Oh, man I'm thick!
Ok, so we already knew this, but today I proved it...
The entire "it's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt" quote was particularly applicable...
For those of you that I haven't mentioned it to every few seconds for the past couple of weeks, today was my PhD interview at Nottingham University. In the previous emails I had exchanged with one of my potential supervisors they had sounded like the position was mine if I wanted it, and today was more of a formality than anything, and a chance for them to convince me to go there. How wrong could I be?
So the day started at 7am when I got up and had breakfast with my brother and sister-in-law, whose house I was staying at due to my parents being in Rome (plus I was building a PC for my brother) I got up and ready, went and got my hair cut and read the paper that they had sent me telling me it was part of my project. This was also not entirely true as I found out later. It had useful background information in it. Bugger.
My interview was due to start at 11.30, so I got to the School of Chemistry for 11.20, at exactly the same time as my co-supervisor arrived from the School of Pharmacy. Nice.
For starters they told me a bit about what my project would involve on a very general level, trying to avoid specifics as much as they could. I asked a few relevant leading questions at the right points to make it sound like I knew what I was on about. Whilst I was still wondering about quite what it was all about, they started asking me questions. First of all it was general research-interest-type-questions, then they started asking me about my fourth year project and my experience of computational chemistry. Most of these questions I answered fairly easily, although they kept asking me about the methodology I had been using which I was less sure of. The answers I gave were not from my project (as I had not been studying this aspect of the research) but from the computational organic chemistry module, so I was starting to worry that I might get out of my depth. I threw in a couple of questions about whether the PhD would involve any work like this, and they found ways of avoiding the questions. I really wish they hadn't.
Next they asked me if I was interested in developing the methodology I was using, particularly involving computer programming. I replied that I was more interested in using existing methodologies to do new things, but that I was open to suggestions. Thick thing to say #1. They then revealed that my project was likely to involve a fair amount of programming, and that if the only languages I had to learn were Fortran, C/C+/C++ and Perl I would be lucky. Pants.
Now came the uber slip-up. More of a slip of the tongue than anything, it sounded completely different in my head. At this point it should be mentioned that this interview was with a Dr from Pharmacy and the Professor of Theoretic Chemistry, both of whom are leading lights in their fields. They asked me if I was interested in experimental work. I replied that I wouldn't mind doing some proper experimental work. That wouldn't be so bad, but it sounded more like I thought that only chemistry that actually involves chemicals is "proper chemistry". Not the best thing to say to the Professor of Theoretical chemistry. They spent the next 10 minutes taking the piss. Raaah! Raaaah! Gaaaaah! Why do I have to be so stupid? Just cos that's kinda what I actually think, doesn't mean that I should go saying it to these people! Crap crap crap.
They spent the rest of the interview part trying to catch me out and make me say something similar again. They asked me where else I had applied and why. I mentioned the biological NMR that I'm interested in, to which they pointed out this is completely different and involves "proper" chemistry. Oops. The rest of their questions I did not fall for and nearly managed to pass myself off as a proper theoretical chemist. Better.
After that they took me for lunch and I was able to keep up a conversation with them. This is impressive as I'm not Lynn and they are potential bosses so I was a bit stuck for things to just chat about. I generally really struggle to talk to people I don't know, and I still fairly nervous, all of which is not a great combination. They then showed me round their departments and introduced me to some of the people I would be working with, who then took me for coffee. They seemed to be a nice bunch and I could imagine working with them, and they were positive about the boss. However I was still quite unsure about the type of research I would be doing. To be fair, it's not "research" as I would define it, maybe "development"...
At the end of it they said they'd be in touch. I'm not sure if this means that they're going to say "we don't think your research interests and ours match up". If they do, that just makes my decision a bit easier. Oh, well, bring on the Bristol interview. At least I have a place at Birmingham where I know I like the people and the research. So there's quite a strong change that I will remain a Brum_Chemist for quite a while. If today was anything to go by, maybe forever as I may never get a job at Nottingham Uni now. Oh well! I like Birmingham!
Anyway, gotta go revise for tomorrow's viva... Gaaah!