Posted by: CJ | December 24, 2010

Interview Questions, Part 2

This round of questions deals with college (and presumably grad school) background. The specific questions in the book were more geared towards college or master’s graduates than doctoral graduates, but they’re (hopefully) useful questions to think about anyways.

“What extracurricular activities were you involved in?”: Other than very briefly being in the college choir, not much. I was a grader and tutor for my department, but my life was basically centered around socializing with friends over longish meals, homework for my intensive science classes, grading/tutoring, and talking to my friends about their classes. I was very academically oriented. But since I did pretty well, I think they’ll be ok with that.

“Why did you choose your college major/minor?”: The major was what I was best at and made most sense to me. It also consisted of the courses that had been doing the most to expand my understanding of the world, and the courses where I was doing well even as many of my friends–who were all very talented–were struggling with parts of it. The minor was something that also made sense to me and that I thought would be good to learn long term.

“What courses did you like most/least”: The courses I liked least had nothing to do with subject matter and everything to do with poor teaching or mismatch between my abilities and the course expectations. (In one case I wasn’t up to par for the course, and in several other cases the course was below my level and I didn’t realize it.) The classes I liked best were outside my major. The classes inside my major were good, but I usually was learning the material on my own in a sense. The class contributed a lot, but it didn’t feel like guided learning so much as telling me, “Go forth and figure it out yourself.” Which was awesome, but didn’t leave a huge impression. The actual classes I liked best were my history classes and my epistemology class. The history classes were awesome because they were essentially storytelling for an educated audience, and I love hearing stories. The epistemology class was great because it helped me wrestle with different notions of what it meant to know something. These were things I’d been thinking about for years because of the contrast of what it meant to know something in humanities, engineering, social sciences, physical sciences, and math. And that’s on top of knowing in the sense of how well you know it: apprentice, journeyman, and master. Didn’t make me want to be a philosophy major, but it was an excellent freshman class to take as a senior.

“If you were starting college tomorrow, what courses would you take?”: This question is, apparently, supposed to give some idea if the applicant knows what courses would be good for him to take in the context of the job. I’ll have to figure that out in an actual interview. If it was for myself and only myself. I’d take some economics, history, and a few specific science courses.

“What did you learn from internships on your resume?”: Lessons that I mostly didn’t realize until later. They were showing me what life as an academic was like, except without the hassle. It was almost as good as it got, except that it only last 8 to 12 weeks. I learned how to get research done, I learned it could be boring and exciting, I learned how to publish a paper, I learned that reviewers can be vicious, I learned that professors have varying rates of caring about students and thinking hard about how to advise them. Not sure how to say that in a positive way, though.

“In what courses did you get the worst grades? How will that affect your performance on this job?”: Worst course was first year in an introductory physical sciences course. I just didn’t have the background, and I didn’t realize I didn’t have it because I had the background in basically every area it depended on. But every other student in the course had at least one year more background, and many had two. So I was struggling to keep up. The actual subject material likely won’t matter for the job. But I learned a lot from the experience. Don’t be blinded by pride, know when to give up and when not to, never trust that things will work out because a higher up or colleague said so, and friends who are succeeding because of background they take for granted usually won’t give you much support. I came back from that particular disastrous course and did quite well in the follow up course a few years later.

As before, comments and suggestions are welcome.

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