Graduate Program Interviews: Social Psychology

This post is part of an ongoing series about applicant interview weekends in Psychology departments. Check back for posts about interviews in other areas of Psychology, and visit our Careers in Psychology section. This post was written by social psychology graduate students who recently (and successfully) went through the process of applying, interviewing for, and selecting a doctorate program. The following is a list of our collective suggestions for social psychology graduate applicants headed off to interview weekends. We focus on things that we found helpful to keep in mind, and lessons we learned from our own interviews. We hope these tips help you!

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Read! This is very important. Graduate students have expressed their shock at interviewees who admit they have not read a single paper by the person they hope will mold them intellectually.

  • Make sure to skim, if not read carefully, multiple articles by the person you’re interviewing with, particularly work that overlaps with yours. Focus on the most recent articles because those will give you an idea of the direction their research is heading. This is also a good question to ask your potential advisor (e.g. What direction is XXX line of research heading?)
  • Be at least familiar with the work of the other people you’ll be meeting with and have a couple of well-formed questions for each of them. The faculty will talk about you to each other, so each meeting is important.

Reread your application materials before your visit. Look over your CV/resume, personal statement, and any other supporting materials. You don’t want to forget that you mentioned a particular research project or leadership experience. This is also an opportunity to decide what parts of your application to highlight and what additional information you want to bring up that you didn’t get to include in the application.

Clothing. Ask the interview weekend coordinators about how formal or casual the dress for each event is. Err on the side of being more conservative. As Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Relatedly, check the weather for the weekend you’ll be there and prepare for it. Wear comfortable shoes. You never know when you’ll go on an impromptu tour of the entire campus. One of the authors developed blisters from the walking tour of the campus, and they had to be driven to the rest of the weekend’s recruitment events!

Create and practice a two-minute “elevator speech” about yourself and your research. You’ll say it over and over and over during the weekend.

Talk to your college advisor(s) about your potential mentor and ask for advice about how to handle your meeting with them. Ask about connections they have that can be helpful.

Know your academic family tree and the potential advisor’s family tree. Chances are your potential advisors overlap at some point and this is good information to know. One of the authors realized mid-interview with a potential advisor that he was a former student of the professor the author had just interviewed with! The realization came only after he asked how his old advisor was doing these days. Awkward. Lesson learned: Within academia, especially in your field of interest, everyone knows everyone. And they talk. They’ll definitely know if you’re going on other interviews and/or receiving offers of admission.

Relatedly, know who collaborates with whom in the department.

Brush up on relevant theory and know the authors of papers (impress people by knowing publication year and journal).

Review requirements of the program and be ready to ask questions about them. Also, be able to answer questions (about a potential minor, for instance, and be able to justify why you would make that choice).

Communicate with the planning committee about travel issues. One of the authors was stuck abroad and forced to miss her interview weekend. Communication was critical to overcoming this surprise obstacle.

If you listed multiple people on your application, clarify (to yourself, at least) who you want your advisor to be before your visit.

 

AT THE INTERVIEW

Sound like a social psychologist. Have one or two studies that you designed to discuss. Be able to talk about how you came up with it. “In my perusal of the literature on stereotype threat I noticed this gap and this study would be my attempt to answer _____.”

Graduate students. They are a resource. Talk to them. Ask all your questions. Just know that when you’re hanging out with graduate students, you’re still being evaluated and act accordingly.

Be aware of the way you present yourself. Avoid allowing stress or nervousness to make you appear overbearing, awkward, or super-competitive. You want to make sure that everyone can see that you’ll be a great fit in the department.

Don’t…

  • …drink too much at the social events.
  • …make it seem like another program is higher on your list; you don’t want to miss a potential acceptance because it seems like you definitely will not attend. BUT! If you’re definitely not interested, let them know as soon as possible so they can make admissions decisions accordingly.

Ask lots of questions, like:

  • How long does it usually take to finish?
  • What is your mentoring style? (hands on/off)
  • How often do you meet with students?
  • What is the paper writing process like?
  • How collaborative are the faculty and students?
  •  Are students free to join/attend other labs?
  • What kinds of resources are available to students?
    • Funding (TA/RA-ships, Conference Travel, Summers, etc.)
    • Statistical resources (courses, consulting, software, etc.)
    • Sample populations (Do you want specific populations for your research? Ethnic minorities, LGBT, Children/Adolescents, etc.)
  • What are the course requirements?
  • What minors are offered?

Be prepared for questions, like:

  •  What are your hobbies? (I know, I know, all you do is research. Come up with something to say. Don’t say Facebook. Definitely don’t say “drinking copious amounts of alcohol after stressful weeks.”)
  • Where do you see yourself after completion of the program? (Regardless of how you truly feel about this question, everyone always wants to hear ACADEMIA! A tenure-track position! Even if, and let’s be real, those positions are dwindling in scary numbers.)

 

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

Write a thank you note to your host. It’s just good manners and can only help the impression you made.

Wait in agony until you hear back.

In the case of an offer, consider the funding carefully. Ask about it, create a sample budget, and accept that your quality of living is .

 

Good luck!