The information you need to ask on an interview trip

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Due to the anxiety and competition of just trying to get into a program, many students don’t focus enough on finding the right program for them. The MD/PhD is extremely competitive; nevertheless, many applicants with a realistic application strategy will find themselves with multiple offers for admission in March or April (if not sooner).

Interviews are a two way street; to gain the respect of the institution, you also need to ask intelligent, honest questions that will guide you towards the right program.  It’s important to find an realistic criteria that you would use, if you receive multiple offers.  You have the right to ask specific questions and receive specific statistics that will provide objective information about the job you may be working at for the next 8 years.

  1. Ask about the the average graduation time and the program completion rates. Almost every program will show a boiler plate powerpoint slide that steps you through the 7 year curriculum.  This is often unrealistic. Ask for real data for the past several years.  If the number is high (ie 8.9 years), it’s worth asking whether the program sees change in this area as a priority.  Also, completion rates/drop out into MD-only programs are worth considering (and whether dropouts are factored into the average time in the program).
  2. Ask for a list of residency match information for the last several years. This data can be difficult to interpret in smaller programs, but it’s a useful tool to have the hard data in from of you when you leave.
  3. What is the funding status for the MD/PhD program? I just found out that my current program is up for grant renewal, and some people in our program are a bit nervous (I’m not–I like the direction the director is taking things).
  4. Programs are always in flux. Busy MD/PhD directors have competing demands on their time and often focus on other aspects of their job (clinic, research, other administrative position).  It’s worth asking about the program direction, where the dean seen the MD/PhD program heading, and what priorities the school has for change.
  5. Talk to multiple students at various points in the program. The number of students involved in the recruiting process can be a measure of the student’s satisfaction and pride in the program.  Also, it’s a reflection that the school has nothing to hide and that they value the input of their students in making decisions about the direction of the program.
  6. Look at the coursework class-by-class. Ask to see the MSTP curriculum compared with the regular MD and PhD curriculum.  By looking at things side by side, you can get a real sense of the level of integration.  This also is in indicator of flexibility of the program and the political sway of the MSTP committee.

Good luck!