How to Prepare for a PhD Interview
So, you’ve been invited for a PhD interview. Congratulations! This means that the admission committee considers you appropriately qualified and academically capable of doing a PhD in their program. This next step will allow them to determine if you’re a good fit, and you have the motivation and drive to complete a PhD. The interview is your opportunity to show the committee who you are, what your interests are, why their program is the right place for you to explore them.
There are many different formats for a PhD interview and varying degrees of formality. You may have a one-on-one interview with your potential supervisor over Skype, a formal interview in front of a panel, be asked to give a presentation to the department, or an informal chat with your potential supervisor and their students over lunch. Regardless of the level of formality, you should still do your homework and prepare for the interview. You cannot predict the specifics of the questions that they will ask you, but certain topics are almost inevitable.
Here are some ways to prepare for your interview:
- Review your research proposal or statement of purpose. The interviewer will likely make reference to it during the interview. Go over the experiences that have prepared you for a PhD and be ready to give specific examples during the interview. Be able to explain the reasons why you applied to this program in particular.
- Be prepared to talk about your research interests in detail. You likely gave an overview in your proposal or statement of purpose, but the interview is your chance to show that you have put some thought into what you wrote. Show that you have the required background knowledge, including knowledge of the key people in your research area, methodologies you plan to use, or studies you want to reference.
- Think about your motivation for pursuing a PhD. The interviewers want to know you have put some thought into the decision to pursue a PhD. They also want to gauge your commitment to the project before they invest time and money in you. Think about how a PhD will help you achieve your career goals.
- Read your potential supervisor’s work. This shows you are serious about working with them. Demonstrate why you want to work with them in particular and how their expertise will be essential to your research. If you are interviewing for a small program, familiarize yourself with the work (or at least the fields of expertise) of the other faculty members.
- Familiarize yourself with current scholarship in the field. This is another way to demonstrate your engagement with field and that you can think critically about the current debates. You should know how your proposed research will fit into the current scholarship and what makes it unique.
Remember that this interview goes both ways. You are preparing to spend at least three years (likely more) of your life here. Think about what is important to you and what would make or break your decision to attend this university. Come to the interview prepared with some questions for the interviewer. Potential questions could include:
- What do they do to promote work/life balance?
- What can your potential mentor/supervisor do to advance your career?
- How does your potential supervisor mentor students?
- What is the program’s job placement record?
- What sort of resources does the university have? (Libraries, lab equipment etc.)
- What are their funding sources?
- What is the program’s average time to degree?
- Will I have the opportunity to teach/present/patent/publish?
If your interview is taking place on-campus or you are invited to visit the campus after being accepted, take the opportunity to talk to some of the current grad students. They will offer you a frank take on the program and the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with your potential supervisor. Also, consider the fact that you will be spending a considerable amount of time around these people for the next few years. Will you fit in with them as a friend and colleague? How social is the department? Do they do activities together outside of the university? Do they seem supportive of each other, or are they competitive? This information will help inform your decision.
A Note on the Skype Interview
Skype interviews are becoming increasingly common, especially for international students. There are a few practical tips to keep in mind when setting up for an online interview. Do your interview somewhere where you have a strong internet connection, usually at home or in a quiet office. If you have roommates, make sure they are aware of when your interview is and understand not to disturb you during the interview. Choose your location carefully. You want a well-lit area with a tidy, neutral background. If possible, face a natural light source. Place your computer on top of a pile of books so that the camera is almost at eye level (a more natural angle). Look at the camera when you speak to make “eye contact” with the interviewer.
The interview is your time to shine, and being prepared will allow you to do just that.
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