Every grad school is different, and so is every interview weekend. To help give you a flavor for what they’re like, I’ve included a hypothetical timeline with event breakdowns. There are a lot of events on here, and your weekend may not have all of these events (or might have even more!), but if you’re prepared for anything, you’ll be able to power through these marathon days like a true champ.
3ish weeks before: The Invite
- One-on-one: You are invited by a specific professor (or 2) to interview to be a member of his/her lab. During the weekend, you’ll meet with lab members, and you’ll probably give a presentation to the lab about your research #stressfulbutyoucandoit
- Every one: You’re invited by the department or program; you’ll interview/meet with various professors and get a sense of the program as a whole.
1 week before: Required Reading
Interview Weekend: Let’s GOOO!
Check into your hotel, read the welcome packet, chat with other recruits in the lobby! Seriously remember not to think of these other recruits as your competition – it’s a marathon and you’re in this together, so make friends and have fun!
Day 1, Evening: Welcome mixer!
Yes, professors will be there, and hopefully, they’ll be wearing nametags. Don’t be shy – they are there to meet you! They want you to come to their school! They are there to talk to you! Just introduce yourself and make small talk. And if small talk is not your thing, just ask about their research and they’ll do the work for you.
Day 2, Morning, 7am: Bus to campus and breakfast
Yes, this is the earliest you’ve woken up since high school, but don’t worry, real grad students don’t get to work until at least 8:30.
Day 2, 8am: Welcome Intro
Some kind of lecture about the history of the program, why all of you recruits are amazing, and what the amazing faculty has accomplished this year. Take notes if they talk about faculty you’re going to be meeting with later. #talkingpoints
Day 2, 9am-12pm; 1pm-4pm: Interviews!
Interviews with professors! If you’re on a one-on-one, you’ll meet with lab members and if it’s an every-one, you’ll be meeting with professors. Some of the professors you’ll meet with will be people you’re interested in working with and others may be total randos whose research you’ve never heard of and do not want to do – that’s ok! Just chat it up. Be prepared to talk about your previous research experiences – they’re looking to see that you can cogently explain science and that you can identify your personal, specific contributions to the project. Are you as legit as you seemed on paper in your application? Also be curious about their work and when they ask “Do you have any questions?” you should DEFINITELY have questions. Some ideas for questions: Why did you first become interested in interfacial chemistry/bone mechanics/mitochondria? What are recent lab graduates doing now? If they’re a younger prof who moved to town recently, ask how they like living in Berkeley (or wherever). Ask where they think their research is headed in the next few years – any new projects or cool directions on existing projects?
Day 2, 1pm: Lunch with Current Students
Meet Students! Any opportunity to talk to current students is interview weekend gold. Find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know – just by asking! Social life? Lab life? Classes? How are qualifying exams/prelims? Are professors willing to let students do summer internships in industry? How is the department doing? Who has money? (Note: Don’t actually ask “Who has money?” or “Who has no money?” but if you’re interested in someone, questions like “Is Prof X taking a lot of students right now?” and “Do you think I’d need an external fellowship to get into the X lab” can be good proxies for such questions.) Get students’ contact info and follow up via email with anyone who you enjoyed talking to.
Day 2, 4pm: Poster Session and Social Hour
Food, beer, science – this is what it’s all about. Try to go to the posters of all the labs you’re interested in and ask questions. This is a good place to get a feel for the day-to-day work of the lab work. Sure that graph might be beautiful, but if it took 5 weeks of sitting in front of the AFM to get that image 12 hours a day, it might not be worth it to you. Also, it’s a great place to ask more questions of current students and professors! Don’t be shy – you’ll be great!
Day 2, 6pm: Dinner!
Food, wine, science – the fun continues. This is a great time to ask professors and students those final questions; is anything weighing on your mind? Does this program have a potential dealbreaker or dealmaker that you want to know more about – ask, ask ask!!
Day 2, 9pm: After Party
This one probably will be only students and will be a great time to ask questions about stuff like how easy it is to live on the stipend in the town. If you’re a non-traditional student in some way – student parent, veteran, married, from another country, from another part of the country (I see you, Midwest), etc. – ask around to see if there is anyone in the program or any friends-of-friends at the school who you can talk to. Even if you can’t chat them up then, shoot them an email expressing any specific concerns you may have; chances are they will reply with good advice and #realtalk about their grad school experiences.