I was e-mailed by an administrator after applying for the role (by completing an online application form, submitting my CV and personal statement) that I had been invited to interview in around 1.5 weeks' time. I arrived in plenty of time and thought I had prepared enough by revising my undergraduate dissertation and bits about my placement and postgraduate literature review. Unfortunately, I hadn't prepared enough and I spent too much time explaining the background to my project topic (Toxoplasma gondii, it's discovery and how it was eventually identified in many areas globally but that older misconceptions could not explain these occurrences as it was thought the parasite could only survive in the felid intestine, yet it turned out it could survive just as successfully outside of the felid in other secondary hosts), so overall I struggled through the interview as I was under-prepared. Yet I have since asked my undergraduate university for help with interviews and will hopefully soon go on to do well at interviews I have lined up very soon.
Most difficult question
Sometimes it could be a very easy question (or in this case it should be for me who completed a Masters in Stem Cells & Regeneration) you weren't expecting: twice this happened to me.
1) I was asked on one occasion "so in layman's terms, what is a stem cell?" and although I knew what one was I couldn't put it succinctly and proficiently into a sentence, I replied with "it is a cell that can form many other cell types by differentiating along specific lineages" - so I really hadn't answered the question, it wasn't in layman's terms as the panel had to ask me later on "what is a lineage?" and I hadn't stated that there were different types of stem cells and that they don't always form many different bodily tissues e.g. somatic stem cells and progenitors are uni or oligopotent - so can only make a cell that is anatomically close to them i.e. a cardiac progenitor will make a cardiac cell. Moreso, I hadn't also said that stem cells can proliferate for extended periods in culture and are developmentally younger than residents cells whose biological fate has been decided.
2) Also I was asked "what techniques I might expect to need to learn or improve upon in order to fulfill my role?" - really this was all provided in the person specification of the advertisement e.g. fluorescence microscopy, qRT-PCR, cell culture etc. but I had focused my efforts on remembering all about my previous work rather than considering what was needed of me in this role, so I stumbled through by giving one example "fluorescence microscopy" followed by a lot of 'erms' which is no good at all!
Make sure you have a healthy knowledge in balance between your work/achievements and the work you are going to do with the company you apply for; don't get caught short either side by knowing too much about yourself but not enough about the company or vice versa
Experiences at the assessment centre
I arrived on my own and at the time was the only person being interviewed (I think this was purposely carried out so that only one person was called to be interviewed each day or at markedly different times). I notified reception of my arrival, waited for around 15 minutes, was taken upstairs by an administrator who seated me outside the interview room for a further 10 minutes, then I was called in and sat in front of an academic panel of 4 (3 of which were my supervisors, 1 of which was an external examiner), I was quite nervous - the interview was very formal and some appeared more friendly than others and I never really eased into it, though I was happier that my potential supervisors were actually present rather than a previous interview where I was being interviewed by unrelated academics; the interview lasted around 40 minutes (including me asking the panel questions).
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