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PhD Interview Questions

A PhD interview doesn’t need to be a daunting or nervous experience. Our guide to potential PhD interview questions, should help you make the most of your interview, highlight your strengths and ensure you glide through the answers with ease.

1. Questions about you

A PhD is all about 3 years of in-depth independent research, so you’ll need to show in your answers that you’re dedicated enough to complete 3 years of study both independently and with the support of your supervisors and other students.

Research requires you to be patient and diligent as well as fastidious in detail, and logical and methodical in your planning and analysis. These are all highly prized research skills. You can show how well you meet these attributes in answer to questions such as:

  • Tell me about yourself. This is very generic; but this is good as it gives you chance to open up about yourself as a person
  • Give me an example to show how you work with others? Can you link this to any of your undergraduate work on the same theme as your PhD project?
  • Which do you prefer; working on your own or with others? You will need both to succeed as a PhD student
  • What are your top 3 strengths? Can you link your examples to your PhD research proposal?
  • Which areas do you still need to develop further? No one is 100% perfect so don’t be afraid to pick one skill you want to develop further and that the PhD will support you with. Be sure to state how far you’ve already come in developing this skill during your undergraduate degree (and if applicable your Masters) and how far you intend to go. This shows your ability to self-analyse and be critically aware.

2. Questions about your PhD and its research project

You will have your own reasons for wanting to study your PhD. Your answer to the question:

‘Why do you want to study this PhD? should be honest, passionate, well thought through and articulate.

If asked ‘Why have you suggested this particular research proposal’? show what you already know about your subject: any research you’ve already completed and why you’re inspired to go further. You need to be able to say how your research will make a unique impact, what it will involve and what you’re hoping to gain from it when you’ve completed it. The gains should be both personal for you and also for academic research and the university itself.

You may want to quote key findings from your undergraduate and Masters research. Highlight key stats and facts you’ve already gathered to show your knowledge. It’s also ok to say what you don’t yet know and how you want to discover the answers with your PhD.

When asked ‘How do you manage confidentiality in your research’? think through how you will capture, store, retain and archive personal information in your research to keep it confidential and how as a researcher you can reconcile different viewpoints to your own.  This will ensure any question can be answered with ease.

Depending on whether you’re self-funding or receiving funding for your PhD you will be asked a question on finance such as ‘How are you funding your PhD’?

The interview panel is not trying to catch you out with this question. They are just trying to understand that you have funds available to cover both your PhD and living costs. Please be honest and say if you’re going to be working part-time to fund yourself and also how secure any external funding is and when you’ll receive it.

3. Questions on the university

Any interview panel will ask ‘Why are you studying at our university/with us’?

Try to cover how your PhD fits with and expands on the research already being undertaken in your specific department and how the university can gain quodos with the results.

It’s great if you’ve already studied your undergraduate degree with them as you’ll already know what works best for the university. However, this is not a good enough reason on its own right to do a PhD with them. There need to be PhD specific benefits.

4. General questions

These could include the following:

  • Why will you be the best person for this PhD? This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Be confident and positive but don’t ramble on for ages
  • What do you want to achieve once you’ve finished your PhD? This may seem several years away but the university want to check your forward planning and your ability to think through your career options
  • Tell us about an issue you’ve encountered and how you’ve overcome this? Try to link this to any previous research you’ve done, so that the panel knows you’re prepared and able to tackle any obstacles that may arise during your PhD
  • Is there anything you’d like to ask us? Always have 3 to 4 questions prepared in case one or two of them have already been covered during your interview discussion. Remember to ask 2 or 3 which indicate you’ve thoroughly considered your PhD e.g.

- how will the supervision arrangements work?
- how will I find opportunities to present my research findings?
- what support will I receive to help me publish my research?

Above all throughout your interview you need to express your drive and enthusiasm for your project, be confident (not overly though) and assertive and give your answers honestly, passionately and with commitment.