I was walking from the middle of campus to the medical education building (okay, I was wandering, because I was lost) to start my interview day when I spotted a gangly-looking Asian kid in a clearly new suit walking in the same direction. He was, like me, lugging around a suitcase. I lasered in on what had to be a fellow applicant.
I introduced myself, shook the kid’s hand, and made a little small talk.
“I’m from Charlotte,” he said. I put on my best wry smile, which looks kind of like a grimace; it throws people off. I knew what was coming. Where did he go to school? Carolina. Oh, really? Me, too! That’s so funny that we’re both here and yadda yadda…
When did you graduate? “Oh, I’m a rising senior. What about you?” Uh. I’m not a rising senior, let’s just say that. When we went in to the meet-and-greet room, I found connections with half the room – two went to Wash U, where I worked as a research assistant for a year. One Californian grew up down the street from my dad. Another kid, sadly, went to Duke. I feel sorry for him – imagine having to carry that burden of shame for the rest of your life – but at least he made something of himself.
Despite his handicap, we connected over the mechanical bull at Shooters. Good times in Durham.
The day started with an introductory presentation by an associate dean and, mercifully, coffee. He handed out our schedules – three interviews, half an hour apiece, with lunch and a tour thrown in – and sent us on our way. In order:
- Faculty interview: This was with a chair of a major division within the hospital. I had to go find his office, which was the hardest part of the entire thing. The hospital was a maze, and I had to ask for directions twice. With the Guinness Book of World Records-confirmed Worst Sense of Direction, I know better than to try to navigate my way through a hospital. The interview itself was perfectly nice – no gotcha questions, no boilerplate interview questions. We talked about health care reform (although he did use the word “Obamacare,” which made me cringe) and basketball, for the most part.
- Admissions interview: I was interviewed by the same associate dean who ran the morning presentation. He knew my whole application backwards and forwards from memory: he recalled that I had a younger brother, that I took “Death, Religion and the Afterlife” in college, and that I am obsessed with Chipotle. (Yes, Chipotle is actually in my secondary application for this school. Don’t ask.) It was more of a conversation, and I got the sense that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t an axe murderer more than anything. Again, no gotcha questions or hard-sell interviews; just a nice chat.
- Student interview: We talked, no lie, about fat kids and candy. Independently. If you know me, you know that I am the world’s biggest fan of ridiculous, hypothetical questions, and she asked me a great one: what candy do you think is severely underrated? Excellent question. For the record, I had two – Flipz (the chocolate covered pretzels) and Sour Skittles. Think about Flipz for a second – have you ever seen a half-empty bag of Flipz? Ever seen someone NOT finish a bag? Me neither. But no one talks about them. Underrated.
She liked that, I think. Lunch was deep dish pizza and breadsticks, with an ice cream snack after the tour. I especially liked the ice cream snack. Nice touch, guys.
The fun part of my story begins now. I finished my day at 3 PM, changed out of my suit in the bathroom (glories of traveling) and departed on an hour-long bus ride to the airport. The bus I took didn’t go all the way to the airport, only most of the way. Oops. I had to get out at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and take a different bus, with the same number, to get to the terminal. With plenty of time, I cleared security and boarded my flight to Delta’s Detroit hub. The plane was the size of a large cigar tube; it was so small that they gate-checked everyone’s carry-on luggage. Once on board, we sat for thirty minutes before the pilot clicked on the intercom.
“Uh, hi, I’ve just been informed by our ground crew that our plane is leaking fuel out the rear of the aircraft, and it has formed a six-foot puddle behind the plane. There is no fire yet, but in the interest of safety we would like you to get off the plane while we resolve the—“
Wait, did he say no fire YET? At what point was there GOING to be a fire? I would settle for never, if that’s okay with the pilot. Considering we were basically sitting on a winged, aluminum gas can with a lot of buttons, this made me nervous. It should also be noted that we were mid-pushback when this happened, meaning the engines, which run by MAKING FIRE, were on. Slightly dangerous situation, that.
So we get off the plane, bringing our carry-on luggage with us—uh oh. They gate checked it all. And now the fire department has arrived and won’t let anyone on or off the plane. So I’m in the terminal, trying to figure out if I’ll make my connection in Detroit (hint: no) while simultaneously emailing all three of my work bosses “HELP I’M STUCK IN THE MIDWEST PLEASE DON’T FIRE ME.”
Plan A: We are going to reboard in less than 10 minutes, and I can still make my connection because of the age-old excuse of “we’ll make up time in the air.” Let’s leave aside why the plane just can’t fly fast to begin with (cheapskates) and proceed.
Plan B: Plan A is thrown out at the 10-minute mark. I was rebooked for a later flight out of Detroit – half an hour later than my original 37-minute layover. Problem: this later flight arrives into Dulles, which means I would have a sixty dollar cab ride to my house. Crap.
Plan B is then rendered moot when the pilot gets on the airport intercom to announce, “this may take awhile.” Considering the default time frame for when a gate agent says, “We’ll be proceeding in just a few moments” usually means an hour, this was catastrophe for my connection plans. I go back to the front desk, where I have to say gate agents Andrea and George performed admirably, and ask for my options.
George tells me there’s a Southwest flight that goes to BWI that leaves in 15 minutes, direct from where I was. Great, I say. Put me on. One problem – I just need my bag off the plane.
This normally would be no problem, since I didn’t check a bag. But since the greater metropolitan area has now been declared a haz-mat scene from the same amount of gas I spill when unhooking the pump from my car, the fire department isn’t letting anyone on or off the jetway. This notice was delivered to me right before the gate agent went down the jetway.
Plan D: George rebooks me on a 9:30 flight out of the other city airport to Reagan. Wait a minute, I tell George, can I even get there in time? Oh, yes, says George, it’s about an hour away driving. And we’ll pay for the taxi. I’m impressed. By this point, I have a drink voucher, a meal voucher, and a taxi voucher, as well as a new plane ticket from a completely different airport on a completely different airline. I suspect if I keep talking to George, I will soon receive a voucher for a free booze cruise or one of those goldfish-in-a-plastic-bag you can win at carnivals. The original problem from plan C remains, though: I still have no bag.
Twenty minutes pass. Still no bag. Now I’m running up against a time issue; if I wait more than 10 minutes more to leave for the taxi stand, I probably won’t make the other flight. That’d be a kick in the face, right? Transfer to the opposite side of the city on short notice, only to miss your flight? Oh man. With 2 minutes to spare before my deadline, someone grabs my bag off the plane and hands it over.
Glory. I run down to the taxi stand (if you’ve heard my epic about making my flight to Greece, this should be par for the course) and thrust my voucher triumphantly in the face of a taxi driver, who is extremely unhappy to see me. Apparently, vouchers are notoriously hard to redeem, and he makes me sit in the backseat, agitated, while he calls in authorization to his dispatcher.
Taxi driver receives authorization and we depart. Taxi driver then proceeds to complain about voucher system for twenty minutes as we make the sixty-minute drive to the other airport. He finally realizes I am completely ignoring him in favor of concentrating on keeping my overtired, overstressed and jetlagged brain from leaking out of my ears, and shuts up.
I make it to the new airport with twenty minutes before my flight. I clear security in what has to be record time for a major airport with a horrific on-time departures record, and make the plane.
Going forward, I’ll be able to do a lot more writing about the interviews themselves as I’ll have a basis for comparison. Writing too much about today is tough since I have no barometer for what they should be like; I had a generally positive experience, and will certainly be comparing my time at other schools to my day today. Until next week and interview #2!
(I also wrote this on the plane ride home, four hours past my usual bedtime of “sunset.” So forgive me if it makes no sense.)