Graduate school (biology) interview overview series: part 2

Onto part 2 under the cut: General/most common questions I was asked

I forgot to mention you probably want to look over your essays/application before interviews at the schools. If you’re like me, your essays vary slightly (due to editing essays between due dates) and it’s just a good idea to brush up on the points you mentioned about yourself to each school.

In addition to some of the questions I mentioned in part 1, here are some other questions I found myself being asked the most:

  • Why immunology/program of interest? Why not plant biology?

Hopefully, you touched upon why you’re interested in immunology or whatever your specific program of interest is in your personal statement. I included details from my application essay, expanded on them and added in more reasons why I chose immunology.

The second question is more specific to me since plant biology was my other major. I explained to them why I chose to continue pursuing immunology over plant biology and I tied my answer to this question back to the reason I wanted to study immunology to kind of bring the conversation full circle, back to immunology. If you had another major or a minor, figure out why you didn’t go down these other paths. I always tried to focus on “my passion for immunology” because at the end of the day, that’s hopefully what the professor will remember about you, and not that you’re someone with two (maybe competing) passions.

  • Why research/PhD? Why not medical school?

Seriously think about why you want to pursue a PhD. It’s likely 5-6 years of your life so you better not make your decision to go to graduate school lightly. Also know why you don’t want to pursue other biology career alternatives. Then bring the conversation back to why graduate school is the right choice for you. Focus on positive comments and minimize saying negative things (you don’t want to come off as a “negative” person).

  • Why [insert the graduate school name here]?

This is the question that I always forgot they’d ask me. I honestly had no idea how to really answer this question at pretty much every school (BAD. don’t be like me). It might be harder to answer at your first school visit because unless you’ve gone through the process before, you really don’t know what to expect and you have nothing to compare it to. Look up program details- is it an umbrella program (admitted to general biomedical sciences) or a specific program (admitted directly to an immunology program with no room to explore outside of immunology)? How’s the research (any inspiring famous past discoveries or current researchers? translational vs basic research?)? Location? Professor and graduate student (environment) fit? Program organization? Just a few things to keep in mind that you can comment on. I feel like this question is deceivingly important. Professors can get a sense of how much you looked into their program beforehand aka how much you care. Seriously, don’t be like me. Go into the interview prepared.

And my least favorite question:

  • Do you have any questions?

Always tricky. Personally, I’m not one of those people who can just pull questions out of thin air. I tend to come up with questions as something progresses. If you’re like me, like I mentioned in part 1, have question(s) about their research prepared. Have a few questions about their program like requirements, structure, funding, etc. prepared. These are just some things that I wanted to know more about. Everyone will have different things they care about so everyone’s questions will be different/personal.

Let me know if you want me to expand on any of these points. I’ll add to this list if I think of any other questions.

Part 3 will be coming soon. Finally, the fun post: outfits!



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