Attending a Graduate & Professional School Fair
I was among the many visiting students and student researchers to attend an academic fair held at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The fair hosted lectures about medical school and graduate school admissions such as: “Getting into Medical School” and “MD/PhD: Is it Right for Me?” There were also over 100 different medical schools, graduate schools, and research institutes represented.
My goals for the event included learning about the medical school admissions process and networking with medical students and representatives of their respective institutions. I also got the chance to interview Dr. M. Kerry O’Banion, M.D., Ph.D., a physician and neuroscientist from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry! The opportunity to ask questions and learn about the nation’s medical school and graduate programs was exciting but most importantly it was informative.
There are few questions that crossed my mind while touring the event. How do I network? Do I just hand my résumé to this person–and that’s it?! Should I bring business cards? What sort of questions do I ask when talking to a representative of a medical school? How do I dress for such an event?
Networking at an Academic Fair
At first, I thought this would be the easiest part of the fair. Little did I know, many of the students arrived more than prepared to make themselves known to the representatives. I watched as students would gather around a table and a select few would push their way to the front of the group.
At first, I was a bit timid and only listened to the speaker but then I thought, who will remember me if I am standing back here? No one. That’s who. After that, I would seek out the perfect chance to ask a question–loudly and clearly. I would always state my name and where I was from. I listened and asked insightful follow-up questions. I also mentioned things that I had read in medical admissions books and things viewed on the different medical school websites such as recent news, research, or programs.
What I liked about such questions was it gave the speaker a chance to clarify things, mention different admissions methods that were being implemented, and it also opened the door for students to ask questions and keep the discussion fluid and interesting but most importantly, informative.
There is the popular saying that there is no such thing as a dumb question. What I know from experience is there is such a thing as an unnecessary question. I refused to ask questions that I knew I could find the answer to on a medical school’s website–such as “What is the deadline for secondary applications?” or “What hospitals are in partnership with the school of medicine?” I wanted to focus on things that were of immediate concern to applicants like how interviews were conducted, research opportunities, health missions abroad, rural/community health programs and initiatives. Questions like that.
Some students asked questions that required serious self-reflection on whether they were truly interested in becoming physicians. Such as, “I’m a bio student. A researcher. I have a lot of research experience. What should I do about clinical experience if I do not have any but still want to apply to medical school?” I could not believe my ears when I heard that. What I admired was that the person took the time to ask. What does one do about clinical experience if they do not have any? The members of the panel during this time offered the student an excellent piece of advice. He should simply look for experiences and volunteer and think about the importance of clinical experience prior to applying to medical school.
Academic fairs provide a chance to ask the questions that you cannot find on a medical school’s website. Some websites do not address certain topics such as the format of the interviews, the types of individuals who interview students, or specific questions regarding research or clinical experience. When looking into which schools to apply to for medical school, I spent a long time looking through websites thinking of questions and answering them. What I could not find, I asked.
Exchanging Information: Résumés, Business Cards, Etc.
At previous fairs that I attended I just showed up to a fair and walked around. Picked up information, and went on about my day. This time, I was ready! I printed out several copies of my résumé and I incorporated more information regarding my research experience since the fair was taking place at NIH.
One thing that I did not do and I regret, was I did not bring business cards. It was recommended that I do so but I was a bit confused. What is my business? I did not think I had enough “important” information to put on a business card. However, if you’re a student who has a business card or you want to create one–do it. People were exchanging business cards and I instantly regretted not having one to give people.
How Should I Dress for an Academic Fair?
The email I received about this fair stressed the importance that all students attend the fair dressed business casual. There was no detailed dress code on the website and I am sure some people might ask, What does “business casual” mean? A great example of ideas for business casual outfits is essentially what is displayed in the photo below:
However, some students wore full-on suits while others wore short skirts, sheer blouses, and displayed their tattoos and other unique styles. I do not decide what is appropriate for others to wear in such settings. I dressed conservatively for this event just as if it were an interview. Great stores to browse for ideas and shop for options include: Madewell, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Banana Republic, you name it.
I would recommend a visit to an academic fair at any point in your path to medical school or professional school. It is a great learning experience and a great opportunity to see how you fare when it comes to networking and promoting yourself as a candidate for medical or professional school. It encouraged me to be a bit more aggressive and insightful when it comes to learning more about becoming a future physician.
- Photograph of NIH Graduate & Professional Fair – Photo by Me
- Business Casual Outfits for Men & Women – from J. Crew and Banana Republic
- 51 Creative Business Cards That Will Make You Look Twice by Neil Patel on QuickSprout