The Final Frontier: Acing the KVPY Interviews

in Life Beyond Medicine by

So, yet another repost of a popular article from my now fossilized old blog. I was getting a lot of questions regarding how to handle the KVPY Interviews and how to write a project report that gets the approval of the same. So, I decided to go ahead and repost those articles so that at least I get to respond to the queries regarding those older posts (since my old blog is pretty much run down now and not tended to and stuff, in the interest of helping folks out, I wanted to shift those posts here: also, they are good seasonal hit-garners! 😛 ) Keep in mind that this was originally posted by me quite some time ago and since I happen to have no recent encounters with KVPY or KVPY fellows, I am not really up to scratch on the most recent goings on in the system. However, I known there is very little help out there for Medical Students trying to crack the Medical MA Stream for the coveted KVPY award: I hope this comes in handy at least as a form of a ready reckoner for them.

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OK, so you all have done the more difficult thing right and have been called up for the Interview. From a cohort of nearly 1500-1600 people, only 50 odd have been picked and now is the time to hand pick the chosen ones. From my personal experiences, the KVPY interview was one of its kind. Of course, I had taken the interview at New Delhi, ICMR office, and now this year it will be in IISc Bangalore, so some things are bound to change. The AIIMSonians will not be able to carry in their usual swagger of knowing half the people on the Interview board, for one thing (at least I hope so!) and maybe for a change, they will be grilled as much as they rest (no disrespect intended, but I have always thought that with the game being played on their home turf, the AIIMSonians always had some sort of an unfair advantage!)… whatever, coming back to the topic at hand!

My experience was that the KVPY Interview is a class apart! It is entirely different from any kind of interview or examination that you may have encountered in your  medical careers. The main important difference being in the way the KVPY judges you from all aspects of your presence: from your body language to your demeanor to your project and how you handle queries regarding the same!

In this account, I would like to mention some general principles that might be handy for you when you go for the KVPY interview.

DRESS CODE:

It is compulsory to be well-dressed. When I say that a bohemian like me clad up in formal shirt, trousers and blazer for the occasion, you will understand what I am talking about. The way you dress sends across a message to the Interveiwers as well. A suggestion sideways: if, like me, you are unable to knot a tie, then do not wear one. But remember to keep your buttons up if you are not wearing a tie! Do remember to get your shoes polished because if you are wearing chic clothes with dusty worn shoes, well, it indicates you are a person with not too much of an eye for details, and that is not the best thing to portray to an interview board who would be judging you on your ability to carry out research!

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GRAND ENTRY:

Remember, you will be judged from the VERY MOMENT you step your foot in that room. My project was regarding music and stuff and as soon as I entered, one of them quipped: “Oh, so we have a musician here!” Not to be beaten down, I riposted: “Well, of sorts, sir!”

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It is very important that you take your own time and not rush into the chair. Do not act like it is an electric chair (though you shall probably feel that you’d sit on that one rather than this!) and instead have a steady gait towards the seat. If it is anything like what was back in Delhi, the seat will be placed at the focus of a parabola, of 10-12 interviewers – an arrangement which is pretty sure to rough up the best of us! So, even if you are tensed, do not betray it in your gait, don’t scuffle like you have Parkinsonism (unless you really have it) or sway like you just got off the bar or even swagger in like you were an olympic medal winner!!!

Just keep it cool. Remember, they are watching you! No pressures! 😉

BODY LANGUAGE:

In any interview, there are some cardinal rules on how to handle your appendages. Don’t flop them around like you have Huntington’s Chorea when you are talking. Try to keep them gathered on your lap, look into the eyes of your questioner, but be careful with the gaze. It should neither be the way you would look at Deepika Padukone or those breasts above or the Beasts of fury unleashed. It should be normal human look. Do not look at your feet when answering the questions, the answers are NOT written there.

Do not lean back in the chair, no matter how plushy it is. Sit ramrod straight and be attentive, let your attentiveness pour out every sweat gland instead of bad body odor for those few minutes. Be relaxed, but remember that it is an interview and not your drawing room or worse, bathroom.

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Do NOT cross your legs in front of the examiners unless you know for sure they are Basic Instinct aficionados. Remember, these people are like hawks and will monitor every little move, every involuntary twitch and every body language-verbal articulation dysrhythm they find.

Remain cool, calm and collected. Even if there is a question which worries you or turns nasty, do not let it show physically. Do not flinch. Do not pull your hair like a trichotillomaniac. Do not start scratching your head like a flea bitten mongrel. Do not “start digging for gold”. Do not start probing the ear canal (or for that matter any other bodily orifice that draws your fancy!). If you have Red Rackham’s beard, try to keep it in order and do not let it start flying around… In short, stay human!

WHAT WILL THEY LOOK FOR?

Basically, they will approach to grill you from two angles:

1. How apt you are for a career in research.
2. Different aspects of your research and how it is in concordance with your academic performance.

As for the first, you have to show a strong conviction.  For example, I was asked what I wanted to do in the future. I replied that I wanted to build a career in translational research. One of the Interviewers almost incredulously noted, that researchers were a breed of overrated and underachieving scapegoats. Now, that is a tricky question, because there are research folks AND clinicians on the board, and the right answer should not offend anyone. I don’t know the right answer to such questions, and I do not think anyone really does, but I answered that if I moved into medicine or surgery, I would be quickly labeled into a stereotyped bracket thanks to today’s age of super specialization and would end up either cutting gut or treating coughs or AMIs for the greater part of my life. But with the kind of hyperactive person I was, I would get bored to death by that kind of professionally starved yet financially rewarding career. Instead, in research I would have the ability to branch out, explore and widen my horizon of vision, face new challenges – in short, it would give me the rollercoaster of a ride I wanted my life to be like!!!

Then suddenly, one of the interviewers started grilling me on an entirely different aspect. He asked me where I was from and on knowing it was Kolkata, he promptly settled down into a long drawn discussion about cholera and public health methods on how to control it. I was not aware of the stuff back then since I was just in Second year, so I had to rely on my common sense to deliver me.

The bottom-line is – be prepared for anything and stay confident. Even if the interviewers fly off on a tangent during the session, it is most probably to check your ability to veer directions and keep up with the flow.

If there is something that you do not know, accept it hat you do not know it, and do not be sorry for it. You have been selected to go thus far: you must be worth something. There is this thing about certain interviewers that wants to make you kill yourself after the show, but do not let them get to you. Instead, try to play their own game. Stay confident. The worst that can happen is that you wouldn’t get selected. So what? Big deal!

CONFIDENCE:

If there is one key element that can counter the interview mess, it is confidence. When I was asked which college I came from, I replied “Medical College, Kolkata”. One of the interviewers noted, with screwed eyebrows: “Just that! You college has no proper name?” I was not one to be shot down so easy, so I hit back:”Well, you see, when my college was established, there were no other medical colleges in the whole of Asia, and so they just decided to go ahead and simply call it Medical College Bengal, now which is called Kolkata…”

The whole time of the interview, I was confident of myself, whether admitting the fact that there were lacunae in my projects or lashing out to the AIIMS faculty that I thought my medical school was the best, I did not, for once, step down on the pedal of intensity! I would suggest that such an approach, if carried out with moderation and careful monitoring is good enough to beat up any interview, not just KVPY, but the important thing is that you should know where to draw the line!

YOUR PROJECT:

Remember that it was your project that got you there, not your fancy dress, your upstart-ish smartness or your jaunty walk. So, take care to know it back to front. Remember that EVERY MEMBER will have a copy of your project in their hands. And will grill you directly from there. I would advise you to learn by heart all the essential results and do a background study on the different kinds of research methods (analytical and experimental epidemiology methods), which one your study fell under and what were the advantages and disadvantages of the same. Remember to note why you did what you did and whether there were any other better methods to accomplish the same goals, If yes, then why did you not take them up? Do you have any future plans regarding this topic? What areas are you especially fond of? What new things did you learn by doing this project? How does it affect you approach or attitude towards academics, in general? Would you lie to work on more varied or concentrated fields?

If you have  copy of your Application form (the one you sent with your project report first up) try to stay consistent with any tall claims you may have made there. We all do a bit of fudging here and there and as long as we can pull it off, no one is going to suspect anything and no one is going to be harmed, but, if you fudge huge areas, be warned, you will be doomed! It is always better to accept a lacuna than going on to cover up the issues big time. Be warned: If caught, you are dead, buried and forgotten!

Stay straight, stay focused!

ROUNDING IT OFF:

The walk back is as important as the walk in. It is only professional attitude that you thank them for having given you the opportunity to be there, to have selected you from the multitude of applicants. Hell, even if you do not make through, you happen to be within the top 5% of the medical student fraternity in India at the same level as you… that is something! So, even if your interview has been a mess, remember to thank the people. Try to judge if any of the interviewers have been impressed by your presence. Thank them by looking directly at them, and for the rest, look bang into the middle of the group, somewhere around the bloated tummy of the guy in the middle!

There will be a mix of male and female interviewers, so remember to be gender-wise in your addressing. You would not want to be labeled a male/female chauvinist (put the name of the animal of your choice).

IN ESSENCE:

The KVPY Interview is a phenomenon. Do not get awed by it. Try to stay calm. Try to know where the interview is heading. If you cannot control the proceedings of the interview, try to at least stay afloat. Do not say something that might make you want to put your foot in your mouth. Speak proper correct English and not the “Yo Dude!” stuff that you may usually do. If you are not very spontaneous with English, do not worry. It is, after all, just an alien language. Try to make short and sensible sentences. Try to stay grammatically correct. Start speaking with your friend in English right NOW (yes, even if they call you a snob, do it. It helps. Helped me immensely!) Do not hurry through. Be deliberate and if any time you are crossed and get wrong footed, try to salvage some pride out of it. For example, at one point of time  said “Forensic Medicine took my fancy… blah blah blah….” and after I competed an interviewer said “Fancy, eh… so do you mean to say that you are unable to focus??” I had made the grave error of saying something out of the line, but then I replied, saying: “Well, by fancy, I meant I felt attracted to Forensic because here there is an element of using your intellect and intuition to arrive at conclusions from given facts – that was a challenge which was palpably absent from all he other subjects I have studied so far, so I felt drawn to it more than the others. And no, I do not have a problem focusing. I am able to concentrate on problems and work on them and solve them even when they appear insurmountable” and then gave an example from how my project was getting screwed and I had to start thinking out of the box to save it!

THE FINAL WORDS:

These are just a few basic guidelines, and probably the only reliable document around on the net, since I did not find any before my Interview. I was selected as a mentored fellow by the KVPY and consider that to be one of the best academic honors in my career.

I would like to wish all of you the very best for the interviews and just hope that you come out with flying colors, and then again, remind you, that even if you do not, that is not an issue, because the fact remains, whatever be the results, try to enjoy the experience, savor the feel, make some new friends and in general, find a place for your passion!

And remember the wise words of The Oatmeal.

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