If you have been shortlisted for a studentship, an interview is almost always required. You’ll need to prepare carefully, as studentship interviews are very competitive. Follow these steps to ensure that you are ready.
Understand the interview format.
Will it be with a single academic or studentship officer, or a panel? The latter is more typical. Will you need to make a presentation, or simply answer questions?
If there is a departmental or sponsor tour, be aware that this is also part of the interview process. Come equipped with smart questions as well as answers to questions you may be asked.
Know who you’ll meet.
Learn as much as you can about the people who will be interviewing you. For researchers or academics, know about their research and past publications, and be ready to drop that information into your answers if appropriate. If they are experts on a methodology you will be using, make sure you understand it and/or have questions prepared about it that show your knowledge level and your eagerness to learn more.
Do as much background research on the university, department and any sponsors (Research Council, corporate or charity partners, etc.) as possible. If the studentship is part of a recurring programme or attached to a specific research project or suite of projects, get to grips with all the salient facts. Know how your work as a postgrad would fit into the big picture.
Be ready for a wide range of questions.
Students report a broad range of questions, especially when it’s a panel interview. These can range from specific queries about your research proposal and your academic qualifications and ambitions, to rather general enquiries similar to those you would expect at a job interview.
Some of the most typical questions include:
- Why do you want to pursue a PhD?
- What is your career plan, and where does doing a PhD fit into it?
- Why is this an important topic for further research?
- Why are you the most suitable candidate to undertake this work?
- What outputs do you expect from this research? (Your answer should include articles in named journals, with a rationale for why you would target those journals).
- How have you handled research challenges in the past?
- What problems can you foresee with the research, and how do you plan to overcome these? (Be ready with details about gaining access to research subjects, sites or materials; informed consent; your “Plan B,” etc.)
Be prepared to defend your choice of topic and methodology, or dissect the project’s methodology, with reference to your own past work and/or that of others.
Sort out the details.
Before the big day, make sure you arrive relaxed and on time by researching your travel options, printing maps, and knowing exactly where you are expected to be.
Also make sure you have phone numbers for the main departmental office and your contact person for the studentship, just in case of unforeseeable disasters, such as a flight being cancelled at the last minute.
Most importantly, muster up enough enthusiasm about your project proposal or your fit for a project/sponsor/department to overcome any worries or hesitancy. Approach the interview panel as a potential academic equal, and show this by referring to existing research evidence and publications as well as your own personal capabilities and goals.