Your PhD interview date is in view. This article provides carefully chosen tips to help you prepare, and ten questions you should be ready to answer.
What to do before the interview.
How you present yourself and your ideas matters, so dress as you would for a job interview and bring two printed copies of your application form and either your research proposal or your notes on how you will fit into the existing research project. Organise materials neatly so that you can quickly access any information requested, but also commit crucial details to memory—and rehearse.
Do background research on the university, the department, and the academics who will interview you. Prepare several informed questions about the research they do and the overall research culture in the department.
Make sure you know where and when the interview will occur, and arrive ahead of time. If possible, visit the building in advance. You will feel more at ease if the surroundings are not completely unfamiliar.
To avoid embarrassment, try to find out how to pronounce the names of staff members you will meet.
Top 10 interview questions.
The “right” answers to these are personal, and depend greatly on what the specific staff members and their programme or department want. Scour the PhD studentship advert, the department’s mission statement, and information about current staff research to learn about research priorities, interests, and positions in theoretical debates. Showcase your personal skills and attributes, and how well they fit.
1. Tell us about yourself.
Include not only your academic background, but your personal motivation—and particularly what motivates you to do in-depth research in this particular field.
2. Why have you applied to do a PhD here?
This is where research can give you an edge. Show that you have chosen this programme/department/university for strong reasons, such as your high regard for named researchers’ work, the availability of specific collections, equipment, or lab resources, and overall reputation. Give actual examples, not banal generalities.
3. What can you do for us?
Academics will have to give up a great deal of time to supervise you, most of which they will receive no scheduled hours or recognition for. So, what research skills, personal attributes, connections, theoretical ideas and so on do you have that will make it worth their while?
4. What do you think pursuing a PhD will do for you?
If you plan to become an academic, say so, but not in terms of just getting a job—talk about your long-term research plans. If applying to a professional doctorate programme, show that you understand the realistic career impact. Applicants pursuing a PhD towards the end of their career may want to talk about gaining recognition for innovative practice or solving complex issues through research.
5. What skills do you have that make you a good fit for the PhD place you have applied for or for the department?
Tailor your response very specifically: Play up your strengths, including any prior research training and experience. Discuss project management skills, interpersonal skills, and international experience or understanding.
6. Tell us about your research project.
If proposing your own topic, over-prepare. Refer to current scholarship and explain how your work will break new ground. If applying to join a project, show that you understand its value and demonstrate that you are the right person to make it happen. Be enthusiastic!
7. What would you say are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Yes, that tired job-interview question will appear here as well. Make sure the strengths you list include examples, and your “weaknesses” are also “strengths”—for example, “sometimes I’m a terrible perfectionist.”
8. Tell us about a challenge you have overcome in the past.
It’s best to choose a research challenge as your answer: for example, how you handled an issue during your Masters dissertation. If you use a career or personal challenge, show how you used research or project-management skills to solve it.
9. What do you see as the most important issue/problem in this field today?
This question gives you space to show your knowledge of current research, theory and practice.
10. Is there anything you would like to ask us?
This is your chance to show how informed you are and position yourself as an intellectual equal. Be ready.