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Casual dress for interview weekend? Is it a trick?


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Hello! I am applying for Cancer and Molecular Biology PhD programs for the fall 2017 term. I've just received an interview invite for Harvard's BBS program. The email said that " The purpose of these weekends is to provide students with the opportunity to meet with BBS faculty and students in a relaxed and enjoyable setting. " and " We suggest casual dress for the weekend ". It seems a bit peculiar for me to be wearing tee shirts and jeans to my Harvard PhD interview. Should I go for a more "smart casual" look (blazer and slacks, new jeans and sweaters)? 

Additionally, has anyone attended these kinds of interview weekends before? Should I treat the whole thing as if it were an interview (assume that the tours and such are 'graded' to an extent) or is it really just meant to be a relaxed, more casual event? Also, does anyone know anything about the normal size of Harvard's interview class vs accepted class?

Many thanks!


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1. Yeah, I've been on interviews and they really dont care much about what youre wearing, as long as you dont look like a bum. You can dress casual, but nicely. a nice sweater, some jeans, and a nice shoe (clean sneaker) is fine. I'd still bring a range of outfits (something rather nice for a dinner or happy hour to casual stuff). Most important is to be comfortable. 

2. You should try to be professional for the duration of the interview. You never know whose watching. Youll have to 'be on' more times than others. The most important thing is to nail your interviews. Everything else you can be relaxed for. Do try to have a good time, dont be too tense about it. Remember they want you too. 

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I think you should take their words at face value---there is no point in "tricking" candidates (not to mention that it would be unfair!).

But "casual" dress should always be "smart"/"sharp"/"professional" for work-related events. So definitely not an old t-shirt, and no ripped jeans! (the following will be male-centric since that's what I know!): I'd interpret casual dress in the work setting to be something like a polo shirt (or a nice sweater or a casual button up shirt) and khakis/dark wash jeans/nice slacks. I think part of the reason why they say "casual" is to help people be comfortable and so that they don't show up in a dress shirt and tie! Basically, I would say you should think about what you would wear to work on a daily basis and then pick an outfit on the nicer end of that range.

Your overall actions will be evaluated during the weekend, but not in the "Hunger Games" or other dystopian young adult dramatic novels sense :) It's not like the committee sets up a lunch for you and then gleefully sits back and watches how you interact and socialize with each other and take notes! They're not going to be watching out to see if you stand nicely in line, hand the person behind you a plate, or whatever. When I say you will be evaluated throughout the weekend, I mean things like you should not plan on being unprofessional or inappropriate at the social events or happy hours or dinners etc. Don't get drunk, don't insult people, etc. Just be yourself and be professional. 

As @jeanetics17 said, there are certain parts that are going to be more formally evaluated ("graded" if you will) and it's only those times you have to be "on". These times are generally the one-on-one (or panel, if appropriate) interviews with faculty and other scientists. The rest of the time, people won't give each candidate a "grade" on a lab tour or a campus tour or a lunch event etc. Instead, for everything else, the people you interact with might get asked to give an overall holistic impression of you. So you just need to be yourself, stay professional, stay relaxed and be interested!

One last thing, about being interested. Don't treat the whole weekend like a test where you have to one-up the other candidates, or that you have to always ask a question at every tour to show off. There is likely going to be one person that does this in your group, but don't feel like you have to "compete" with them. If you do have a good question about something you saw, definitely ask it. It's good to show interest. But don't feel like you are forced to do so or it will sound very forced. If you are not a very extroverted person (most of us aren't!!), don't worry! You will have plenty of chances to show interest, ask questions, and demonstrate your competence during your interviews/meetings. Don't worry about "performing" in front the group.

I would say there's more of a list of things to NOT do than a list of things to do. Just common sense things though. Don't play on your phone during the tour. Don't be rude/arrogant to others. Don't dress or act like a slob. Don't be hyper-competitive and act like you are in a dystopian young adult novel/tv show :)

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