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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

The interview life by Mollie B. '06

Recruiting for MIT on the west coast, plus answering questions.

I know I just wrote an entry about grad school interviews, but my mood has done a total 180 since then, so I feel I’m justified in talking a little more about the process that is consuming my life.

Grad school interviewing in biology gives some insight into the admissions process, which is quite a bit different at the grad level than at the undergrad level. So if you come to MIT (or any other top undergrad school), you’ll talk to your fellow students and find that their acceptances and rejections don’t seem to fit a pattern — one person was accepted at School A but rejected at School B, while another person has a completely opposite history. Since there are so many people applying for so few undergrad spots, the process can seem sort of random.

It’s not like that interviewing for grad programs. Everybody applies to basically the same set of schools (with some variation due to personal preference), and all the same people interview at and get into the various schools. If you get interviews at School A and School B, you can be pretty well assured you’ll get an interview at School C. This obviously creates a cohesive little community of people who are going around interviewing at all the top programs; I’ve met so many great people on my interview trips, and some of them have become my friends.

There are, incidentally, a lot of current MIT undergrads at these interview weekends — there were 8 or 9 of us out of 75 recruits at UC Berkeley last weekend, and there are more than that here at Stanford this weekend. I’ve also run into several current Stanford and Berkeley grad students who did their undergrad work at MIT and are all too happy to find out the current state of the Institvte. (They all say hi.)

I’m also working hard to recruit my fellow interviewees who were accepted to the MIT biology grad program. Just today, I was talking with a guy who’s seriously considering MIT… I was singing the praises of the T and talking trash about northern California weather. (65 degrees year-round? Seriously? But when do you get to wear tank tops and skirts?) So if you come to MIT next year or in the next few years, your TA might be at MIT because I sweet-talked him or her into attending! :D

EDIT, Friday afternoon: I walked into one of my interviews today. The professor shook my hand and said (I am not even making this up), “I saw in your folder that you went to MIT. MIT applicants, as far as I’m concerned, are automatic admits to this program.” He was apparently an undergrad at MIT back in the 70s, so we proceeded to have a lovely chat about MIT housing, MIT student culture, and MIT’s new president. He says hi too.

Questions, cause I haven’t answered any recently:

1. Phil asked,

Is it really possible to come with an almost clean mind about a subject (not much prior knowledge) and major in it. I know it’s nice to think that “you can do anything you want at MIT”, but is it really feasible?

I would tend to say that yes, it’s possible. I came to MIT thinking I was going to choose the cognitive science track in the brain and cognitive sciences major, and ended up doing the molecular/cellular track, even though I had very little knowledge of what it entailed prior to MIT. And to some degree, you’re never going to understand anything science or engineering-related well enough in high school to really understand what you’re getting yourself into. My one warning is that, in order to come to MIT, you’d better be fairly well sure that you’d be happy majoring in science, engineering, or business.

2. Alex asked

I am just finishing high school and a 3 year research internship where I did a modest body of original research. I plan on getting into UROP as soon as I get on a college campus and definetely this summer. However, the resume I have is formatted for colleges and scholarhships, and my previous internship was attained through an advisor. What tips can you give me on preparing a resume/CV for sending to professors/researchers? Can you send/post me an example? Thanks

The resume that got my my UROP is here (minus my name and address information, which would usually go at the top). It’s not amazing, but it did the job. If you fish around that directory, you can also find my current CV, which is considerably less cheesy. You should also write a short cover letter/email to the PI, explaining why his/her research caught your eye and what you have to offer as a UROP. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself, although you should be sure to be only as full of yourself as your previous experience will allow.

3. Jon and Fatemah asked longer questions to which I will dedicate an entry when I’m not sitting in a hotel lobby (freezing to death) on the free wireless hotel internet.

4. Timur is right (as always), Latin >> French. Sorry to my francophile readers. :)

5. M asked,

Can you share some of your thoughts about what’s hot and what’s not about grad programs in Bio at the institutions which you have been interviewed? Thanks a lot.

UCLA
Hot: Weather, literally.
Not: Program quality — top 25 program, but not top 5.
UCSF
Hot: Faculty and grad students seem to be best buddies. No undergrads. Beautiful new Mission Bay campus.
Not: Not many faculty I’d like to work with (lots of structural biologists), and institutional culture is not a good fit for me.
MIT
Hot: Cares the most about their grad students. Super faculty. Great first-year program.
Not: “It’s better for your career if you go elsewhere”, couldn’t do neurobiology (since you have to switch labs from your UROP)
Berkeley
Hot: Some faculty doing amazing stuff!
Not: Program and individual labs are really big. Surrounding area is a little sketchy.
Stanford
Hot: Again, faculty doing amazing stuff. Lots of cellular neurobiologists.
Not: Funding is only guaranteed for 4 years, but it takes 5.8 on average to get your PhD.
Harvard
Haven’t been there yet.

6. Christina asked,

Do you feel like you have an allegiance to MIT?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I’m still very seriously considering the MIT graduate program, but I have to remember that a) I can’t expect to recreate my undergraduate experience in a graduate program, and b) I have to pick the program on its own merits, not on the fact that my love for MIT has blinded me to any of its faults.

And finally, vibhas asked for my email address. It’s up there in the blog banner, and anyone is free to email me so long as they keep in mind that my schedule sucks right now and it might take me a really long time to answer!

Coming back to Boston Saturday morning at 8 PM (I changed my plane flight)… I love that dirty water

6 responses to “The interview life”

  1. Oakland mom says:

    Mollie,

    first, thank you so much for your blog & how open you and all the other MIT folk are about the entire undergrad & graduate school admission process.

    How is MIT for some one interested in mathematics (undergrad)? My son is has been admitted early decision and he’s interested in mathematics. But he’s also been accepted at some other great schools and is in the midst of trying to make his decision.

    Second – Berkeley. Do you really think the area around Cal is “a little sketchy?” My son and I were in Cambridge 2 summers ago and stayed at the hotel at MIT and I felt that area was more “sketchy” than the area around UCB. My son’s high school is right across the street from UCB & he takes 2 math classes there now. So we know it well & I’ve felt he was very safe there since he was 13 and started high school. We live in a part of Oakland that is not so safe. I guess my question is more that I was concerned about what the area around MIT is like..and how safe it is.

    & Berkeley weather – the weather in the east bay is wonderful. Just the week before you arrived it was in the 70’s, perfect weather for skirts and sandals! Actually I’d been wondering if you were the one that had brought the snow we saw on the hills from Cambridge as you arrived at about the same time as the storm!

  2. Jenna says:

    Wow, it sounds like you have a tough decision ahead of you. Good luck!

  3. Long says:

    Thanks for the info about grad schools.

    And the weather is not 65 degrees year round in Norcal. Come back in May.

  4. sr says:

    mollie,

    thanks for your advice on grad school applications – i went to scripps for my chem bio interview and got in! ps, i ran into some very neat MIT kids there (one very impressive girl named Katie). and hey, at least the harvard trip won’t be too much of a journey for you…red line to green line! =)

    sr

  5. Mitra says:

    Good luck, dude. Let me know if you’ll be in northern California this summer!

  6. Mollie-

    Based on my own application and interview experience, there is some but not total overlap in the interviews at the ‘top’ schools. I am applying for Bioengineering or closely related fields (CSB at MIT and Systems Biology at Harvard). I interviewed at and will likely be accepted at my undergraduate institution, UC Berkeley, and have a formal offer of acceptance from Johns Hopkins. I have also interviewed at UCSD and Harvard. Perhaps the lack of correlation in the interviewee pool is due to the significant breadth of bioengineering relative to CDB and related programs.

    Also, the area around Berkeley is not sketchy. Its urban with its fair share of homeless people and just plain wierdos/crazies but it can’t really be considered dangerous. In fact, parts of Cambridge are sketchier than the area directly around the Berkeley campus. The North end of the campus is actually very nice, so nice that most students can’t afford to live there.