MD/PhD Interviews: Formats and Tips

We still have lots to cover in our Application Corner, but we are unbelievably excited to welcome the first group of MSTP interviewees to UAB later this month! So excited, in fact, that we’ve decided to skip ahead a bit in our scheduled posting to discuss the experience of interviewing for MD/PhD programs. 🙂

Here, we will provide an example of an MD/PhD interview schedule, explain each of the components included in our itinerary, and end with a few overall tips!

 

 

Example Interview Schedule

After taking the MCAT, sending in your letters of recommendation, and submitting both primary and secondary applications… you will hopefully begin to receive interview invitations! These mainly come via email, but a few schools may give phone calls.

An MD-only interview is usually a half-day to full day affair. For most MD/PhD interviews, you will participate in the MD interviews, but then you will also stay longer to complete MD/PhD interviews. In all, you can generally expect to spend about 2-3 days in a new city.

We have included an example schedule below (a modified version of my own UAB MSTP itinerary!):

screenshot-attempt-2

 

 

Potential Components to the Interview

You’ll notice that most activities on the calendar above fall into 5 major categories, some of which are seen more on the MD-side and others that are MD/PhD specific:

 

  1. Individual Interviews (MD and MD/PhD)

This is the standard type of interview that you likely picture when you think of a job or a school interview. These meetings will typically be one-on-one with you and some type of faculty member. Personal interviews can range from 15 to 45 minutes, with 30 minutes being the most common.

Especially on the MD side, these interviews will typically focus on getting to know you as a person as well as examining your past activities and current interest in the program. On the MD/PhD side, the interviews will likely be with the MD/PhD directors or admissions committee members.

Many MD/PhD programs will also have you interview with a few researchers whom you have indicated an interest in meeting on your secondary application or in your emailed interview invitation. At some schools, the meetings with faculty of interest are not “graded” or counted towards your admission and are instead just intended to give you a feel for the campus research. Each program should let you know the specifics by the time you begin your first interview.

The lowest number of “graded” individual interviews I did at a school last year was four and the highest was 12, with a grand total of ~6 being most common.

 

  1. Multiple Mini Interview (typically on the MD side)

This is a new format emerging amongst medical schools. Part of the idea behind the MMI was to standardize the interview by creating a shared context where each student enters on an even playing field. The main purpose, however, seems to be to better understand how students think.

Essentially, you will move between stations in an MMI with about 10 minutes per station. The first two minutes will give you a chance to obtain the necessary information and plan your response before you enter the room. The prompt might place you in a theoretical situation and ask you to chat with your “Aunt Paula” about her possible drinking problem (so your interviewer will be an actor and you’ll just dive in to this fake situation!). Other stations might just ask you questions geared towards understanding your personal values and how you would overcome tough situations. You’ll typically have about 5-6 minutes to respond, and your interviewer may also ask follow-up questions.

This might sound scary, but I absolutely loved the MMI! It required very little technical preparation and instead was an opportunity for me to show my ability to articulate positives/negatives in a situation and make rational decisions. Additionally, you have more time than usual to consider the question and really map out your response. And finally, since there are typically around 10 MMI stations, you have more opportunities to show who you are and more grace if you bungle a question or two.

 

  1. Social Events / Dinners (both, but more heavily MD/PhD)

Since you stay longer for MD/PhD interviews than for MD-only interviews, you’ll likely see more social events. The most common type of socialization will simply be meals with students. Many MD/PhD programs will buy you dinner at a nice restaurant or allow you to dine at the director’s house, which is pretty awesome! You may also have the opportunity to explore the city with current students or find the common hangout places.

The first major thing to note is that all social events are optional. If you are too tired from interviewing, you definitely don’t have to go! However, they can often be a great way to get to know your potential future classmates and ask questions about the city/program/environment. Finally, remember that although there may not be any admissions officials at these social events, your conduct will be noted. The social gatherings tend to be casual, but admissions officials will know if you demonstrate poor judgment or make a scene.

 

  1. Chalk Talk (MD/PhD specific)

Some schools will ask you to give a more formal presentation of your research in lieu of explaining it during each individual interview. While this may sound daunting, have no fear – it often ends up being the most fun part of the interview, and it really gives you a chance to prepare something to impress everyone!

Essentially, you will just share your research for 5 to 10 minutes, focusing on your rationale and the major conclusions you reached. The individuals to whom you will present varies depending on the school, but you will never present in front of other applicants. Instead, almost all audiences will certainly include the MD/PhD directors, and you might also present in front of other admissions committee members and a current student or two. Most of the committees I encountered were around 6-7 people total.

Typically, you will be given a large white board and a dry erase marker for your talk. Most programs will not allow you to prepare a PowerPoint or any formal presentation, but many will permit you to bring in a piece of paper with a few figures if you need to provide graphic representations of your work that cannot be drawn out. Some schools will ask questions of you immediately following the presentation, and others will save any questions for the individual interviews with committee members later on.

 

  1. Journal Club (MD/PhD specific)

This is less common and not something I personally encountered during interviews, but some MD/PhD programs will ask you to attend a variation of a “journal club.” Most frequently, you will read a peer-reviewed article beforehand and then participate in a student-led discussion on the major experiments and findings. For this, the best advice would be to read the paper thoroughly and come with a few questions and insights!

 

 

Overall Tips for the Interview

  1. PRACTICE. Have your school’s Career Services (or pre-med advisor or equivalent) quiz you with some common questions. Practice with your friends or a family member. Interviews generally won’t be “hard” or intended to trick you, but being more comfortable will allow you to give your best answers even under the perceived pressure of being stared at by someone important.
  2. Prepare various “pitches” of your research. I generally went into interviews with three versions of my research – one that was just a sentence or two, one that was about 30 seconds to 1 minute, and one that was a more detailed ~5 minute explanation. It definitely helped to have a few talking points in mind and know which of the major topics I should cover depending on how much time I had in each interview. You don’t want to have everything memorized, but you also don’t want to struggle to come up with ways to explain your research on the spot since this is a guaranteed question.
  3. Stay calm. This is always one of the hardest things to do, especially if you feel like an interview isn’t going your way. Even if you aren’t answering perfectly, you can still choose to be the student who remained graceful. This gives schools a better chance to see your real personality. Additionally, things are often not going as bad as you perceive in the moment. Avoid making them worse; stay calm and keep trying!
  4. Similarly, be genuine. There’s no need to put up a false front at an interview. If you have to be someone else to get in to a program (which probably won’t work anyway!), you likely would not be happy at this school in the end. Being yourself allows you to make some great connections and really “click” with some of the people you meet. And again, even if there isn’t an immediate “clicking,” stay calm!
  5. Have fun! Make some new friends and enjoy seeing another city. Be professional at all times, but don’t be afraid to smile and laugh when it’s appropriate! 🙂

 

 

Good luck, and we hope to see some of you at UAB interviews soon!
Emily Hayward, MS-1

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