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

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