Seventeen of you out there somewhere have been invited to interview for Wheaton’s PhD program. Congratulations! We all look forward to meeting you in just a few weeks.
Since I was where you are just one year ago, I thought I’d share some of the best advice I was given about interviewing (Thanks Michelle, Becky, and Rollin!). It’s good advice no matter where you interview.
(1) Be yourself. We’re all tempted to try to make ourselves look better than we really are. Resist that temptation. Faculty want to know the real you. They want to know what you know, but also what you don’t know, and especially what you know you don’t know. (As one mentor told me, it’s pretty obvious when students are pretending to know about something!) Being teachable is more important than being brilliant, once you’ve made it this far. Wheaton culture (at least in the PhD program) is quite honest and collaborative. It’s ok to admit that something is way out of your league. Pretending you know something that you don’t will prevent you from learning. I was asked two questions at my interview to which I could only reply, “I really have no idea.” That’s ok. The committee knows that you don’t know everything.
Professors want to get a sense of your true personality. If you try to act more serious, or more outgoing, or more cerebral than you really are . . . everyone loses. Let’s say you pull it off. You’re not really yourself at the interview, and you fool everybody. You get in and arrive here in the fall to start the program. The whole time you’re here you’ll be wondering if it’s safe to let the real you come out, or if that will be a disappointment to everybody. Nobody needs that kind of stress.
(2) Make new friends. Another temptation at interviews is to look at the other candidates as your “competition.” It can be awkward to realize that the guy next to you at lunch is applying for the same position that you are. But think big. The other people who are coming to interview are great men and women—quality people whose interests are similar to your own. Even if you (or they) don’t end up together at Wheaton, in the small world that is Biblical Studies and Theology, you will likely rub shoulders with these people again. You might see them at conferences or read each other’s books. You may even teach together somewhere someday. Entrust your future to God and just enjoy the opportunity to meet new friends.
You should also try to get to know those of us who are already in the program. Knowing students ahead of me has saved me untold hours of grief. They have been enormously wise and helpful guides on this journey. Resist the temptation to compare yourself with other candidates or current students. Each of us brings a completely different set of gifts, skills, and experiences to the table. That’s what makes this such a rich learning environment. There is no way to tell from your vantage point how you “measure up” to other students. Just be yourself, do you best, and enjoy the journey.
If other doctoral students have advice to add, feel free to comment. And if you are coming to interview and have questions for any of us, please ask!