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What do people recommend as far as preparing for interviews?

Obviously, know your own research. I know the work I've done at 2/3 institutions like the back of my hand. The 3rd was a 3 month internship I'm more vague on, but am currently reading the publication that came out of it.

I have my first interview next week, and I know I should know the research of the people I'm interviewing with (I have my itinerary). 1/5, though, works on something pretty removed from my interests, and another works mostly with techniques I've never used or read much on. Should I have talking points for each person, or is it okay to not know as much about some if they weren't people I requested/aren't doing what I'm interested in?

Also, generally, what should one do to prepare? I'm interviewing for neuroscience programs, by the way.

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No one is going to expect you to be an expert on each topic of your interviewer so I wouldn't worry too much about ones out of your field! Just reading papers and being familiar with what it is they are doing is already good, even if you don't understand on the level of other topics. For reference, one of the places I'm interviewing at doesn't give us our list of faculty until the morning of and specifically stated we don't need to be knowledgeable about their research going into the interviews.  So, if you already are reading up on what they do and maybe have a question or two, I think you'll be golden. But advice from people who interviewed in years past would be good too, as I'm in the same place you are :)

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31 minutes ago, virology_2018 said:

If you google "NIH grad school interview preparation", there is a presentation from the NIH OITE that is meant to help you prepare for interviews. It seems pretty helpful, I'd check it out!

Thanks for the suggestion! Found it very helpful.

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2 hours ago, virology_2018 said:

If you google "NIH grad school interview preparation", there is a presentation from the NIH OITE that is meant to help you prepare for interviews. It seems pretty helpful, I'd check it out!

Super helpful, especially since one of my interviews is actually at the NIH. Thank you!

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I'll copy/paste two posts from a recent thread here.

 

StemCellFan:

"I'm not sure what the actual statistics are for those places, but I've heard it ranges anywhere from 50% to 80%.  It depends on the program though and the percentage of applicants admitted one year can differ from the next.  Either way, I would go in with confidence and bring your A-game while you're there!

As far as preparations go, I would look into the research of the people you are interviewing with.  I would peruse a couple recent papers, but don't worry about reading their whole bibliography or anything.  Some of these individuals are going to share your research interests and will come from a list you provided to the program coordinator or are faculty you've indicated an interest in working with when you applied.  Some faculty you meet with could be from the admissions or recruiting committee whose research may differ from what you want to work on.  I would still brush up on what they do and make sure you can have an intelligent conversation with them about your research and theirs.  Be sure to ask questions pertaining to their research; they want to engage in a two-way conversation with you.

I would make sure you can succinctly and coherently describe your research.  If you have multiple, different research experiences, I would focus on your most current projects but be able to answer questions on past work you've done.

Also make sure you can answer why you want to do a PhD at those programs specifically, why you want a PhD in general, and what your career goals are.  If you have specific research interests, be sure you're able to communicate those as well.

Other than that, know yourself.  A lot of these programs will have social events with alcohol.  If you don't drink, this isn't the time to start.  Be personable, be inquisitive, there are resources online for questions to ask graduate students and/or faculty so you can get a feel of the program.

Also make sure you dress appropriately for the weather.  I've lived in the midwest my whole life and I can tell you that January/February gets really cold and there's salt, snow, and some ice on the ground.  Not so much a problem for California, but it might be chilly in NYC.  I would make sure to bring a warm coat and proper footwear to walk around in.  In general, there will be a lot of walking, so I'd advise against heels (unless you can walk all day in them).

I hope this helps!  I know this advice as been helpful for me as I'm preparing for my interviews.

Source: Graduate students/faculty at the university I'm currently working at."

 

Neuro15:

"I'll emphasize a few things: 

1.) Know why you applied to each program. Seems simple, right? But I can guarantee you it's a trickier question than it seems when you go to actually say why (nerves play a role in this). Know your typical POIs, but also the program's general strengths. Out of all the great programs out there ---and there are a ton--- what made this school stand out? Additionally why do you want a PhD? The job market isn't amazing, and academia is a tough life. 

2.) Know your research inside and out. You will be asked about what you did previously. If you interview with someone familiar with the area of your research you might get asked pretty detailed questions. It's best if you can answer these without appearing flustered or nervous. Knowing your research backwards and forwards really helps with this. 

3.) PIs are nerds (aren't we all here?). They love to talk about their research. Accordingly, most PIs love it when interviewees ask thoughtful questions about their work. Bonus points if you make the PI think. 

4.) Be polite and courteous...to everyone! This should go without saying, but it amazes me how people can be impolite to the secretaries or even other students. Assume everything you do will get back to the ADCOM."

 

 

 

Goodluck!

Edited by Neuro15

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Some recommendations from a current student interviewer. This is just from my personal experiences interviewing and discussing with admissions committees.

1. Be prepared to answer WHY you want to do a PhD in general. If you are coming straight from undergraduate, be especially prepared to justify why you believe you are ready to enter directly into a PhD program instead of taking a year or two off.

2. Have justifications for why you applied to a specific institution and program. Being able to pinpoint specific faculty, resources, graduate outcomes, etc. all help show you are applying to a program for a particular reason and not just because it is ranked highly.

3. Be able to talk about your research clearly and concisely. If you do not know something, do not be afraid to say you do not know. I would rather have someone answer "I do not know" 10 times than try to make up an answer once. It is also helpful to be able to identify specific things you have taken away from each experience. Also, if you have multiple experiences, it is best to focus on the one you are most comfortable talking about rather than trying to give equal time to all of your research.

Above all, be enthusiastic about your own research, research in general, the program you are applying to, and pursuing a PhD. If you can talk about your research and genuinely seem excited about it, then that will come across to us and we will remember it more than if you can answer every single technical question flawlessly. It is okay if you are nervous and it is okay if you can't answer every question - it is not okay if you are just going through the motions.

4. For faculty interviews, don't worry about knowing their work inside and out. If you want, you can read a couple abstracts from their most recent papers + look at their lab websites, but anything beyond that is not expected.

5. Prepare questions! They can be general questions about graduate school, specific questions about a PIs research, etc., but do not just sit there blankly if you are asked if you have any further questions.

6. If you have a student interview in addition to faculty interviews, be forewarned that at many schools this interview will be weighted alongside your other interviews. This means you need to maintain professionalism and decorum.

7. You ARE being evaluated at all times, but 90% of the evaluation that goes into the final decision is done during the interviews. However, there are really only three things you can do that will get you immediately disqualified (and yes, I have seen each of these happen at least once): (1) Making sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks, (2) falling asleep during an interview, and (3) aggressively hitting on current students or PIs to the point of harassment. Every year, without fail, there are at least three recruits who do one of these things (usually #1 or #3) and are disqualified from consideration.

8. It is okay to drink alcohol if you are someone who likes to drink alcohol. It is okay to abstain from alcohol if you are someone who likes to abstain from alcohol. It is NOT okay to get belligerently drunk and make bigoted remarks or harass current students or other recruits. I would recommend knowing your limits and what type of drinker you are - we want you to have fun but try not to embarrass yourself. Believe it or not, we have accepted people who have gotten black out drunk and thrown up at recruitment parties, but do not put yourself into that situation.

9. Dress to impress for your interview day. A full suit is unnecessary for guys, but some nice slacks, a good button down, and a blazer will suit you well for all interviews. Gals, do not wear heels - you will seriously regret it. For the rest of the weekend, feel free to wear whatever is comfortable.

10. Have fun! All participating faculty and students go into the interview weekends trying to recruit EVERYONE. We want everyone to love our school and our program and want as many people to attend as possible. Talk to as many faculty and students as possible, be engaged, and generally look like you want to be there and you will find the biggest challenge will be deciding where you actually want to go from all of your options. Getting the interview is the hard part - we interview around 8-10% of applicants and accept around 75% of those interviewed. If you have gotten an interview, you have all the qualifications to get accepted - we just need to make sure that you look as good in person as you are on paper.

I hope this helps! I'm sure I'll be seeing a few of you in the coming months.

 

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On 1/5/2018 at 12:50 PM, BiomedicalPHD said:

Some recommendations from a current student interviewer. This is just from my personal experiences interviewing and discussing with admissions committees.

1. Be prepared to answer WHY you want to do a PhD in general. If you are coming straight from undergraduate, be especially prepared to justify why you believe you are ready to enter directly into a PhD program instead of taking a year or two off.

2. Have justifications for why you applied to a specific institution and program. Being able to pinpoint specific faculty, resources, graduate outcomes, etc. all help show you are applying to a program for a particular reason and not just because it is ranked highly.

3. Be able to talk about your research clearly and concisely. If you do not know something, do not be afraid to say you do not know. I would rather have someone answer "I do not know" 10 times than try to make up an answer once. It is also helpful to be able to identify specific things you have taken away from each experience. Also, if you have multiple experiences, it is best to focus on the one you are most comfortable talking about rather than trying to give equal time to all of your research.

Above all, be enthusiastic about your own research, research in general, the program you are applying to, and pursuing a PhD. If you can talk about your research and genuinely seem excited about it, then that will come across to us and we will remember it more than if you can answer every single technical question flawlessly. It is okay if you are nervous and it is okay if you can't answer every question - it is not okay if you are just going through the motions.

4. For faculty interviews, don't worry about knowing their work inside and out. If you want, you can read a couple abstracts from their most recent papers + look at their lab websites, but anything beyond that is not expected.

5. Prepare questions! They can be general questions about graduate school, specific questions about a PIs research, etc., but do not just sit there blankly if you are asked if you have any further questions.

6. If you have a student interview in addition to faculty interviews, be forewarned that at many schools this interview will be weighted alongside your other interviews. This means you need to maintain professionalism and decorum.

7. You ARE being evaluated at all times, but 90% of the evaluation that goes into the final decision is done during the interviews. However, there are really only three things you can do that will get you immediately disqualified (and yes, I have seen each of these happen at least once): (1) Making sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks, (2) falling asleep during an interview, and (3) aggressively hitting on current students or PIs to the point of harassment. Every year, without fail, there are at least three recruits who do one of these things (usually #1 or #3) and are disqualified from consideration.

8. It is okay to drink alcohol if you are someone who likes to drink alcohol. It is okay to abstain from alcohol if you are someone who likes to abstain from alcohol. It is NOT okay to get belligerently drunk and make bigoted remarks or harass current students or other recruits. I would recommend knowing your limits and what type of drinker you are - we want you to have fun but try not to embarrass yourself. Believe it or not, we have accepted people who have gotten black out drunk and thrown up at recruitment parties, but do not put yourself into that situation.

9. Dress to impress for your interview day. A full suit is unnecessary for guys, but some nice slacks, a good button down, and a blazer will suit you well for all interviews. Gals, do not wear heels - you will seriously regret it. For the rest of the weekend, feel free to wear whatever is comfortable.

10. Have fun! All participating faculty and students go into the interview weekends trying to recruit EVERYONE. We want everyone to love our school and our program and want as many people to attend as possible. Talk to as many faculty and students as possible, be engaged, and generally look like you want to be there and you will find the biggest challenge will be deciding where you actually want to go from all of your options. Getting the interview is the hard part - we interview around 8-10% of applicants and accept around 75% of those interviewed. If you have gotten an interview, you have all the qualifications to get accepted - we just need to make sure that you look as good in person as you are on paper.

I hope this helps! I'm sure I'll be seeing a few of you in the coming months.

 

What are people's thoughts on #9? I bought a full suit AND a blazer just in case, but I don't want to look like a fool by dressing either too formally or too casually. Some schools ask specifically to dress business casual, in which case I am going to go for the blazer. For the rest, are you guys going to be wearing suits? I have a few work colleagues who are currently interviewing for MDPhD programs and they wear full suits for the most part. 

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2 hours ago, factanonverba said:

 

What are people's thoughts on #9? I bought a full suit AND a blazer just in case, but I don't want to look like a fool by dressing either too formally or too casually. Some schools ask specifically to dress business casual, in which case I am going to go for the blazer. For the rest, are you guys going to be wearing suits? I have a few work colleagues who are currently interviewing for MDPhD programs and they wear full suits for the most part. 

A couple extra thoughts on this:

At every interview you will run into a whole spectrum of people dressing casually to formal. Really, as long as you aren't on either extreme (such as wearing jeans and a t-shirt or a full tuxedo), you will be fine. I personally wore slacks and a button down without a tie to all my interviews and didn't feel too casual, although I think adding a blazer is a good look.

In general, people will be dressing more casual if you're interviewing on the West Coast versus the East Coast and Midwest. You probably won't run into too many people wearing suits if you're interviewing at UCSD, UW, UCSF, etc., whereas you'll see more at Harvard, Cornell, Michigan, etc. Also, MD/PhD (and MD) interviews run a little more formal than PhD interviews too.

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So most of my interview invite information has been pretty straightforward.  Tours, meet with students, dinners/lunches, meet with faculty (whom you share interests with, some not), and maybe a social event or two.  One program has indicated they want their interviewees to give a 4-5 minute research experience presentation in front of a committee.  I'm in the fortunate situation that I am 5 years out from undergrad and have been working as a technician in multiple laboratories, and I also have 2 labs I worked in as an undergrad.  That's a lot to condense into 4-5 minutes.  Does anyone have experience with this?  Any advice?  I give powerpoint presentations about once a month for lab meeting and a yearly seminar for the whole department, so I'm pretty comfortable talking in front of others, but those are also pretty informal and unrehearsed.

Edited by StemCellFan

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9 minutes ago, StemCellFan said:

So most of my interview invite information has been pretty straightforward.  Tours, meet with students, dinners/lunches, meet with faculty (whom you share interests with, some not), and maybe a social event or two.  One program has indicated they want their interviewees to give a 4-5 minute research experience presentation in front of a committee.  I'm in the fortunate situation that I am 5 years out from undergrad and have been working as a technician in multiple laboratories, and I also have 2 labs I worked in as an undergrad.  That's a lot to condense into 4-5 minutes.  Does anyone have experience with this?  Any advice?  I give powerpoint presentations about once a month for lab meeting and a yearly seminar for the whole department, so I'm pretty comfortable talking in front of others, but those are also pretty informal and unrehearsed.

I would suggest not trying to fit every research experience you've ever had into that time. Instead, focus on the one that is most meaningful to you, that fits best with what you want to study in grad school, that you're most comfortable about, most impressive, has the most complete or compelling data, etc.

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How much are you meant to know about your interviewers research? I've looked over their research summaries and a couple abstracts but since the field is so broad, my interviewers' research interests are also very diverse. 

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On 1/11/2018 at 10:16 AM, siliconchins said:

How much are you meant to know about your interviewers research? I've looked over their research summaries and a couple abstracts but since the field is so broad, my interviewers' research interests are also very diverse. 

That should be sufficient. As long as you know what each PI is interested in then you should be fine. If there is a PI that really interests you, you can read through one or two of their recent papers and come up with a couple questions, but that is not expected of you.

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2 hours ago, BiomedicalPHD said:

That should be sufficient. As long as you know what each PI is interested in then you should be fine. If there is a PI that really interests you, you can read through one or two of their recent papers and come up with a couple questions, but that is not expected of you.

Thanks! I just had my first set of interviews this past weekend and I found that they were more interested in learning more about my interests and understanding how I would respond to certain observations relating to their research. Overall it was pretty laid back and not stressful at all. 

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After having my first interviews this weekend, this is what I came away with:

I didn't really need to know much about the faculty's research, just the general idea of what their research focuses on. A few told me about their research, but the interview was focused on my experience, and I didn't really get the opportunity to comment on their research, because it was usually toward the end of the interview.

So long as we were talking the entire 30 mins, it was a successful interview. Either I went on and on about my research experience, answering their questions throughout, or we sparked a random conversation about almost irrelevant subjects and kept on that track the whole time. With one guy I talked about the difficulties of getting patients into studies for half the time (I do molecular biology research, not anything clinical). Whenever I felt a lull in the conversation coming, I thought of a question to ask. With one we just spoke about my general interests, including non-science related interests.

Almost every interviewer asked me to tell them about my research experience. In one of the first ones, I decided to start from the very beginning of my lab experience (5 years ago), which I quickly realized was a bad idea. It was my earliest experience, and although I know the big picture of the experiment and my part in it, I don't have a firm grasp on everything, so I couldn't answer a few of the questions about it. What I did in the rest of my interviews was immediately bring up my most recent, most significant research experience, and reference my prior experiences where appropriate.

There was a panel interview for 20 mins with the entire admissions committee (6 people). It was intimidating at first, but actually ended up being the least stressful interview. I just talked about my research the whole time and they asked questions about it throughout.

Finally, wear comfortable shoes. They don't have to be the most stylish, so long as they're formal enough and you can spend a day in them walking up and down hills (my interviews weren't all on the same side of campus).

The director of the program/head of the admissions committee told me I did really well, so I'm coming away from it assuming I did something right.

Edited by BabyScientist

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1 hour ago, BabyScientist said:

After having my first interviews this weekend, this is what I came away with:

I didn't really need to know much about the faculty's research, just the general idea of what their research focuses on. A few told me about their research, but the interview was focused on my experience, and I didn't really get the opportunity to comment on their research, because it was usually toward the end of the interview.

So long as we were talking the entire 30 mins, it was a successful interview. Either I went on and on about my research experience, answering their questions throughout, or we sparked a random conversation about almost irrelevant subjects and kept on that track the whole time. With one guy I talked about the difficulties of getting patients into studies for half the time (I do molecular biology research, not anything clinical). Whenever I felt a lull in the conversation coming, I thought of a question to ask. With one we just spoke about my general interests, including non-science related interests.

Almost every interviewer asked me to tell them about my research experience. In one of the first ones, I decided to start from the very beginning of my lab experience (5 years ago), which I quickly realized was a bad idea. It was my earliest experience, and although I know the big picture of the experiment and my part in it, I don't have a firm grasp on everything, so I couldn't answer a few of the questions about it. What I did in the rest of my interviews was immediately bring up my most recent, most significant research experience, and reference my prior experiences where appropriate.

There was a panel interview for 20 mins with the entire admissions committee (6 people). It was intimidating at first, but actually ended up being the least stressful interview. I just talked about my research the whole time and they asked questions about it throughout.

Finally, wear comfortable shoes. They don't have to be the most stylish, so long as they're formal enough and you can spend a day in them walking up and down hills (my interviews weren't all on the same side of campus).

The director of the program/head of the admissions committee told me I did really well, so I'm coming away from it assuming I did something right.

These are cool insights! 

Would you guys say it is a good idea to carry a notebook with you and jot notes during interviews? I carry it everywhere with me and write useful ideas down, but not sure how that would come off in grad school interviews. 

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3 minutes ago, factanonverba said:

These are cool insights! 

Would you guys say it is a good idea to carry a notebook with you and jot notes during interviews? I carry it everywhere with me and write useful ideas down, but not sure how that would come off in grad school interviews. 

I wrote down notes after each interview so I could remember what we talked about - some profs asked me to forward them some papers about my research that we discussed or additional info later. I definitely think that this is a good idea.

1 hour ago, 1224 said:

@siliconchins Congrats on your first set going well! Do you mind clarifying what you mean by responding to certain observations about their research?

The interviewers that I selected were conducting research relevant to my interests, so they would ask how their own observations fit into my understanding of the material, and how I might move forwards from there (such as what questions I would ask and how I would go about answering them). It wasn't like they were quizzing my knowledge - rather, it seemed to be a natural progression from our discussion. It was more reminiscent of a lab meeting with my PI more than anything. 

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5 hours ago, BabyScientist said:

After having my first interviews this weekend, this is what I came away with:

I didn't really need to know much about the faculty's research, just the general idea of what their research focuses on. A few told me about their research, but the interview was focused on my experience, and I didn't really get the opportunity to comment on their research, because it was usually toward the end of the interview.

So long as we were talking the entire 30 mins, it was a successful interview. Either I went on and on about my research experience, answering their questions throughout, or we sparked a random conversation about almost irrelevant subjects and kept on that track the whole time. With one guy I talked about the difficulties of getting patients into studies for half the time (I do molecular biology research, not anything clinical). Whenever I felt a lull in the conversation coming, I thought of a question to ask. With one we just spoke about my general interests, including non-science related interests.

Almost every interviewer asked me to tell them about my research experience. In one of the first ones, I decided to start from the very beginning of my lab experience (5 years ago), which I quickly realized was a bad idea. It was my earliest experience, and although I know the big picture of the experiment and my part in it, I don't have a firm grasp on everything, so I couldn't answer a few of the questions about it. What I did in the rest of my interviews was immediately bring up my most recent, most significant research experience, and reference my prior experiences where appropriate.

There was a panel interview for 20 mins with the entire admissions committee (6 people). It was intimidating at first, but actually ended up being the least stressful interview. I just talked about my research the whole time and they asked questions about it throughout.

Finally, wear comfortable shoes. They don't have to be the most stylish, so long as they're formal enough and you can spend a day in them walking up and down hills (my interviews weren't all on the same side of campus).

The director of the program/head of the admissions committee told me I did really well, so I'm coming away from it assuming I did something right.

Sounds like you did exceptionally well! Asking questions when you feel a lull coming is a great way to keep the interview moving along. If you are talking with the interviewer for the entire time of the interview, including non-science interests, you did something right.

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21 hours ago, factanonverba said:

These are cool insights! 

Would you guys say it is a good idea to carry a notebook with you and jot notes during interviews? I carry it everywhere with me and write useful ideas down, but not sure how that would come off in grad school interviews. 

I wouldn't take notes during the interviews. It's supposed to be a conversation, and most people don't usually take notes on conversations. I took notes after each interview on what we talked about and what my impressions were so I could refer back to it later.

I also took notes on my impressions of the school in general. I figured I'd need some way to refresh my memory of what I thought of the school when it comes time to make decisions.

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For my research, I looked at agonist stimulation through a number of receptors.  Do you think it would be ok to bring a quick printed-out diagram of the cell that shows these receptors and their corresponding agonists as a visual tool?

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4 minutes ago, StemCellFan said:

For my research, I looked at agonist stimulation through a number of receptors.  Do you think it would be ok to bring a quick printed-out diagram of the cell that shows these receptors and their corresponding agonists as a visual tool?

Eh, I personally wouldn’t. IMO bringing a print out of your research appears like a crutch, even if it’s not actually one. 

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3 hours ago, Neuro15 said:

Eh, I personally wouldn’t. IMO bringing a print out of your research appears like a crutch, even if it’s not actually one. 

This is a good point.

I think it also detracts from the conversation. You want your interview to be a conversation, not something you had to bring props for. If anything, I would just be ready to draw out the diagram so you can explain it better only if they seem to need the visual.

3 hours ago, StemCellFan said:

For my research, I looked at agonist stimulation through a number of receptors.  Do you think it would be ok to bring a quick printed-out diagram of the cell that shows these receptors and their corresponding agonists as a visual tool?

 

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5 hours ago, BabyScientist said:

This is a good point.

I think it also detracts from the conversation. You want your interview to be a conversation, not something you had to bring props for. If anything, I would just be ready to draw out the diagram so you can explain it better only if they seem to need the visual.

 

Agreed. A few interviews of mine ended up turning into a chalk talk after the PI requested I diagram what I was talking about. These ended up being some of my strongest interviews as it lead to detailed conversation and brainstorming. 

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