Journey of the Undergraduate Physician Scientist

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Interview Success

You’ve submitted your secondaries and (im)patiently awaited your first interview invite. You check your email for the seventeenth time of the day and to your elation, you receive your first invitation to interview at a physician-scientist training program.

A few minutes pass until you think to yourself, “Oh shoot. How do I prepare for this?”

Navigating the interview can seem difficult, but with a little pre-interview preparation, you are guaranteed to set yourself apart from your fellow applicants. Below are three easy-to-implement recommendations to get ahead in your interview.

  1. Be confident (but humble) and smile. A primary barrier to a successful interview is lack of confidence. Often times applicants are intimidated by giving chalk talks, being interviewed by program directors and highly reputable physician-scientists, and trying to fit in with current students in the program. However, understand that you have been invited to interview. That means that program is impressed by your credentials. You need not worry about imposter syndrome, or feeling unworthy in comparison to other highly qualified applicants. In fact, one thing programs will be looking for at this stage is just that you’re a nice, normal person! So, Confidence and smiling frequently are well-perceived during your interviews, chalk talks, and overall interactions with students and faculty (check out this 3min TED talk on feeling confident in the moment). Programs are looking to add students with positive, community-building personalities who are equipped with the tools necessary to traverse the difficulties of physician-scientist training. However, don’t tread into the territory of cockiness. You aren’t applying for a banking position on Wall Street.
  2. Do your research. Know what makes them (and you) unique. Most programs will have you interview with physician-scientists on the programs’ admissions committee and researchers whose work is of interest to you. It’s important that you identify several researchers with whom you are (or could be) sincerely interested in working, and once you know with whom you’ll be interviewing, you should skim a few recent papers published from the researchers’ labs in order to make the most of your research interviews. Similarly, it’s important that you understand what each program uniquely provides its students and specifically, why you’re interested in each program. Reasons could include: strength in a certain research area, commitment to serving underserved populations, diversity of the student body, free student-run health care clinics, flexibility in what research you can pursue for your PhD, location, vibe of the students, etc. The most obvious way for a program to know that you’re more interested in other schools than them is to lack explanations for what makes them unique, why, specifically you will excel in their program, and what opportunities for growth you believe are available for their program. The latter is often overlooked, or applicants believe it isn’t their place to suggest opportunities for improvement for a program. However, identifying an opportunity for improvement and providing a potential plan for improvement shows that you’re interested in the long-term success of the program and that you are a valuable asset to the university’s community beyond the lab and the classroom.
  3. Say “Thank you,” and keep in touch. After you ace the interview, the last step to ensure your acceptance is to tell the program how much you appreciated the opportunity to interview with them and how impressed you were by their program. Ideally, do this in-person before returning home. Then, within a few days of returning home, write a tailored “Thank you” email for the program director, the program coordinator, and faculty with whom you interviewed. This further demonstrates your interest in the program and your humility for the opportunity to interview. In addition, update the program with new research publications, abstracts, presentations, grade reports, travel awards, and other notable forms of achievement. Similar to “
    Thank you” emails, updates ensure your interest in the program, and they maintain your familiarity with those who are deciding your admissions fate. This may seem like an insignificant component to your interview, but understand that admissions committees are constantly evaluating you and looking for reasons to accept or deny you. We like to believe that decisions are rooted in objectivity, but in reality, programs’ decisions can be subjective. Sure, statistics and research currency matter, but during and after your interview, you will be judged more so on the quality of your interview and how well the program believes you will fit in with their objectives and current students.

Congratulations on receiving an invitation to interview at a physician-scientist training program. Remember, the interview serves as programs’ primary way to evaluate your personality and your commitment to their program and physician-scientist training in general. The most successful applicants is confident and smiles, does their research, and says “Thank you” and keeps in touch. Follow these three simple recommendations, and you can rest assured that your interview will be a success!

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