Preview Weekend: Alyssa’s North Carolina Adventure

— Alyssa Paparella

Way back in the early fall, as I looked to applying for graduate school, I came across a few programs that advertised Preview Weekends and became intrigued. Preview Weekends bring students, often from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM, to campus to have a better understanding of that school’s graduate program by interacting with both students and faculty. I applied and was accepted to Preview Weekend at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Upon my acceptance, UNC reached out to me to help arrange my flights, which is similar to the process I will experience during interview weekends for graduate schools.

Flying all the way to the East Coast (back home for me) was exciting knowing that such an experience awaited me, but not being exactly sure of how it would all work. Upon landing, I was greeted by UNC staff and met some of my other fellow Preview Weekend participants who were also flying in.

After arriving, we had a dinner where we interacted with staff and students. The dinner was full of lots of appetizers and lots of insightful conversation about aspects of UNC’s program that were things I had not known previously . Some of the graduate students I met that night continued to assist us throughout the weekend, which allowed me to get to know them, hear their experiences, and learn about their research. I ended up having a great conversation with one graduate student over using ASVs or OTU for microbial network analyses, making me feel like a real scientist that I could discuss my previous research with her!

One of the main advantages of participating in UNC’s Preview Weekend was the direct feedback on my application. I had the opportunity to meet directly with a member of the admissions committee to discuss how to make my application stronger for the November deadline. Besides having Carole and Dan, it was helpful to receive more advice on perfecting my application.

Another highlight was partaking in mock interviews with faculty. It was a bit nerve-wracking as I did not know what to expect, but I knew it would be good practice for later interviews. UNC even provided feedback from the interviewers, which will definitely help me better prepare in the future. Having the opportunity to network with the faculty throughout the weekend was really important for me learning about the research taking place along with the environment. By random chance over dinner, I came across a faculty member that I had not previously known but I was so intrigued by his research that I listed him as one of my faculty of interest for my application.

Besides the academic-focused aspects, UNC even showed us around the area, including Carrboro and Durham, to help us envision what it would be like to be a student there. I even visited a student’s apartment to see options available to me if I become a student at UNC. These additional opportunities were helpful in understanding the student lifestyle.

   

Although my Preview Weekend was in September, I had the opportunity to reconnect with UNC at ABRCMS in November. As some of the other Preview Weekend attendees were also at ABRCMS, UNC invited us out to dinner at the House of Blues. During dinner, I met some of the UNC PREP Scholars and we shared experiences about partaking in a PREP program and applying to graduate programs.

Overall, the Preview Weekend experience really helped to affirm my interest in graduate school and UNC’s program. I learned insider information by talking to the students and faculty that I would not have known to help me make an informed decision. I definitely recommend the experience of applying to a Preview Weekend because it may be exhausting but it’s a great low-stakes introduction to what an interview weekend will be like.

Thank you specifically to UNC for the full funding to partake in such a wonderful program that helped to make me a better scientist!