Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mitchell Scholarship Finalist Interview Tips

cross posted at

My name is Sarang Shah, Mitchell Scholar class of 2009-2010, set to study theoretical and mathematical physics at the University College Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. 

This is part one of a multi-part series of posts about my experience in applying and interviewing for the Mitchell Scholarship. I will also be publishing each part out of chronological order, hence why I am starting with the very last part of the application process, the finalists interview.

I also believe that many of the suggestions I offer in this post may be useful in other scholarship interviews, or may not be of any use to you at all.

First, before you leave for Washington, it may be helpful to do the following:
  • Review your application! Expect to be asked about any item you put in the application. This preparatory work should not be terribly difficult as it is your own life you are describing in your application, but definitely be sure to consider the various sorts of questions an interviewer may ask you. In general, be aware of the context and consequences of your previous activities, research, and studies.
  • Polish your ability to answer questions shortly and concisely. The finalist interview is in general 10-15 minutes shorter than the semifinalists interview.
  • Learn about Ireland and how Ireland relates to your field of study. For general history and a bit of culture, try reading Joseph Coohill's Ireland: A Short History . For more specific knowledge related to your field, a Google search should suffice. If you are in the sciences and engineering, be aware of organizations such as Forfas and other Irish research initiatives.
  • Have a well prepared answer to the question "Why Ireland?". It may seem obvious, and if you have gotten this far, it means you have answered the question to a large extent in the application and previous interview. Nevertheless, your response must be effective and persuasive during the interview.
  • Learn more about the Mitchell Scholarship, Senator Mitchell, the US-Ireland Alliance, and your potential interviewers. The US-Ireland Alliance website has plenty of information about the organization, its sponsorship, its activities, and even some of the people you will meet at your interview and reception. While not essential, it helps to be familiar with the organization and its sponsors.

Your first night in Washington, you will attend a reception
  • Enjoy yourself! Whether you get the scholarship or not, you will meet some amazing people, and make some great contacts for the future. Your fellow scholarship candidates will be great fun to talk to as many of them will have done some amazing things that you have never heard of. The attendees at the reception will include some judges, some former Mitchell scholars, and some other interesting people.  
  • If you are of a science/engineering background, don't be shy about discussing history/politics/arts/etc. If you have come this far, it probably means that your interests go beyond just science/engineering. I personally enjoy talking to people who do have a wide range of knowledge and an open-minded curiosity, and I think the other people at the reception and in the interview would like that too.
  • Get a good nights sleep, but don't pass up going out to dinner with the former Mitchell scholars and the other scholarship candidates.  
The next day, you will have your interview.
  • Practice, practice, practice! In addition to your mock interviews, which you will have plenty of, try coming up with your own questions and formulating answers to them. You should have an idea of some of the more obvious questions an interview panel will ask you. The morning of my interview, I sat at my hotel stationery desk, put on some "getting pumped" music, took out some stationery and a pencil, and wrote out some questions I thought I would be asked. I then made an outline of answers, and gave myself a mock interview, timing my responses for conciseness, and observing myself in the mirror to monitor my body language. While you may not be asked these questions exactly, you will be in the frame of mind to answer questions by the time the real interview starts.
  • Don't eat at the Jockey Club unless you are prepared for an awkward and expensive breakfast/lunch. Dupont Circle, where you will probably be staying, has a number of good places to eat.
  • Finally, and most importantly, be relaxed and be yourself. The best interviews are like a conversation. Be sure to take a sip of water occasionally. Taking your picture before the interview should also get you a bit relaxed too. As strange as it may sound, the picture taking session is pretty fun.
If anyone wants to ask me a question about the Mitchell Scholarship, I can be reached at sarang dot shah at gatech dot edu. 
cross posted at

Monday, January 5, 2009

Halley Espy, Fulbright in Germany

Welcoming 2009 with a Berlin Bang

Today I woke up to an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun is shining and the ground is covered with a fresh blanket of snow - it is my own winter wonderland in Berlin as I start back to classes and research after the winter break.
The past few weeks have been incredible for me, with chances to travel with new Fulbright friends, have my family spend Christmas overseas with me, and experiencing the New Year's Eve traditions of Berlin (the news reported a crowd even bigger than Times Square!).

My entire family was able to come overseas and spend Christmas with me here in Berlin. It was an incredible opportunity for my family, and so much fun to take part in all of the German Christmas traditions. A very memorable Christmas for the Espy Family!

After taking part in a 6 weeks intensive German language course in Marburg right before my official grant period, I established close friendships with other Fulbrighters that are researching for the year all across Germany. Some of the Fulbrighters and I at the New Years Eve celebration in downtown Berlin.

But amidst all of the excitement and short break from university life, I have been reflecting over my 2008 road to achieving the Fulbright in Germany. The research opportunities, the exciting conference events, the new friends, the chance to be immersed and live in a new culture, and the life-long ties that I have already begun creating is absolutely incredible - my Fulbright experience has already turned out to be the most rewarding opportunity in my lifetime, and the grant period is not even half way over yet.

It would be hard to try and unbundle all of my experiences in this short blog post, but I will try and give a small snap shot into my Fulbright life Germany style.

The Fulbright is a unique program that allows each grantee to pursue a specific project. There are no cookie-cutter experiences or paths, but tremendous support and help to guide you in your personal research goals and endeavors. I am taking two university classes at Freie Universitaet Berlin this semester related to my project topic of Energy Security in the European Union and working on my personal research project. My advisor here in Germany, along with the Fulbright Commission, has helped put me in contact with individuals and conferences in my field. I have had the opportunity to hear Chancellorin Merkel deliver a speech, spoken with NATO retired generals, attended events at different Embassies in Berlin, had coffee with think tank researchers, listened to current and visiting Professor lectures on campus, have been invited to join a small research team of young professionals working on energy security issues in Europe (we hope to organize three conferences in 2009), and have remained in close contact with my mentor at Georgia Tech along the way. And looking ahead to 2009, so much more is in store as I begin to dig deeper into my personal project!

Chancellorin Merkel speaking at Hotel Adlon at the 54th ATA Conference in Berlin. I was on the 6th row!

In the Reichstag overlooking the Budestag (German Parliament) seats.

I do not have much more to offer right now, but I hope to update the blog with more adventures and discussion of my research. I am a 2008 graduate, with a BS in International Affairs. And I encourage anyone interested in pursuing a Fulbright to go for it - it is indescribably worth it!!! I am happy to answer any questions through email and if you are interested in following my day-to-day adventures, check out my personal blog: