Awhile back, I mentioned that I had a terrible experience during my interview for the 2nd year of my program. For at least a month after, the only emotion I could attach to the memory was anger – at the mean jury, at the frustrating French academic system, and at myself. The more time that passed, the less I cared (it helped that I was accepted into a different Master’s program that I love – distraction). In fact, more than six months later I can only say that it was beneficial to me.
My classmates and I, after repeatedly hassling the program director, were told that our acceptance to the Master 2 in Gestion et administration de la musique would be principally based on a 30-45 minute interview.
I spent several months researching and preparing my thesis proposal for the interview. I discussed the topic with friends and my parents and felt really excited about it. However – and while it’s painful to admit this, I’m hoping if someone else reads this they might avoid making the same mistake – I never practiced presenting it in French. While my level of spoken French has gotten really good, last June I wasn’t at the point where I could improvise academic ideas au pif. The combination of a few different unclear versions of the interview schedule and my anxiety about it caused me to arrive early – like, a few hours early. I just sat in the waiting area and prepared a bit more, thinking it would be no problem. This earned me a slightly grumpy comment from the professor about lunch being soon, but that they would see me anyways.
Beginning the interview with this feeling of having done something horribly wrong made me super nervous. I gave a stuttering, unclear summary of my proposal, and (shockingly) the jury wasn’t impressed. They subjected me to 10 or 15 minutes of questions, punctuated by eye-rolling, incredulous reactions to my feeble attempts to clarify my ideas, and belittling of the professional experiences I used to justify my answers. They asked if I had read something that I had cited in my application. I understand that professors are busy and don’t necessarily read everything, but the condescending tone in which the question was delivered was totally uncalled for. After all that, of course I fell for a trick question about copyright since I was so flustered from the first part!
It was a total disaster. I hated feeling like I’d said all the wrong things. I worked so hard the whole year only to totally blow it in one session. I found this really unfair and it’s where my dissatisfaction with the French academic system lies – why even bother going to class or doing any work if your advancement to the next level depends only on your ability to verbally defend a research proposal that will probably change later anyways? Yes, I am still glad I attended classes and made an effort to study because I get more out of school than just grades. But still…I don’t get why it’s set up that way.
I feel less pissed about this now, because a. I was accepted into a different Master’s program so I was able to continue in graduate school in my field and b. if I hadn’t gotten into any school, it would have been upsetting but I would have moved on. Despite that, the concept of school being a straight-up competition – not competitive, but an actual “concours,” or race – still feels foreign to me. It’s just not how we do it in the US, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.
At first, I thought the only good thing about the whole thing was that I had just completed the worst interview possible. At least in the future, I told myself, I would automatically be fabulous by default. But with time and reflection, I realized that while oh so painful, I learned some really useful things.
Practically speaking, I know exactly what I need to do to prepare myself for this kind of situation – think through my thoughts and ideas, write them down, then practice them in front of someone else and ask for feedback. (The same basic principle is true in performing, and I should have known better!) Because it was all so clear in my head, I thought I was so well prepared. Luckily, a few weeks later I had a second chance in my interview for my current degree. I did a practice interview with a nice co-worker of mine, and had a great interview, the kind that turns into a conversation that moves beyond the standard questions.
After these two experiences, I know concretely how to prepare myself in the future, which is really valuable.
Despite my grievances with the French system and the whole process, I see the value in having gone through it. I know what to expect for my thesis defense and for future job interviews if I stay here longer. I take classes from all three of the jury members this year, so it was good for me to just get over myself and move on – plus they might not even remember my interview since they have so many students (at least that’s what I tell myself – and recently one of the professors called me Delphine a bunch of times in class so I think I’m right!). And if I do end up back in the US, I think any interview will feel like a love-fest compared to what I’ve been through here! Always looking on the bright side…
Have you ever had a similar experience? Have any advice?