This post is specifically intended for applicants to the Yenching Academy.
The Yenching Scholarship is highly selective, and after applications are screened, finalists will be invited for an interview (invitations are typically sent one week before the interview day). For international candidates, the interview is held via Skype. Naturally, this process can be daunting for applicants. I hope that the pointers in this post help you prepare for your interview. Being prepared for unforeseen technical difficulties and challenging questions relating to your application will put you in a much better position to tackle them during your interview.
The interviewing panel consists of Associate Dean David Moser and Peking University professors. This small panel will call you on Skype at the time specified in the notification email. Here’s how you can better prepare for your interview:
- Technicalities: Don’t underestimate the importance of a clear, stable internet connection. Avoid using mobile data or hotspots. If your internet at home is unreliable, go to a cyber café and ask for a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed. If it’s too late for a café to be open, request to go to a friend’s/relative’s place where you know the wifi connection is stronger. If you take all the proper precautions but connection problems still arise on interview day, do not worry; the Admissions Committee can revert to a phone interview or reschedule.
- Make sure there is good lighting and you are clearly visible. Sit an appropriate distance from your camera. Do a test with a friend before your interview. Check your speakers. To keep out ambient noise, keep earphones handy.
- I strongly recommend you use a laptop or desktop computer instead of an iPad or iPhone, unless you can keep it absolutely still by propping it up on a desk with a stand.
- Know thyself: By this, I mean, be thoroughly familiar with your application and ready to field any questions prompted by your statement of purpose/transcripts/resume or any other application material. Since you may have written your application a while ago, do go through it a day before the interview so you remember what you wrote, and why you wrote it. Remember, your application materials are the primary sources for interviewers to learn about you, and some of the first questions you are asked may well stem from them.
- Be ready to address a wide range of subjects and recent news, especially related to your own research interests. Also be ready to explain how you would make use of time in Beijing to further your research and career goals, and what you can bring to the Yenching Academy.
- Being attentive and responsive makes a good impression! Instead of seeing the interview simply as a question and answer session, see it as a conversation in which you are a full participant. The interviewers want to get a deep sense of who you are, and your initiative counts. I’ll give you an example from my own interview: the Associate Dean asked me about my training in music. When I mentioned singing jazz, he shared that he used to play the double bass, and enjoyed playing standards. I jumped in and asked him, “What are your favourite standards?” I was very comfortable talking about music, and we exchanged a few words about our favourite artists. In retrospect, I see that this helped to build a rapport and highlight my interest. The interviewers will try to give you many chances to talk about subjects you’re passionate about. It’s up to you to recognize those chances and seize them!
- Be aware of how you want to present yourself; we all like people who are confident, friendly, humble, and maintain a sense of humor.
- On being nervous: It’s completely normal to begin with a few butterflies in your stomach. Since you care about this opportunity, it’s difficult to not worry about the process and results. If you have had trouble with nerves in the past, try to spend some time with a friend or family member who puts you in a good mood just before you begin. Or you can go for a brisk walk to get rid of excess energy, or just try breathing deeply and calmly for a few minutes before your interview begins. Keep a glass of water handy in case you feel parched. Just think about the interview as an opportunity for you to tell a few China experts some of the things you care deeply about and want to study, your ideas for research projects/start ups, and how you see yourself contributing to the program. They are there to listen to you and get to know you!
Good luck in your interview for the Yenching Academy!