First Guest Blog of the New Year! From Panthea Heydari

The Neuro-Person:
Story telling and Interviewing
 by Panthea Heydari

In. Getting in. Getting accepted. Getting the job. Proposing the deal. Inventing the thought. Telling the story.

My story.

It’s the beginning of spring semester at USC and slowly, but surely, students are getting into the flow of things. Campus eateries have re-opened from the holiday, the gym is as exciting as ever, and the parking lots (both on campus and at that aforementioned Expo metro rail) are becoming full. But along with the throngs of returning students this year, also come the hopefuls. Those vying for positions in sparkling labs, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, dreaming of making that Nobel Prize discovery…the hopeful prospective graduate student.

Welcome back, kids! It’s judging season. It’s application season. It’s interview season.

Recruitment weekends and interviews are starting to get planned for these prospective hopefuls and it feels odd to think that two years ago, I was here.  Reading and re-reading my resume, debating on what would make me seem more of a professional academic…do I go with the Hilary Clinton pant-suit? What about the spectacles? Or did I want to be the casual smart graduate student, rolling out of bed and nonchalantly teetering on an epic discovery? What do I even say at my interview? Do I only talk about my science exploits? Can I say I’m into running? What about animal versus human research? How much of that person do I involve alongside the neuro?

USC was not my first graduate school interview and by the time I stepped onto the HedCo Neuroscience Building, I had some idea of what I wanted my future colleagues to know about me. I wanted them to know my skills, my publication record, and my research capabilities but when I sat down to interview with my dream principle investigator (or, effectively, my boss), what I wanted, more than anything, was to have an actual conversation. Was to tell my story and see if I jived with this mentor.

Could I see myself popping into her office on a whim to discuss a thought? Would she be receptive to my inevitably, at first, naïve questions and, later, self-proclaimed novel associations? Those answers could only come from a genuine conversation, filled with my story and, at the same, listening to hers.

The interview is amazingly complicated and, yet, supremely simple. The concept of the neuro-person is emphasized most during this interview season and a conversation can go far. I encourage you prospective graduate students to allow your person-hood to come out during your interview…talk about what excites you! Get animated! Discuss your skills…and the things you could stand to improve on. Tell your story about how you got here but don’t forget that on the other end, there’s a story too. Ask about their story, what excites them, and see if you could imagine yourself getting enamored by the same things or enthralled enough to direct someone towards something new. That passion will serve you well in the marathon that is graduate school.

The story, your story, will continue to develop even after interview season, and to those of us going into our second, third, or sixth years, that story is still developing. The excitement of the story—the unwritten parts—well, that’s the cliffhanger that keeps you coming back for more. Ultimately, the interview to get into graduate school, the one that concludes your dissertation, that gets you to your post-doc, and maybe even the one that cinches for you the coveted tenure track position, it’s all a story about you. Your research, your interests, your personality, and your connection.

So, let’s hear it. Story time!

Send me your thoughts at





Attention, Master’s Students: USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship Program

USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship Program

USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship Program seeks to attract outstanding young people who are interested in pursuing careers in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

More information attached and

Deadline: Monday, January 27, 2014

The fellowship is awarded to 5 graduate students enrolled in 2-year masters programs in the following fields:

  • International Affairs
  • Development
  • Economics
  • History
  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Communications
  • Public Policy
  • Business Administration Foreign Languages
  • Agriculture
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Urban Planning
  • Other related fields, excluding law

Fellows will receive up to $20,000 per year toward tuition and mandatory fees and a $15,000 stipend for each academic year for room, board, books and other education-related expenses.  Fellows will also receive up to $10,000 per year in stipend, housing, transportation and other related expenses for summer internships.

Students who successfully complete the Payne Program and USAID Foreign Service entry requirements will receive appointments as Foreign Service Officers with the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Fellows are committed to a minimum of three years of service as a USAID Foreign Service Officer.

Fellows will participate in an orientation at Howard University in May.

Fellows will participate in two summer internships, one in Washington DC before the first year of graduate study, and the second overseas in a USAID Mission between the first and second years of graduate study.

Each fellow will receive mentoring throughout the duration of the fellowship.

Application eligibility includes the following:

  • Applicants must be US citizens
  • Applicants must be seeking admission to enter graduate school in the fall of 2014 for a two-year program at a U.S. university.  They can be in the senior year of their undergraduate studies, graduating by June 2014, or they can be college graduates.
  • Applicants must have a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher on a 4.0 scale at the time of application.
  • Applications are due on Monday, January 27, 2014 electronically and include the following:
    • Background information (e.g., name, contact information)
    • A personal statement (in 600 words or less) that discusses the applicant’s reasons for applying, interest in foreign affairs, commitment to pursue a USAID Foreign Service career and any relevant experience or information.
    • A statement (in 400 words or less) from the applicant that discusses his/her need for financial assistance to attend graduate school, including an explanation of:
      • The financial assistance received during undergraduate studies
      • Overall education-related debt
      • Ability/plans to pay for graduate school independently
  • Two letters of recommendation:
    • One from a faculty member who is well acquainted with the individual
    • One from a community leader or other individual who can comment on the applicant’s non-academic accomplishments and his/her potential to serve as a USAID Foreign Service Officer
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Student Aid Report generated from the FAFSA form.
  • GRE or GMAT scores
  • Official Financial Aid Statement from your senior year, if you received financial aid.
  • Official Transcripts from ALL colleges and universities the applicant has attended for credit.

For more information including FAQs as well as tips for preparing a competitive application, please visit:

For all inquiries, please contact:
    Tessa Henry, Payne Program Officer
    (202) 806-5952 or

Job Opportunity: Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships




The USC Graduate School is seeking an advanced PhD student who will assist current PhD students in securing external fellowships. Candidates for the position must have passed their Qualifying Exams, be making good progress toward their degrees as verified by their departments, and have strong writing and speaking communication skills. The position will be a 25% appointment (10 hours per week), which includes the basic university stipend, tuition and selected fees. It is open to students in any field.


Duties include:

  • Researching external fellowship opportunities for PhD students from a variety of disciplines
  • Preparing summaries of fellowship information
  • Organizing information sessions and identifying external fellowship recipients to speak at information sessions
  • Developing peer support programs for PhD students interested in applying for external fellowships
  • Working individually with PhD students to prepare competitive applications
  • Holding regular office hours and referring students to available opportunities and resources
  • As appropriate, attending meetings with Graduate School Deans and the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs
  • As appropriate, attending Graduate Student Government meetings as a representative of the Graduate School


To apply, please submit a curriculum vita (CV) that includes the date you passed your qualifying exams, your expected graduation term and your faculty advisor. Please also submit a short (no more than 1 page) description of your qualifications for the position and a sample of a funding proposal or paper you have written. Send materials to: Meredith Drake Reitan, Assistant Dean for Fellowships at