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Science 101: Acing The Science Interview

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Do you have an upcoming face-to-face interview with a potential PI? A phone interview for a summer research internship? A panel medical school interview? Today, Bwog Science Editor Alex Tang brings you science interview tips, compiled from his own experiences and those of his friends and peers.

Chances are, as a science student, you’re going to receive an email or a call one day asking to schedule an interview, whether for an undergraduate research position, a summer program, or for medical/graduate school admissions. It’s a common misconception that doing well in interviews is an innate skill – in reality, being able to ace an interview is 90% preparation, especially when it’s a interview that might get scientifically technical. Here are some tips we’ve compiled on acing an interview for a science position.

  • Be optimistic! Summer and graduate school positions are incredibly competitive, and the cut for those who make the interview is usually the harshest by far. In terms of numbers alone, your chances of landing the position once you get the interview are usually much better than the chances of landing the interview. The fact that they selected you for an interview means that you look very qualified on paper. The interview is a chance for you to bring your on-paper application to life (and to go above and beyond your on-paper self).
  • Put in adequate preparation. (Don’t get too cocky, corollary of tip above.) Depending on the importance of the interview, I’d recommend starting interview prep no later than a couple days before the interview (definitely a couple weeks if it’s an important one, like a med school interview). To prepare for the interview, anticipate the possible topics you’ll be asked to talk about. (See next tip for common questions). On Google Docs or Word, use bullet-points to list out your possible responses to certain questions, as well as specific characteristics and experiences about yourself that you want to get across.
  • Cover your bases by anticipating their questions. If the interview is for a summer research position, you’ll have to explain your prior research projects, as well as your specific scientific fields of interest (and why you’re interested in them). If it’s a medical school interview, you’ll have to talk about how you discovered your interest in medicine. The point is, you should prepare for these easily anticipated questions so that you won’t get spooked during the actual interview.

  • Be able to talk about your goals with fluidity. Admissions love seeing a narrative in their applicants. Lay out the future career that you want, the reason for your passions, and how your extracurriculars and past experiences relate to that career. Make sure that your goals are specific enough to be interesting to the admissions committee. If you could cure any disease, address any climate-related problem, or verify any hypothesis from theoretical physics, what would it be?
  • Tie in your goals with your reason for wanting to get the position. Discuss why the program/position would be perfect for you, and how it would lead you one step closer to your long-term goals. Many summer programs and graduate schools have similar resources – make sure that you’re specific in addressing how your program is unique, and why that uniqueness appeals to you.
  • Do your research beforehand. If you’re interviewing for a lab, read the last 4-5 research papers from the lab, so that you have lots of material (and questions) to talk about. If you’re applying for a program, make sure that you’re familiar with the curriculum/resources that your program offers, so that you can better talk about why you’re interested in that specific program. It’s much, much better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
  • Come up with questions to ask the admissions committee. When they ask you “any questions?” at the end, the admissions committee is always expecting questions. Come up with a small list of potential questions that you could ask. For a research position, it’s always good to have a mix between more technical, scientific questions about the research, and maybe a few questions about lab culture, logistics, etc.
  • Try to seem well-rounded (and not like a research robot). If asked about your non-scientific life, discuss your other hobbies and interests (as fun as pipetting is). If you’re interviewing for a program, be sure to ask a question or two about student life and culture, so that they know that you’ll be interested in integrating yourself with other students.
  • Mind your manners. Remember the important things like greeting your interviewers, smiling, making eye contact, and not interrupting. This also applies to life in general.

Do you have any other science interview tips? Let us know in the comments below! If you have any topic ideas or comments for Science 101, email us at science@bwog.com.

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