Phone Interviews

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goingnuclear
Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:12 pm

Phone Interviews

Postby goingnuclear » Wed Jan 23, 2013 2:59 pm

Hey everyone,

So I have a couple questions regarding phone interviews that I couldn't find answers to. I got contacted via email by a top 10 school today, saying they'd like to speak with me via phone sometime this week.

What are these phone calls like? What do they ask you, and what can one expect from these phone calls? I understand that being invited to a phone interview doesn't mean you've been accepted, but I'm assuming it means you made it past the first "round" of eliminations? About what percent of applicants even get offered a phone interview (ballpark estimate)?

Thanks for the help guys!

Edit - Forgot to mention, I'm domestic. Because I know they sometimes do phone interviews with international students to see how proficient they are in english.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby TakeruK » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:36 pm

In my experience, these "interviews" are not like formal job interviews. I do not think, in physics/astronomy, the interview will consist of questions to test your physics knowledge or background.

Instead, they are there for you and the interviewer to get more information about both parties. My "interview" began with the interviewers telling me about their program -- I didn't even speak for the first 10 minutes. They told me about how long the program is, what exams I would have to take if I'm admitted, what the department's focus is, how many students they have etc. all that. They even talked a little about their own research even though I didn't mention them at all in my application!

Then, the conversation turned towards me and they asked me about things you would normally put in a SOP. I talked about the classes I took, what research I've done etc. The interview is not just a repetition of the SOP though, since you are able to speak a lot more than you can write and there is real-time interaction to clarify details. I suppose this is also a "test" to make sure you truly understood your research project. However, I felt it was very "low pressure", since they were not grilling me like my thesis defenses. Instead, it was more like if you were talking to a colleague or someone you just met at a conference and they ask "so what do you study?". By this I mean that they didn't ask you things they already knew the answer to (as if to check my knowledge). They only asked questions that they wanted to know the answer to, like what the main result of my project was and why people care.

The interview procedure varies from school to school. For the interview I had, they said that they were interviewing everyone that they had short-listed, not just like "borderline" people. It might be the case that the type of interview you get depends on where you rank in their shortlist, but the overall impression I get from talking to people is that "interviews" in physics/astronomy are not like oral exams.

I would prepare for it the same way you would prepare yourself to talk about your project at a conference -- except the topic is your entire academic/research history instead of just one project you're presenting. In my opinion, it is VERY useful to practice a short description of each project you have done. Identify the key research question and your main result. Also identify what parts are important to share and which details can be left out. For example, you might want to say that you use Method X to calculate result Y but maybe it's too much in the first pass to explain every detail of Method X. Or, if the details are important (maybe you invented/used a new thing) then decide (and practice) ahead of time. For me, when I try to explain science "on the spot", the narrative can get convoluted and I might get trapped in the details or leave out something important. Maybe even practice with a classmate and see if they can understand a 2 minute "pitch" of your project(s)!

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:25 am

goingnuclear wrote:Hey everyone,

So I have a couple questions regarding phone interviews that I couldn't find answers to. I got contacted via email by a top 10 school today, saying they'd like to speak with me via phone sometime this week.

What are these phone calls like? What do they ask you, and what can one expect from these phone calls? I understand that being invited to a phone interview doesn't mean you've been accepted, but I'm assuming it means you made it past the first "round" of eliminations? About what percent of applicants even get offered a phone interview (ballpark estimate)?

Thanks for the help guys!

Edit - Forgot to mention, I'm domestic. Because I know they sometimes do phone interviews with international students to see how proficient they are in english.


You've published, right? I'd re-read your paper, since the people on the other end of the line have probably looked at it recently and you don't want them to be more knowledgeable than yourself. I'd think that mostly they're making sure you aren't a crazy person, since your stats and background indicate a strong applicant already.

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Andromeda
Posts: 127
Joined: Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:17 pm

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby Andromeda » Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:33 am

I did phone interviews for European grad schools where interviews are a standard step before acceptance- usually done in person but obviously mine was over Skype because I was a continent away.

Basically it varied on the school (I did 3 such interviews) but they're usually trying to gauge your proficiency and understanding of the topic- usually you should be ready to talk about research you've done/ any papers/ stuff like that, because that's obvious, but one interviewer was really keen on stuff on my transcript like what "advanced cosmology" was and asked me one or two general questions about the field (surprise surprise, that guy was a theorist). Also do look into whatever you said interested you in your SOP about the program and be ready to discuss that and ask questions that show you're really keen on them.

As to how much it matters, it really varies. You're through the first round for sure and sometimes it's really just a formality, sometimes it's still intense from there. Here at University of Amsterdam where I ended up a third of our students who interview end up with positions.

Good luck!

physics_girl
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2013 1:58 am

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby physics_girl » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:23 pm

About the percent of applicants offered an interview - I had a very casual interview-type phone call with a professor at Brown today and he said they were contacting the top 20% of the applicant pool.

msenliv
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:07 pm

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby msenliv » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:10 pm

physics_girl, what kind of questions were you asked? did he/she mention when you'll hear? Thanks!

physics_girl
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2013 1:58 am

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby physics_girl » Wed Jan 30, 2013 10:38 pm

It was very, very informal. He told me about the program and asked me to elaborate on some things in my personal statement. The emphasis seemed to be on making sure I had all my questions answered.

And he didn't give a date I'd hear but he said it wouldn't be for awhile because after they make their decisions (which is next week) they still have to have everyone officially admitted by the graduate school.

StewieVader
Posts: 36
Joined: Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:37 am

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby StewieVader » Fri Feb 01, 2013 5:08 am

I just got a mail from Cambridge asking for a skype interview. I am really not sure what aspects I should be ready with, apart from my previous research background. Could anyone familiar with the European system (esp. Cambridge) give me a heads on what it will be like?

Cosmojo
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2011 1:33 pm

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby Cosmojo » Mon Feb 04, 2013 10:28 pm

So I had a phone interview today. They also said that they would not be making official decisions for a few weeks and that they will contact me as soon as possible. They also said that if I should start to want to commit to another school before then that I should contact them first because "they wouldn't want to lose me to another school"

Is this graduate school code for you're in, but not officially?

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Andromeda
Posts: 127
Joined: Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:17 pm

Re: Phone Interviews

Postby Andromeda » Wed Feb 06, 2013 7:49 am

StewieVader wrote:I just got a mail from Cambridge asking for a skype interview. I am really not sure what aspects I should be ready with, apart from my previous research background. Could anyone familiar with the European system (esp. Cambridge) give me a heads on what it will be like?


If it's not too late, I did Skype interviews for Bonn, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh back in the day...

Besides my advice further up, I assume you applied for a specific project to work on so be really up to date on what that project is, why you're interested, etc. The other thing I'd mention is be sure to at least briefly glance at the other projects that are being offered on their website because when I interviewed for Edinburgh it turned out I was actually being considered for another project than the one I applied for... lots of quick thinking for intelligent questions ensued and it wasn't my favorite thing to worry about in the interview!




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