After my recent, brief spate of regular posting (and by “regular” I mean more than one post a week), the two-week silence here must have seemed odd. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that it’s been a busy time. That busy time is now over, and I’m mostly caught up on things, but there are still other things that need my attention. I doubt I’ll be getting to any more of them today, as I’m not feeling too well at the moment. This usually happens after a brief period of high-intensity stress—during the stressful period, my body keeps fatigue away, but once the stressful time is over, I crash. It’s not really that bad this time, but I am feeling a little drained.
The focal point of this stress was entrance examination interviews this past weekend for next year’s batch of prospective students. Unlike last year, when we had one team of four professors doing the interviews, this year we had two teams of three professors. Last year, the interviews took three days; this year they only took two. So that was an improvement. But it was still a bit of a system shock to wake up yesterday feeling like it should be the weekend, only to realize that it was not the weekend and a new week with a hefty pile of accumulated work was upon me.
Obviously, I can’t comment directly on the interviews, but I will make one general comment on something that occurred to me somewhere along the way. As we were interviewing students, I found myself getting excited when a particularly bright prospect came along—and then often found myself being extremely disappointed when some of those prospects didn’t work out. And I realized something: I was rooting for every single student that walked into that room. They were all nervous, some more so than others, and when it was my turn to do the greetings, I tried to be soothing and funny. My fellow professors did the same. And it wasn’t an act. We really did want them to be calm and do their best. Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing someone who has prepared long and hard for something not be able to perform their best.
Ultimately, though, I suppose our reasons were selfish. It’s a pleasure to see a student do well in the interviews, but when a student struggles, so do we. I think this goes for any situation like this. This past weekend I was on the interviewer end of the equation, but I have also been on the other side of the equation enough times to know exactly what it feels like. In a word, it’s gut-wrenching. I get extremely nervous in these sorts of situations. Actually, I get extremely nervous before these sorts of situations—it’s the waiting and the anticipation that kills me. Once I’m actually in the situation, it’s not so bad. Still, there have been times when the butterflies haven’t gone away, so I can sympathize.
As an interviewee, all you see is a wall of stern faces, impassive and judging. They may smile, and they may even try to make you feel at ease, but deep down you just know they’re waiting to pounce on the tiniest little mistake. They want nothing more than to find some reason—any reason—to strike you off their list and end your suffering. But that’s not how it is at all. From my experiences on both ends of the equation, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the interviewers want the interviewees to do well. We really are rooting for you. It’s a symbiotic relationship: if you’re happy, and you do well, we’re happy, too; if you don’t do well, and you’re not happy, then we’re not happy either. Believe me, it gives us no pleasure to have to rule someone out of contention. We’d like nothing better than to have everyone come in and be a hit.
Well, I think that will be it for today. I doubt anyone who took the interviews this past weekend will read this, and I suppose it wouldn’t do much good now anyway, but I think this principle applies to most interview situations. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember this the next time I’m on the other side of the wall of stares.