Preparation is paramount to any interview, but biology interviews in particular look closely for your interest in the subject, not just upon ability.
In both of my interviews, the first question asked was Why do you want to study biology?
Understandably, the tutors are tired of the same mundane responses, giving you the perfect opportunity to stand out from the crowd and express just how passionate you are compared to the rest: give a named example of which field of biology you are interested in; don’t be afraid to relate back to your readings or work experience in the personal statement, as this provides the proof of your interest. Tutors are far more likely to remember a candidate interested in deep-sea marine ecology, than one who simply enjoys all aspects.
You will be relieved to find that biology tutors are not in fact testing your prior knowledge – that’s what your school exams are for, but instead searching for the potential to learn and to solve problems.
For instance, I was faced with a rather open-ended question: Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster? Ideally, you should structure the answer into themes, such as biotic vs abiotic factors. It is important at this point to say exactly what you’re thinking, even if you’re unsure, because it gives the tutor an insight into your thought process, and crucially, how they can assist you in the right direction.
I began by explaining that the large surface area of the fins and neck would lead to a greater heat loss, especially in the cold waters of Loch Ness. At this point, it’s helpful to link themes as it shows that you can build upon previous ideas to form new ones.
As such, the Loch’s cold, rarely sunny environment could then decrease food availability to levels insufficient to support such an energy demanding creature.
At this point, my mind went blank for a while, which is inevitable, so there’s no need to panic – the tutor soon assisted me, who said that if the Monster is physiologically similar to a turtle, why can’t it survive in Loch Ness? This influenced me to remember that turtles are grouped under the reptiles, indicating that the Monster is also cold-blooded and unable to rely on the loch’s (cold) surroundings to regulate body temperature. The tutor then asked how many monsters are there? To which I then replied that there is only one, permitting the assumption that reproduction cannot occur, so the legend is not feasible.
A different problem asked for the possible reasons why a locust of the same species could be green or brown in colour? Again, I used a similar approach of splitting up my argument into biological themes: different sexes, or even different ages of locust may change their camouflage from green to brown throughout the season as the foliage also shift from green to brown during autumn.
However, it is equally important not to disregard the practical side of biology, as a portion of my interview was set aside to analysing data collection, such as explaining saturation graph curves, or even deciphering how you would count the number of rabbits on two separate islands and test if they were different? I would use the mark-release-recapture technique, ensuring that I had a large representative sample to then compare any standard error bar overlap for the populations, and identify whether there was a statistically significant difference between them.
In conclusion, the biology interviews are there to stretch you, and to see how you solve each problem. Remember to take your time, and work your way through logically- they’re looking for someone who thinks deeply rather than rushing to an answer, and most importantly, someone who shows passion throughout – you will be given time at the end to ask any questions, by all means fire away, whether about the interview, Oxford life, or even the tutors’ own research!