Entrance Exam Interview – Semmelweis
June 6, 2012 § 19 Comments
My interview in March and the one this past weekend were on completely different playing fields. In my first interview I was asked very basic questions and the interviewer fed me leading questions if I had any trouble. Any further questions I was asked went no more than one or two degrees past my original response. My June interview was simply brutal.
Before the interview I stood out in the hall, reviewing my notes and trying to calm my nerves. I had some small conversations with other students, some of which had already completed their interviews. Christian and I began speaking with a girl from Bergen. As she relayed her March interview to us, I got EXTREMELY nervous. Her interview in March had been nearly impossible. She said that there had been two interviewers, one of which didn’t return her handshake and simply sat in the room staring blankly at her the entire interview. Before she was able to introduce herself, she was asked by head interviewer to explain why tea gets bitter. I wouldn’t even know where to begin answering that question. She told us that she mentioned something about the water releasing some sort of chemical compound and something about 88 degrees. She was then asked to draw some organic structure – let’s say it was something like 2-butanol – and was then criticized for beginning her drawing in the wrong direction. Afterwards, she was asked what percent of the liver is designated for the production of insulin.
By the time she was finished describing her interview from hell, my chest was pounding, my legs shaking and my hands clammy. I thought to myself, “I have no chance. I am going to fail this for sure!” I tried to calm myself with this resolve, but it didn’t help. We agreed that she would try to catch a glimpse of the interviewer to see if he was the same one that she’d had in March. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to know.
The student who had his interview before me flew out of the room abruptly, taking time only to tell us, “He asks a lot of questions.” The girl from Bergen ran after him to investigate, but turned up empty only a few minutes later. Having the person before me run out of the interview did not help my nerves.
Then, it was my turn to go in…
I’m going to try to note down as much of the interview as possible. First, I’ll review my March interview. Then I’ll review my June interview, and try to include summaries of my answers.
It began with some basic questions about myself:
– You are from the US? Why did you move here?
-Have you done any community service?
-Do you like to travel?
-Have you studied biology and chemistry before?
Then the knowledge based questions:
-What is a polysaccharide? Where are they located in the body? What do they do?
-What is the difference between a eukaryotic cell and a prokaryotic cell? Give examples of each.
-What are antibodies? What type of cells produce antibodies?
-What is an atom?
-What are the organelles in a eukaryotic cell?
I had not done so well on my written exams. But he told me that I had proved myself with the responses to his questions and that he was going to “change his mind about me”. He explained that he could not promise anything and that it would be hard to overlook the scores on my written exams, but that he would do whatever he could to communicate that I knew a lot more than what was shown on paper. (I didn’t take this in a wrong way, especially because I had only found out about the exam 12 days prior.)
It began with some basic questions about myself:
– You are from America? Why did you move here?
I was born here and raised in California. I worked several years there to put myself through school when I realized, a little over halfway through my degree, that it was going to take a lot longer than I could handle on my own. I decided that it would be easier to move here to Norway, learn the language, and go to school here, where the government is able to give a lot more financial support.
– Ok. And why did you chose Hungary?
Do you mean why did I chose Hungary over other schools in Czech, Poland, and Slovakia?
Well, I spent a lot of time researching the different schools and found that the universities in Hungary seemed to match what I was looking for. I admire the culture and it is a beautiful country – Budapest is especially beautiful.
– Ok. Let’s begin with blood. Tell me what is blood.
(I didn’t really understand what he had said at first, I kept hearing “blued”, so I had to ask him to repeat himself twice… I finally got what he was saying and began my response.) Blood contains red blood cells. Red blood cells contain the protein hemoglobin which has four hem groups that are composed primarily of iron. Red blood cells collect oxygen in the lungs, by absorbing oxygen that has diffused through the membrane of the alveoli that are located at the end of the bronchioles. Red blood cells are especially interesting because, as they mature, they begin to destroy all their organelles and their nucleus – a process called apoptosis. This is so that they are more efficient at taking up oxygen. This feature allows them to absorb about 98.5% of the oxygen that we inhale.
-Ok. What else is in blood?
In addition to red blood cells, you have leukocytes, which are white blood cells. These play a role in your immune response. They include B-cells, or B-lymphocytes, phagocytes, and T-cells.
– Ok. What else?
(This is where I struggled. I felt so stupid for having studied so much of red blood cells, hemoglobin, the immune response and not having thought at all to actually consider what blood plasma was composed of. I fumbled around a bit for info, repeating what I had said already – which he didn’t like – when finally I remembered something I had learned back in high school biology.) You also have platelets.
– Ok. What are platelets?
Well, they play a role in healing. If you were to get a cut, your platelets are what form pus and the scab. (I was really reaching for this one. I had to recall info that I’d learned 10 years ago!)
– Ok. What else is in the blood plasma?
(Now I was really nervous – all that I really knew about was red blood cells and leukocytes. I tried to think, but my brain was going blank.) Um, let me think. Well, water, some ions, maybe some glucose, and maybe some proteins.
– What kind of proteins?
(AHHHH!) Maybe proteins that are destined for specific parts of the bodies? (I tried smiling, but that didn’t help.)
-No. No. Cells synthesize their own proteins. They do not need to get proteins from other parts of the body.
(I felt so embarrassed. I knew this. I felt myself failing this interview.) I know that cells synthesize their own proteins, but I was thinking, since there are some proteins that are secreted from the cell, that there may be a small amount floating freely in the plasma. (Smiled again, out of embarrassment.)
– No. Try again. What types of proteins are in the blood plasma?
(I was drawing blanks again, so I decided to verbally list the types of proteins I knew – not to trick him, but more to help me organize my thoughts.) Well, you have many different types of proteins. Structural, transport, enzymes, hormones…
– Ok. What of hormones?
(What!?) Hormones, hormones. Well, you’ve got insulin and glucagon that are secreted by the liver in order to control the levels of glucose in the body?
-Think of osmotic pressure.
(I had no idea at this point, so I just started spitting out something I knew that had to do with water diffusion under hormone control.) Well, there is ADH, anti-diuretic hormone. This affects the permeability of the collecting ducts in the kidneys that collect remaining blood plasma from the nephrons. When ADH is released, it increases the permeability of the membrane so that the remaining water is absorbed back into the body. Whatever fluid remains is now considered urea.
-Yes, but this is urea. Tell me of osmotic pressure.
(Osmotic pressure? I know this. I know osmosis, I know diffusion! I drew a diagram of osmosis for him, explaining that water diffuses through a membrane that is semi-permeable. I explained the concept of concentration gradient, hypotonic, hypertonic, etc.)
– Ok. And this measures osmotic pressure (then he smiled!). Ok. Now. You mentioned glucose. Draw this for me.
(Oh no! All my studying about photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and I had forgotten to review the formula for glucose!!) You want me to draw it? Ok…well, I know that it had 6 carbons and it splits into two 3-carbon pyruvates after glycolysis. I also know that carbohydrates are composed of only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in the ratio Cn(H2O)m, since the word carbohydrate refers to the hydration of carbon atoms. Possible side groups containing carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are carbonyl (C=O), carboxyl (-COOH), and hydroxyl (-OH)….(meanwhile I am drawing all this out, beating myself up for not actually remember how to draw it).
– Ok. Now draw these groups that glucose has.
(I began drawing a bunch of hydroxide groups around the carbon atoms. I was so nervous that I just kept going with the hydroxide groups.)
-No, no. Not so many hydroxide groups.
Oh! Sorry! There are also carbons that are bonded to just hydrogen. Glucose is a monosaccharide and forms a disaccharide or polysaccharide through the process of condensation, where the equivalent of a water molecule is removed, which would mean that there must be some single hydrogen atoms here. (I drew a condensation reaction). This results in a alpha 1-4 glycosidic linkage, and the opposite of this is hydrolysis, though they are directed by different enzymes. (I looked at him questioningly at this point…I had no idea if I was giving him the answers he wanted.)
-Yes. Ok. You mentioned hydrogen. What is a hydrogen bond?
Well, first, let me draw a water molecule. Water molecules are polar covalent, which means that the electrons are not equally shared. Oxygen has a greater electronegativity, I believe it is 3.5, whereas hydrogen is just 2.1 (I was guessing these values, hoping they were right. He didn’t say anything.) Now, the differences in electronegativities has a lot to say about the polarity of the bond. If the difference is less than 0.4, it is a non.polar covalent bond. If it is between 0.4 and 1.7, it is polar covalent. And finally, if greater than 1.7, it is an ionic bond. The difference in electronegativity of oxygen and hydrogen creates two permanent dipole moments on each water molecule. There are regions of positive charge on each hydrogen and two on the oxygen (which I drew). Since these hydrogens have a positive charge, they form hydrogen bonds with electronegative atoms in other compounds, primarily oxygen, nitrogen, and fluorine. Hydrogen bonds are really what makes water such a great solvent. They are why we are able to maintain a stable internal temperature and why the oceans don’t freeze – since all the heat energy goes to breaking the hydrogen bonds.
-Ok. (Pause). I am going to give you a positive review. You have done…okay…on your exams. (I got 14/20 on both Biology and Chemistry). I will give you a positive review, but it will be the exams that help them to decide whether you are accepted or not.
Are you sure you don’t want to ask me about anything else? Maybe respiratory system, circulatory system, muscle contractions? (I was kind of desperate at this point. I felt that I hadn’t proved how much I really knew and that I had been asked things that I wasn’t really prepared to answer).
– No. That is unnecessary (he smiled again). I am going to give you a positive review. I can see you are enthusiastic about it and that you have learned fast.
Ok. Well, thank you for your time, and for the interview.
And then it was over! Phew. What a horrible experience. I’m shaking just writing about it.