Since the birth of the Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences (MCIBS) Graduate Program, that combined multiple existing programs into one, I have noticed a few unique aspects that make MCIBS recruiting unique among similar graduate programs at other competing schools. These accounts come from my personal experiences, testimonials from students who have interviewed at other schools many of which ultimately choose Penn State, and the nature of what the program has to offer.
First and foremost the MCIBS recruiting theme is to demonstrate to potential students the extent of student care, intimate/personal connections, and transparent display of the breadth of diversity the program has to offer. This is in stark contrast to testimonies from students who go onto interview at other schools where they are proselytized and approached like a potential consumer that is buying a product.
The first example of how MCIBS sticks out compared to many other graduate schools and programs is the initial introductory dinner. This is typically held across all recruiting weekends as the first night students arrive. Typically at other schools students are taken out to dinner at a local restaurant and have the ability to interact with students alone or a mix of students and faculty. Although, MCIBS does it a bit different. The program chairs in years past have held the dinner at their own homes. They fully prepare a home-cooked meal (usually a spread that many assume is catered because of how fancy the dishes are). Recently the program chair Dr. Melissa Rolls has hosted the majority of the recruiting dinners at her house. She invites all visiting recruits, their student hosts, and faculty members as an informal ice breaker.
As I have heard this dinner totally out-competes the awkward setting of having a formal sit down (feels like a pre-interview before the day of formal interviews. After dinner the next day begins with a breakfast at the Nittany Lion Inn with program chairs (our convenient on campus hotel). This again is an informal setting where recruits can ask them questions about the program and they get information about Penn State from current students. Immediately following this begins the interview process where recruits are personally led around by current graduate students to each of their respective interviews. In between interviews they can talk to students about the faculty they are about to talk to or even personal experiences the current students have had at Penn State. I have heard these conversations also differ from other graduate programs because instead of being talked to, recruits can talk with the student. Finally, at the end of the day the recruits have a final dinner with graduate students only and can relax from a rigorous day of interviewing. Following this the students take the any recruits downtown who wish to see State College. This shows the recruits the family dynamic of the MCIBS program.
Ultimately, the best stories that set MCIBS interview weekends apart from other schools come from student responses to any issues that may arise. Normally the day after interviews end recruits fly or drive back to their home towns. However, things do not go smoothly every time. This could be due to inclement weather that delays or cancels flights or long waiting periods between individual flights. This is where current MCIBS students have stepped up to make sure recruits are not left stranded with nothing to do. Students in past years have taken their Saturdays to lead recruits on tours around campus, grab a bite to eat at local restaurants, bring them to their own houses or apartments, and even provide transportation to the airport. These personal endeavors speak for themselves and speak for the quality of caring students we gather in MCIBS. Every time these situations arise the feedback from recruits is overwhelmingly positive.
Overall MCIBS has grown each recruiting season since the inception of the program. In my opinion this is due to the enthusiasm of the faculty to take time to attend informal events and meet the students before any anxiously anticipated interviews and the extra effort enthusiastically provided by the current MCIBS students. In all, these little extras make a difference and set MCIBS apart as a special program for students to interview for and an even more amazing program to earn a graduate degree.
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