Hertz Fellowship Advice

I benefited a lot from online academic blogs for fellowship advice, and wanted to return the favor, especially since I have a bit of a different perspective to how to do well in the Hertz fellowship. I wrote up this post right after my second round interview and I have queued it up to be published after I find out the results of the fellowship.

UPDATE: I got the fellowship! Guess it all worked out in the end as they felt I was “conversant in many different fields of engineering and design”. Don’t really have much to add to this post so it’s all a time capsule from my feelings immediately after the second interview.

First off, a link to some other blogs:

  • Philip Guo’s general fellowship advice – while not very specific on Hertz, his blog in general is just such a good one for academics in all phases of their career that I have to link to it
  • Thomas Markovich – very helpful because his talked about specific interviewers (who happened to be mostly the same ones that I had)
  • Tyler Shimko – good aggregation of other posts
  • Erik Reintersen – most in-depth list of questions that I’ve found with how he thought about them.

Now, my hot takes:

  1. Once you pass the application round, the interviews are pretty much entirely independent from them.
  2. Likewise, your experience in each interview is extremely interviewer dependent. See Thomas Markovich’s post for a good comparison of the extremes of “on your side” to “so blunt to the point of rudeness”. Although my interviews weren’t nearly as extreme, it’s definitely something to be aware about. Likewise, there’s a lot of variation in interview style, but you should expect the 2nd round one to be much more heavily regimented in terms of time and styles of question that they’ll ask you.
  3. Although some of these blogs say that you can not prep for these interviews because of the Fermi questions, you CAN prep for the research questions. Do so!! I believe that everyone dies on the technical portion of the interview which is why there are more blog posts talking about — because everyone is emotionally rekt by it.
  4. For the research questions, make sure that you can give a good high level overview of your research At the time of my first round interview, I had been writing a conference paper and had spent a lot of time on the introduction, making me pretty well equipped to talk about what my work is, why it was important in the context of other research and future directions I was planning to take my research. I didn’t even end up doing technical questions in my first round interview because I really got the interviewers interested in the implications of my research.
  5. For the technical questions, think deeply about the fundamental underpinnings of your field. What were the foundational intro classes for your major? As an engineer, I was asked about very fundamental science questions, despite my best efforts to steer the conversation more into systems level design questions where I excel.

Right now, I just finished my second interview and feel pretty rekt. The decision will fundamentally come down to whether they think my research vision will compensate for my lack of technical chops. I’ll update this post with the result, but right now, I have no idea whether I got the fellowship or not.

And because it wouldn’t be a Hertz post without the questions I got, here they are. I did not get any technical questions in my first round interview, so these are all from my second round.

  1. What issues do you get when you shrink a robotics mechanism to nanometer scale? (in which they found out I don’t know what a Reynolds number is)
  2. What happens on an atomic level when you break a material? (in which they found out that I did not take “Materials and Mechanics II” and flubbed my way through a 3 point bending test)
  3. What happens to a circuit when you heat it up? (in which they found out that I do not remember my basic “Freshman Physics II: E&M” equations about resistivity and capacitance and do not know how a thermcouple works)

Good luck, all future applicants!


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