This post is the first in a series regarding interview recaps of PhD programs I applied to. The series will only cover a select amount of interviews (only the ones I have enough pictures for a post!), and I will leave out the school names for privacy reasons. Although, given the location, you may be able to guess ;).
My first interview for grad school (Ph.D. programs) took place in New Orleans, Louisiana—fondly referred to as NOLA.
I woke up around 4am on a Thursday morning in order to catch a 6:40am flight. I had a flight that stopped in Houston, and then made its way to New Orleans soon after. I had window seats on both flights, and despite unavoidable neck cramps from sleeping against the wall next to my seat, I managed to catch up on the sleep I forwent earlier in the day.
I arrived around 2:30pm CST, and had decided prior to the trip I would save money by taking public transit (via the bus!) from the airport to the hotel. It only cost me $2 for a 35 min trip from the airport to downtown New Orleans. Fortunately, my stop was a main stop for the route, so I didn’t have to worry about pulling on the wire and getting off in the middle of nowhere.
After checking in to my room, I admired the furniture and fun décor.
As well as the view. Not exactly sparkling beaches or heavy on sunshine, but the city boasts its own version of beauty.
I decided to go for a walk before the sun set, mainly to know where to go for my interview the next day. I originally had plans to find a vegan restaurant (yes, there is one to my knowledge that currently exists in NOLA!) or a place serving vegetarian gumbo, but since I was on my own and wasn’t sure how safe the area was once dark set in, I settled on a veggie Subway and vending machine snacks. Somewhat disappointing, but at least I got to enjoy my mini feast in my room while spending the rest of the night watching Cupcake Wars/Chopped, until I turned in at 10.
I woke up the next morning at 7am in order to have enough time to get ready. I wore a pair of skinny khaki pants, a peplum top, a pair of black modest-height heels with comfort soles, and a blazer—because blazers raise any outfit to a professional level ;).
The walk was less than 10 minutes, but longer for me because my shoes kept slipping (the problems of breaking in a shoe…). When I got to the room that applicants were to report to, I was able to sit down and munch on some fruit while chatting with two of the other applicants. We were the only ones interviewing that day, since I guess the others opted for a later interview date.
Soon after I arrived, we got the chance to meet with one of the deans of the program, two graduate students, and the program coordinators. We got a general overview of the program, and an overall feel of what it’s like at the school from the graduate student’s perspective.
Each of us interviewed with three faculty members who shared similar research interests to ours, and the interview was more like a conversation than a grilling of questions.
After our interviews, we were treated to a catered lunch of pita bread and hummus, salad, and freshly-prepared sandwiches. I helped myself to some pita bread and hummus, as well as a portabello sandwich on foccacia bread. Along with discussing more about the school, program, and New Orleans life with the dean and current grad students, our conversation could not help but drift to the topic of food. Apparently there was a previous grad student who lived on free food from seminars, and ended up buying a Ford Mustang at the end of his graduate school career from the money he saved on groceries. A most comical and inspirational anecdote, for sure ;)!
And that was the end of our interview day! We had the rest of the afternoon/evening to explore New Orleans, but since the three of us applicants didn’t want to venture out alone, we decided to meet up later in the evening to explore the French Quarter.
I spent the rest of the afternoon taking a cat nap, making phone calls to my Dad and sis, reading magazines, and counting down the minutes till evening. Around 5pm, we met in the lobby and headed over to the French Quarter.
Now even though I am of legal drinking age, I’m not a drinker nor do I ever plan to be—out of personal and cultural reasons. The two other people I was with did drink, but they did not pressure me at all and there was a mutual understanding with each other which was nice.
All I can say is, though, is that French Quarter is crazy, to say the least. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to whoever you ask. Since we were approaching dinner time, and since nothing obviously vegetarian was in sight (even the rice and beans had sausage!), we all agreed on a Mediterranean place. Most people come to NOLA for the seafood, and by default, I come for Subway (cause not even the Po’ Boys are veg. friendly, apparently) and Mediterranean food. I can’t complain though, since I did get to have babaganoush for dinner!
After dinner, my companions kept their cups full with drinks while we looked for places to check out some music. We stopped at The Spotted Cat first, and listened to some fun rock’n’roll/blues played by a band that showcased a washboard and harmonica. Fun times! The second stop was d.b.a., where I got carded for the first time ever even though I didn’t drink. Actually, I was kind of happy I was asked for my ID, since it is validation for how young you look, right ;)?
After checking out the indoor music scene, we noticed a street corner brass band that really shook up the air. The members were probably not older than 21, and as young as 16, but they were playing like well-seasoned professionals. They had to be my most favorite music group of the night.
I was ready to call it a night at 8pm, but my companions had other plans. They were able to keep the conversation going until 9:30pm, when we finally decided to head back to the hotel. I had to get up early the next morning to catch my flight, so that’s why I wanted to head back sooner.
Walking through French Quarter after 9pm on a Friday night is certainly an adventure! Within two blocks, my leg got kicked (on accident, but I felt a sting), a girl in my face yelled, “put on a Texas smile” (??), and a float come by throwing out beads like crazy. Only in New Orleans…
I got back to the hotel around 10:30pm, and opted for some rest while the other two decided to have another drink at the hotel bar. Since I had to wake up at 4:30am the next morning, I was yearning for all the minutes of sleep I could get!
Getting home was a rather mundane experience, but a highlight was coming back through Salt Lake City and exiting out of a gate that happened to be right across from Pinkberry! You know I stopped for some coconut froyo with mochi and strawberry topping! It was the perfect brunch—depending on what time zone you’re in 😉
I arrived at the airport around 12pm PST, and home around 2pm. I surprisingly had enough energy for a run, but not surprisingly, fell asleep soon after dinner because I was exhausted!
This trip brought with it a lot of firsts for me: my first interview for grad school, my first solo plane trip, and my first time exploring French Quarter with two people I barely knew (other than the fact that they were applying to grad school!). The school was welcoming and the students/faculty were caring as a whole—it was the most wonderful way to kick-off my interview season!
Have you visited NOLA?