Career advice

Top 10 PhD Interview Questions

4 min read · By Academic Positions

So, you’ve been invited for a PhD interview. Congratulations! This means that the admission committee thinks you are qualified and capable of doing a PhD at their university. The interview will allow the committee to determine if you’re a good fit, and you have the motivation and drive to complete a doctorate. While you cannot predict the exact questions you will be asked, certain topics are almost inevitable. Here are ten common PhD interview questions.

1. Tell us about yourself

This is a popular opener for just about any type of interview. It’s meant to be an easy icebreaker, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a wrong answer. Make sure to your response is relevant to the context of a PhD interview. Talk about your academic background, motivation, and interests. You don’t have to get into the details at this point, just give an overview.

2. Why do you want to do a PhD?

This is another straightforward question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. A PhD is a big undertaking and you’ll have to be driven to see it though. Your answer should address your motivation for doing a PhD in a way that conveys your passion and enthusiasm for the subject.

3. Why are you interested in this program?

What drew you to this program and this school? Does it have a unique feature or take a different approach than other programs? Are there certain professors you are interested in working with? Your answer to this questions shows you have done some research and are ready to engage in the department. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you don’t just want a PhD, you want one from this school.

4. What experience makes you a good candidate?

Yes, the interviewer has read your CV, but this question allows you to draw their attention to specific qualifications or skills that might not be obvious from just your resume. Talk about courses you have taken that have taught you the necessary skills for graduate work or give examples of past research experience from your Bachelor’s or Master’s.

5. How did you develop this proposal?

There are no trick questions here. The interviewer wants to see that you are engaged with the field and spent some time preparing your proposal. Take them through your thought process and discuss the background reading and research you did. What other approaches did you consider before deciding on this one? What will your project contribute to the field?  

6. What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?

No matter how carefully you plan, no project goes off without a hitch. Be honest about where you see potential difficulties, but more importantly discuss how you plan to work through them.

7. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Another classic interview question, and one you definitely don’t want to be answering off the top of your head. Pick a strength that is relevant to this position and then give a few examples of how you have used it well. When it comes to choosing a weakness, be truthful and then (using examples again) talk about how you have been working to overcome it.

8. Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

The next three to six years of your PhD won’t be smooth sailing. You are likely to hit many snags along the way. The interviewer wants to know you are resourceful and can handle these setback. Try to think of an academic challenge you have had to overcome rather than a personal one.

9. What are your future career plans?

This is another way to suss out your motivations for doing a PhD and see if you have given a thought to what comes after your doctorate. How will a PhD help you achieve your future goals? Someone with a clear goal in mind is likely to be more committed to doing a PhD. For many, the goal will be to pursue an academic career, in which case this is an opportunity to show you understand the academic career path.

10. Do you have any questions for us?

Remember that this interview goes both ways. It is important that you have some questions to ask the interviewer to show your engagement and the serious consideration you are giving their program. You are preparing to spend several years of your life at this school. Think about what is important to you and what would make or break your decision to attend this university. Prepare a list of questions ahead of the interview.

The interview is your time to shine, and being prepared will allow you to do just that.

Good luck!

By Academic Positions · Published 2018-03-02

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