How to Approach the Interview

The Princeton Mellon Mays interview focuses on three main areas: your research interests; your future aspirations; and your understanding of, and fit with, the MMUF program.

If you’re selected for an interview, it’s because we want to know more about you! We totally understand that just the word “interview” can inspire anxiety for a lot of people. What we hope is that you may be able to replace that anxiety with genuine curiosity. The best interviews are the ones during which you are able to remain curious, not only curious about the people you’re talking with but also curious about yourself. Interviews give you an opportunity to bring things, which have sometimes just been in your head, out into the world in conversation with other curious people. In doing so, you can often generate new ideas, sharpen existing ones, or just get a clearer sense of what you’ve been thinking and feeling all along. 

If you hold the space for it, interviews can give you a chance to meet new people and learn more about yourself. Think of the interview as a conversation with people who are excited to know you a bit better, and for you to be excited to know them a bit better, too. That means that you can be aware of what you might like to know about the people at the interview, and ask questions as well as answer them. The other people at your interview are empathetic: if you’re anxious, not only will that keep you from really being able to be present in the conversation, but the others in the conversation will also feel anxious on your behalf. So, have fun; it’s to everyone’s benefit! A way to accomplish that is really to focus on: 

  • breathing, 
  • listening with care, 
  • genuinely thinking about what people ask and what your real responses are to those questions, and
  • remaining curious, about yourself and about the others in the conversation, throughout.
How to Prepare for the Interview

We plan to send an interview invitation to finalists on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. It will help to be especially attentive to your email inbox on that day. To prepare for the interview, you can follow the steps below.

  1. Read back over your application. 
  2. Take some time to think about things you would like the committee to know that didn’t make it into your written materials, and jot down notes. 
  3. Share your research proposal with a trusted and curious person you know, and have them ask you as many questions about it as they can think of. Make an audio or video recording of the conversation–with that person’s consent–including the questions they ask, your answers, and all follow-up questions that come up. Do this exercise with a few different people, to get a variety of perspectives.
  4. If there are any questions that come up during those conversations, that you have a tough time answering, pause the conversation to write those down. Then take some time before your interview to free-write, or speak and record, responses to those questions.
  5. IF YOU HAVE TIME, find out from the MMUF staff who will be at the interview, and look up something about each person online. Write down some notes, especially on any points where their interests or experiences connect with yours in any way. This will help you to have those connections in mind during the interview conversation.

The aim in preparing is not to practice exactly what you’ll say. For one thing, you don’t know what the committee will ask, and you wouldn’t want to spend time memorizing “lines” that turned out to be irrelevant to the questions that came up. Even more importantly, you wouldn’t want to get so caught up in memorization that you weren’t really listening and able to be responsive during the interview.

Instead, the aim in practicing is to get comfortable having conversations about your thoughts related to the Mellon Mays program, your proposed research, and your future interests. You want those thoughts to be easily accessible, and you want to know what it feels like to talk about them with different people, by the time you get a chance to share with the committee.