The above words from the front of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy* seem apt.
I thought it was about time I wrote about the interview process for those of you that have applied for physics at Imperial or are thinking of applying. Being a top university with a top physics department, there are far more applicants for physics than there are places (about 250 new undergraduate places a year). So, as well as requiring glowing grades, the department likes to interview all prospective students to whom it is thinking of offering a place.
My (not very terrifying) Experience
The first thing to make clear is the the inteviews here are not at all like Oxbridge interviews (which, from my experience applying for natural sciences, are more of a verbal exam).
I had applied to Imperial on a bit of a whim. I knew that it was meant to be very good but I was nervous about living in london and having to be much more independent (the cost, and learning to cook immediately for example) than somewhere collegiate like Durham or Cambridge. After my interview, I liked the place so much that Imperial became a firm favourite.
To start off the day you’re meant to get shown around the college by a nice physics student, get to know the other interviewees and get lunch. That’s the official “you deciding if the college is for you” bit. Or so I’m told… on the day of my interview all trains into London Paddington were delayed by over 2 hours meaning I missed everything before lunch. All was apparently well, I rang the nice lady in the physics admissions office who encouraged me not to worry and assured me that I wouldn’t miss the business end of the day. My nerves, however, seemed not to be listening.
After my arrival I was shown around the department by the very friendly Academic who would be interviewing us. This was all quite informal, there was no expectation to have dressed up in a suit for example (Feel free to if you want though. The point is that judgement is not meant to be made on the basis of how you have dressed. Make sure you feel comfortable for the situation, be that in Jeans and a T shirt or a shirt and tie).
The academic was keen to talk to us about the department as he showed us around, answer any questions and explain the structure of the course.
The interviews themselves started after a cup of tea. We had a group discussion about the course and physics in general, then individually spent time with the Academic. I must stress that by this point I was far less nervous than I had been upon arrival. There are some very friendly members of staff here!
We discussed why I wanted to study physics, what I might want to do in the future, talked about my personal statement a little and ended up spending some time discussing our shared interest in Biology (which was somewhat unexpected). We eventually did do a few more “academic” questions: I was asked to sketch a graph and describe what I thought was going on in a particular physical situation. It was all pretty straight forward to be honest, I reasoned through what I was doing and was given a few pointers if I seemed to have gotten stuck. At the end I even asked how he though I had gotten on (a little unorthodox, I know, but the interviewer really was very nice!) and was reassured that, whilst it wasn’t the interviewer’s final decision whether I got a place, all was well.
Some final thoughts
I really was tremendously nervous. To the extent that I struggled to eat anything all morning before arriving. What I’d like to get across is there’s really not a huge amount to get nervous about. The interviewers know that this could well be your first ever interview in any context. If you’re interested in physics or science in general, then just let it come across! You’re almost certainly more than capable of answering any tough questions you are asked if you’re getting the sorts of grades to be thinking of applying here. Bear in mind that if they’ve given you an interview, they’re probably already pretty interested in your application. You’ll be fine.
Oh and Happy New Year!
*I could argue that it’s a comedy classic, but I like to think I’m allowed to be occasionally nerdy.