-down shirts. I'm coming from a corporate environment, so I appreciated his input that looking like a businessperson would not be an asset. I needed to look like I fit in, not like I was slumming.

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So I just got my first interview invite from Yale Microbiology, and yes, it has made my winter break. But now I'm stuck with some new questions: what are the interviews usually like? Do any of you know what kinds of questions you would ask about a science program? Also, what do people usually wear for these things?

Good luck to all of you

I'm not in a science program so this might not help, but: be ready to talk about your research. Have at least a 5-minute version and a 15-minute version; different people will want to spend varying amounts of time asking questions about your past projects and you should be able to answer every reasonable question. (On the other hand: don't be afraid to say you don't remember something -- it's better than bullshitting an answer! .. It's also fine to take a moment to think, the silence is never as long or as awkward as you think!). At any given interview day you'll have to give this same spiel multiple times and it's a good idea to be generally prepared, though not to the point where you sound too rehearsed.

Interviews usually start with the interviewer asking you to tell them about yourself. Be ready with a short intro of your background and interests. Mention projects you worked on, researchers you collaborated with, conferences you attended/presented at, etc. The conversation flows in most cases so just go along with it. After you present yourself, the interviewer will usually present their current work as it relates to your interests, and will ask if you have any questions. It's a good idea to have a few questions prepared (e.g. about labs, coursework and other requirements, funding, placement of recent graduates, etc). I know some people say it's a good idea to read at least one paper from every interviewer you know you'll have; I've found it's not necessary or even expected. In most cases my interviewers were already working on new topics...it takes forever to publish these days. It was enough to be familiar with their interests and seem interested in their new research. Ask them how they got interested in this new field, if they have grant money to work on it (=if they're going to be into this thing for the next few years), what methods they're using.

Re clothing, I always feel very odd in fancy clothes. I started out wearing black pants and nice cardigans; the other interviewees mostly wore jeans and T-shirts, and so I soon changed to that too. My interviewers usually came in jeans and buttoned shirts. I don't think anybody got accepted or rejected based on clothing, as long as, you know, they wore clean clothes and didn't smell.

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To me, biology = casual, but Yale = business. Can't go wrong with business casual? :P I think you should be fine with dress khakis/slacks, nice button up or sweater, and minimal makeup and jewelry (but I've still worn interesting jewelry - some don't care, for others it can be a small conversation piece - or just avoid it entirely).

As far as questions, definitely have a few prepared (and don't be afraid to ask the same questions to multiple people). What are the facilities like, how is funding, do you have collaborations, what are you currently working on, what sort of seminar series are there. Googling will also bring up a few sites with helpful lists.

Also, like fuzzylogician says, make sure to have a short spiel about yourself. What you're interested and what you want to do with it is a good starter, as your interviewer will probably then ask what have you done in research etc etc. I tried to break up my responses that guide their next questions as I don't like going on and on by myself for minutes on end. But honestly, it just flows. Just make sure to pay close attention to them when they describe their current research so if there's a lull you can ask more questions and keep it going. I did have one awkward pause with a faculty member, but I saved it when I finally thought of something to keep him talking. :lol:

Oh yes, and congratulations! You'll have a lot of fun.

Edited by ScreamingHairyArmadillo

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Re clothing, I always feel very odd in fancy clothes. I started out wearing black pants and nice cardigans; the other interviewees mostly wore jeans and T-shirts, and so I soon changed to that too. My interviewers usually came in jeans and buttoned shirts. I don't think anybody got accepted or rejected based on clothing, as long as, you know, they wore clean clothes and didn't smell.

Side note: this is kinda why I love academia. :P

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I want an interview! My outfit would blow everyone else out of the water...

Things like interviews always throw me off a bit, because I usually dress quite formally so I'm concerned that dressing as I normally do or a little bit nicer may make me appear nervous and overdressed. I can still remember back in the day when I interviewed for my prep school, and the other girl being interviewed that day, a 14 year old, was wearing a khaki pantsuit with hot pink lining. It was a cheap one that made ruffly sounds when she moved nervously. I was embarrassed for her.

I think wearing a suit can be okay but is still a little excessive, i.e. I think I'd personally err on the safe side and go slightly more casual. How often do you see professors wearing suits? Mine never do. If you do wear a suit, I guess just don't wear a really slick one (pinstripes come to mind as being somewhat snooty) and maybe wear a neutral-colored one if you have one? I find that people tend to look much friendlier and more intellectual when they are wearing brown instead of black. In a similar vein to what someone mentioned already, black has much more corporate connotations, at least to me.

I wouldn't wear jeans. Jeans can't be dressed up or down enough to squeeze through awkward dress situations. If you are afraid of looking too formal, wear pants of another material like corduroy, or denim that isn't blue. You won't appear too formal in that, because those are the kinds of materials that people often wear to casual events.

Sorry if these style musings have gone too far, but I am still working on coursework for the semester and need an outlet of procrastination!

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I have experienced the interview from Yale by the BBS program in China. I dressed as usual, hehe. I don't think they care much about your dress and hair, as long as you seem neat and clean. I remembered the professors did not wear formally either. So just relax. The main part is about my research experience. I talked about it. Besides this was just casual talk. Good luck!

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I'm at a Yale BBS program now and went through the interviews last winter. Do not wear a suit, you will look completely ridiculous. Some of the grad students at one point said that we were actually a good group of interviewees because there wasn't even one fully dressed-up out-of-place person. Business casual is alright, if you feel you must dress up some. I came in black jeans, dark slacks, and t-shirts with sweaters. You need to realize that they don't care what you wear, they care about how you talk about your research. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.

Edited by cogneuroforfun

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Thank you for starting this thread, I also got my first interview and now I need to think of how to look good (but not too fancy) for it. :) I guess I will go with black jeans, tan sweater and good shoes.

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So glad I found this thread. I was thinking about my interview next week and just dreading what to wear...I had actually taken out my official Black Interview Suit, but now I realize that would be a Death Suit. Nice slacks, low heels, cardigan, and a necklace that hints at a bit of character.

It's my personal mantra that you can never go wrong with a cardigan.

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Hey AlexM51,

Congratulations on your success!! Would you mind sharing an information on when you heard from Weill Cornell? I have not heard anything from them and don't know about their interview weekends for BCMB. Do you think I should give up hope now?

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So, just to be clear, it is not a good idea to wear a suit to an interview? I don't really have money to buy a suit and I just have "normal" dress clothes. So basic business casual is okay? Dress shoes, slacks, dress shirt, and tie (maybe)?

I know what I wear will be the least important part of the interview (assuming i get one) but I just don't want to have disadvantages if I can control it :)

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Don't worry :) You don't need to wear a suit for cognitive neuroscience-type programs... Unless you've also applied to clinical psychology program, which do tend to dress up more.

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for science programs (from CS to geography to genetics), casual dress is just fine. jeans, tshirt (or a nice shirt) and a sweater/jacket will make you look nice, and science-professional. but don't opt for a punk themed clothes. the key is to look clean, be groomed and smell good.

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