How To Prepare For A PhD interview

A PhD interview may sound daunting, but not all PhD places will require you to attend one, although these days it is becoming a more common practice.

If you've been invited to attend an interview, try not worry - the university obviously think you are a worthy candidate on paper. A little preparation will go a long way to making you feel better about it and perform your best on the day.

What can I expect at my PhD interview?

The interview will usually be in one of two different possible formats.

The first is often an informal chat with your prospective supervisor, where you will have a general discussion about the project you have proposed, and perhaps discuss further details on where it might lead, and any potential problems that could arise.

The second is usually in front of a selection panel, usually consisting of 3 to 5 people, who will ask questions related to the project, and perhaps some about yourself to get a better idea of who you are and how suitable you are for the placement.

If you are applying for a place at Oxbridge, you will find things are a bit different as they tend to have individual interviews with several members of staff, who will ask you specific questions about the project.

What questions will I be asked?

One of the first questions you will be likely to be asked is why you want to this particular PhD and what has led you down the path to academic research.

You will then be expected to answer further questions to demonstrate your knowledge of the basic elements of the PhD programme, what exactly it will involve, and what contribution you hope to make to the field.

Questions from the project supervisor will usually be more specific, though if you are being interviewed by several other people too, they will probably ask more genereal questions to see how you deal with them and test your ability to think on your feet.

They will usually want to see more than just evidence of what work you have done so far, although we recommend you look through key pieces of work such as your dissertation, that you completed in your undergraduate degree and (if applicable) your Masters degree.

Make sure you know the work well enough so you can answer questions on it.

Think about how you will answer questions on ethics and confidentiality, especially if the project is funded by an outside body and there will be a representative in the interview.

The interviewers also want to see that you possess a wider knowledge of the topic area, so it's important you read and understand all the key references as well as any other relevant texts.

You should also read up on current developments in the field and highlight any areas that you could potentially tackle in your PhD.

Remember, you are not trying to provide an answer to your project title, rather you are identifying avenues of evidence that lead to particular arguments you may wish to pursue during your PhD.

Read some example PhD interview questions and jot down some notes on how you might answer them to help you prepare.

More interview tips

  • When the day of the interview arrives, make sure you appear motivated to do the project you are applying for and be confident in the way you speak and put across your answers.
  • If you don't know how to answer a particular question, don't be afraid to say "I don't know". You can not be expected to know your subject area to great detail at this stage, and identifying areas where you can improve your knowledge shows you are self-aware and engaged.
  • Wear something smart to the interview - making an effort never hurt anyone! Girls can do something with their hair and apply some subtle make-up; boys can wear a shirt, tie, smart trousers, and proper shoes (don't forget to comb your hair, too!).

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for a PhD, please see: