Marshall Finalist Interviews
Marshall Interview, San Francisco Region, 2001
The interviews for Marshall Scholarships in the San Francisco region took place at the residence of the British Consul-General in the expensive Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. My interview time was 2:40 pm, and I arrived at about 2:15. I knocked on the door of the large house, and was escorted into a living room area by the administrator. She asked for my receipts and the forms I had been sent to fill out. She also gave me another form to fill out on the spot, which asked about my activities, papers published, community service, and addresses of newspapers to contact if I was awarded a scholarship.
I finished filling out papers and made small talk with the young administrator about when she came to the United States and her plans for the future. A student in a suit came in and energetically introduced himself. For a moment I thought he was one of the committee members, because of his extreme friendliness. He was the person who had interviewed before I did, and instead of leaving he proceeded to sit on the couch and talk with the administrator and me. He was very confident and seemed to want me to think he knew everything. I would have enjoyed a bit of silence to prepare my thoughts, but had no such luck.
Soon a man came in the room and introduced himself as Mr. Gray, the chair of the committee. He took me back into the hallway and asked about the proper pronunciation of my name. Then he opened the door to the room where the committee was, and walked in ahead of me. He introduced me to the committee, and then they all stood up in unison. They looked very professional and somewhat intimidating, but the woman nearest to me, Dean Sullivan, warmly extended her hand. As I went around the circle shaking hands with the committee members, Mr. Gray said their names.
The room was arranged much like a living room. The committee members sat in armchairs and couches and I sat in a hard wooden chair at the head of the formation.
The Consul-General asked the first question: What is the plot of The Proof? (the fact that I participated in a reading of the play wasn't in my personal statement or list of activities but had apparently been discussed in a letter of recommendation).
Here are the other questions, in no particular order:
- What kind of math do you use in your forecasting work for the State of Oregon? Linear algebra? Statistics?
- What is the forecasting methodology and what do you do when the forecasts don't match the actual caseloads?
- Are you a political animal? Do you like politics?
- Do you vote? Why don't people vote?
- Why do you want to earn a Ph.D. in Public Policy?
- What is public policy, and what distinguishes public policy from applied economics or politics?
- These sweatshops you were working against, were they in the United States or other countries?
- Why is it okay for college students in the United States to interfere with working conditions in sweatshops when that interference might result in the factories moving to other countries and leaving no jobs at all? Aren't sweatshops better than prostitution?
- We have a few minutes left. What else should we know about you or what haven't we covered?
- If we equalize education funding as you propose, won't students just go to private schools because we've decreased the quality of schools in wealthy areas?
- Why did you choose to go to Willamette instead of the University of Oregon in your hometown? Describe Willamette for the committee. Couldn't you have made a bigger impact at a bigger school like the U of O?
- How good a computer programmer are you?
- The voters in Oregon have clearly stated that they want lower taxes, so that wealthy individuals can gain more wealth. In a democracy the majority wins, and since you're such a proponent of democracy, shouldn't you respect the will of the people and stop working for more progressive taxation?
- Looking at your transcript, we see that you had all A's until fall semester of your senior year, when you had two Bs. What happened?
Marshall Interview, Mid-Western Region, 1999
Candidate proposing to study Psychology, Philosophy, and Physiology at Oxford
The interview wasn't super intense or really fast-paced. It was really calm and leisurely. My overall impressions about how I did: I really don't know.
There was this one professor (a biologist) whose questions were really vague. For example (and this didn't even seem like a question): he asked whether I understood how the brain had evolved. I asked for clarification, and he replied, "well, the evolution of the brain." I didn't know whether this was a knowledge question or one that he wanted me to apply to something.
In addition, he seemed to think I wanted to use the mind/body connection to replace, rather than integrate into modern medicine. I felt as if I had to correct him several times; I hated being redundant. Even his last question made me feel as if he didn't have a clear understanding of my ideas. "Do you feel rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, can be healed by the mind?"
The other questions were fair and interesting. The whole session was very philosophical. No Marshall questions, or what's going on in Britain.
The seating arrangement was horrible. I had a person directly to the right (the biology professor) and another to my left. Since the biology professor asked most of the questions, my back was constantly towards the other committee members. I tried to make a sweeping glance every once in a while.
I guess the biology professor's questions made me doubt the success of the interview. I don't know if I answered appropriately. Overall it was a good experience, and has definitely put me at ease for the Rhodes.
Marshall Interview, Mid-Western Region, 1999
Candidate proposing to read for a B.A. in English at University of Sussex
The interview went relatively smoothly, I thought. I only cringe when I think about one question in particular. They didn't ask anything about George Marshall or Britain. Virtually all of the questions came from the information in my personal statement. The table was set up with one person on either side, and five more around the table. They all stood, introduced themselves, shook hands, and were generally very friendly and seemed extremely interested. Three professors, three professionals (all corporate, I believe), the Consul and his assistant were there.
Here are my questions . . . they aren't in order. It went by so quickly!
- What was the transition like from being in a successful rock band to being anonymous at a university?
- What happens when an underground movement becomes mainstream? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
- What are the threads common to your various experiences?
- Explain the theories of Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray (this was the question I stumbled over-I went totally blank, although I did manage to fumble my way through cursory explanations of the "Laugh of the Medusa" and "Speculum.")
- Do you agree with Andrea Dworkin that pornography should be outlawed, or is it a first amendment issue for you? Where do you draw the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable as pornography?
- Some people questioned or simply didn't believe that Harriet Jacobs wrote her own slave narrative, because given the content they didn't think it was angry enough. How do I respond to that? (I talked about how she turned her trauma into rhetoric, and that she was able to do that might make it difficult for those who haven't experienced that sort of trauma to explain the mindset of one who has.) This was followed with asking for other examples in anglophone literature of writers who turn trauma into rhetoric/fiction/art. I mentioned the Nature's Ban anthology and Mary Shelley.
- What women writers am I interested in studying at Sussex? (I answered Virginia Woolf and the Brontes, as well as lesser-known writers-political activists, and journals, for instance.) They asked what I had read by Woolf, and if I saw any similarities between the works of the Brontes.
- Do animals have rights, or do humans have an obligation to treat them as if they have rights? Where do I draw the line?
- How do I reconcile my beliefs in animal rights and reproductive freedoms? (I talked about sentient beings, which dug me into the next hole . . . )
- Would I agree with Peter Singer that at times infanticide is acceptable?
- If that is not acceptable, where do I draw the line with abortion rights?
- They asked for clarification of the situation with my natural father. Since they were all so relaxed and open, I didn't feel at all uncomfortable explaining it.
- Why do young women of my generation tend to have issues with the term feminist?
- Do I think a text can be objective?
- Do I see any parallels between academia and the music industry? (I responded that academia mirrors the industry in many ways, particularly in terms of the idolization of prominent academics and rock stars, at which one of them chortled and said, "like your Stanley Fish.") Do I think this idolatry in academia is a bad thing?
- Why did I choose the bass?
- Do I want to continue to play/record music?
I think that was it (I can't believe they asked all those questions in 20 minutes). It was interesting-I was completely cognizant the entire time of what an honor it was to be there. There was no sense of "this is it?" at all.