GradApps: Interviews

Hi everyone, 

We are back with the eighth post of our graduate applications series. In this post we discuss the last step of the graduate application process that you might have to take to finally secure your admission to a top Grad School ! Woohoo ! 

So, What's up with the Interviews ?

If you have already read the previous posts on this series, you should have a pretty good idea of how you end up with one or more interview calls from grad schools. (If you have not yet, here's the link to go for:

To quickly recap, after you complete and successfully submit your applications to the universities you will be entering "the Waiting Period" (refer grad apps-7). The waiting period ends for you when you get an "Acceptance" from any of your applied schools. You can get one dierectly i.e. without interview (happens mostly for masters applications, but top schools take interview even for masters applications.) or you can get an interview invitation (for most if not all PhD applications and also for many Masters applications). 

Generally one of the Professors or a PostDoc under some Professor of a department you have applied to will reach out to you communicating the Interview notification. If you are in the same country as your university then they will ask you to physically come to their campus on something called "Interview Weekend". (you can guess from the name what happens there). If you are an international applicant they will most likely want to schedule a time for Skype or Facetime or something similar. Skype is the most prevalent though. In this article we shall deal with tips for the online interviews judging by most of our readers shall experience this.

Preparation for an Online Interview

Consider the following points while you set yourself up for an online interview. Some of these tips are applicable for video conferences in general. So, these tips are useful outside of the current context too. 

  • Dress formally i.e. shirt, tie, blazer (At least for the top half of your body). You can skip the lower formals if you are sure you are not getting  up suddenly during the interview for some reason. 
  • Choose the place to sit with your laptop/pc carefully. An overcrowded lab or public space is not a right place. Similarly a place with erratic wifi is not too. 
  • Pick a time when you know your surrounding is going to be quiet. (e.g. you are in a hostel room and suddenly the neighbouring room won't start loud music mid-way through the interview.)
  • Your sitting arrangement should be such that your face is properly illuminated. Your face should NOT look like this or something similar on the video call:

  • Notice what is behinid you on the background. A simple empty wall should do, or something tasteful like a nice floral hanging or calendar or it. Depends on your test. Just don't put anything that pulls too much attention of the interviewer (e.g. a horror movie poster or your fav actress or actor's picture or just dumped cloths on your hostel room bed/chair).
  • Make a demo call with a friend or family and see if your internet is working properly and you are reachable properly through skype or any such tool you have agreed to use with interviewer.
With the things above sorted out you are ready with external preparation for the interview.

Now comes the important part. The points above will only make sure you are not red flagged outright. But, the next points are key to make a lasting impression through the interview and eventually get an acceptance!

 The Internal/Mental Preparation:
  •  The interviews generally start with this particular question : "Hi, NoobMaster69*, tell me about your research experience in  Fortnite* ?" (sub * s with your name and topic). This question is the first and most important one for you and you have to be ready to ace it. Before trying to think of an answer you should know what they are trying to judge. And that is NOT how exquisite research you have done. That is apparent from your application already. They want to judge how well you can communicate what you have done in a concise yet insightful manner. So, you need to mentally decide beforehand the story of research you are going to tell. It should (as we have already said) be concise yet insightful. That means you have to tell where did you do the reasearch (which institute, which lab), what was the problem statement, what did you do (short description of models developped, methods tried, implementation), what was the outcome, inference, remaining difficulties to solve the problem and what methods can be tries in future to address those difficulties.  You do not need to tell   the last part (addressing remaining difficulties in future) in answer to the question of your research experience. But, think of an answer to it as this will inevitably be the second question i.e. "So, your research gave these results and these problems still remain, how are you going to address it ?
  •  If you ace this first part of the interview you should be pretty comfortable now. In fact, if you do it well enough the interview will turn into a discussion regarding the research you did which you should be able to follow through. However, be ready to defend some sudden outlier questions. Rest assured, they won't ask you anything from anywhere but you have to be ready to "Defend your Resume/CV". I.e. if you have mentioned you have done a project on "Online Learning" on your resume then you should be able to describe, at least briefly, what you did in the project.
  • After you have satisfactorily sailed through the discussion, the interviewer will most likely ask you if you have any questions. Grab this opportunity to spark another discussion ! How do you do it ? The best way is to study one or two recent papers of the interviewer and come up with some genuine questions beforehand. You win in this round if your questions are strong enough to make the interviewer think about it. A typical question from you to the interview may sound like this: "Sir, I was reading your recent paper on Avengers:Endgame*, It is a brilliant work! But I was wondering if the invereted mobius strip is really the most efficient design for time space GPS? Why did not you use the manifold shapes from the string theory instead of the mobius strip?" Note two things about the above question. first, the slight insertion of complement and second, the questioning of a decision of the interviewer. When you question a decision, the answer is not available outside (i.e. on google), it has to come from the interviewer. This will quickly spark another discussion. 
  • Finally, do not forget to ask when can you expect a decision from the admission committee. The interviewer should be able to give you a pretty good idea. 
Remeber the more the interview leans towards a discussion instead of a question-answering session the more chance the interviewer enjoys chatting with you. 

We hope this post had some useful insights for all of you out there.  We would very much like to hear your thoughts in the comments below, Feel free to express them. 

We are marking a soft end for the grad apps series at this point. However we can make more posts on topics requested by our audience. Some of the possible topics are "making the final decision, which school to attend", "visa processes" etc. 

Subscribe to stay tuned. We shall be back with more useful and enjoyable content pretty soon.