How should I prepare for my PhD interview?

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Re: How should I prepare for my PhD interview?

Post by Ruthie »

How should I prepare for my PhD interview

There are lots of things you can do. Remember, some PhD interviews are very informal – more of a chat with your potential supervisor. For example, if you’re going to meet up with someone who has supervised you as a final year undergraduate, masters student, research assistant or assistant psychologist who may want to help you get funding to do a PhD. Others, are very formal, like going for a job interview. Where funding has already been obtained (e.g. if you have applied for an ESRC CASE studentship) and they are recruiting a PhD student to research a particular topic then it is more likely to be formal.

Supervisors' Publications

Firstly, get hold of the latest publications of your potential supervisors. Read them, form an opinion of them (preferably a very positive one) and be ready to critique and discuss them. But be willing to say there were things you didn't understand or quite get in the papers especially if they are quite technical or in an area you are not familiar with - just demonstrate that you have read them and are interested in them. They'll be looking for enthusiasm, genuine interest and potential as much as for your current level of knowledge and understanding. Also, in discussing any piece of research, remember its important to be critical, understand its limitations and alternative ways of looking at things.

Your Research Experience

You will almost certainly be asked about previous research experience, whether as an undergraduate or postgraduate student or research assistant, so try to know this inside out, and have some critical ideas about what you did, the limitations of your study and how you could improve it or extend it further. Remember, its important to be able to think critically about your work and understand its limitations.

Research Proposals

If you’ve applied for a project that already has funding, then be sure to ask for a copy of the research proposal or protocol and form some opinions of it. These are not usually set in stone, so you might want to have some ideas of your own that you could suggest.

You should have an idea of the general literature behind the proposal (whether it is their proposal or your's) and some ideas of where you might like to take the project. But remember, this is a good opportunity for you to ask them questions about the research and what they are expecting from you and whether they would be willing to go with some of your ideas.

Questions about the Research

What they will ask will depend very much on the project. If your PhD involves contact with participants from clinical populations, you may be asked lots of scenario-type questions, like “What would you do if you had a meeting with a participant and you were concerned about child protection issues/felt the participant might do something to hurt themselves/the participant became very upset?”

You will probably be asked something about research methods. How you would plan a study, ethical considerations, the dreaded statistics questions, qualitative research methods (if relevant) etc. (All that said, PhD supervisors are very well aware that most undergraduate and masters students are not stats confident and fully expect to help and support you with data analysis and all the other practical and academic aspects of your PhD, so try not to be too scared!!!) Other practical issues relating to research are worth considering too – how you would recruit participants, develop relationships with other people in your research group, keep on top of writing, data collection, analysis and all the other tasks you will have to juggle as a PhD student.

Giving a Presentation

If you have to give a presentation (e.g. a previous project or your proposal) then it should be clear, concise and well structured. The old adage “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve just told them” is good advice.

Tutoring Undergraduates

If your PhD requires you to tutor some undergraduate classes, they may ask you some questions related to teaching and engaging undergraduate students in tutorials. Perhaps a good thing to think about here would be any experience you have of leading a team or teaching/training other people. It may also be important to demonstrate your time management abilities as doing both research and teaching together can be very demanding!


Dresswise, if its an informal meeting with a current or previous supervisor, then whatever you would normally wear might be ok. However, its probably best to go with standard interview attire. You really can’t go too far wrong with the standard issue black/navy/grey suit ;)!

And Finally....

Finally - remember this is as much about you checking them out as it is about them finding out about you. A PhD is a MASSIVE undertaking - so ask them what opportunities you will have for training, conferences, interacting with other researchers, presenting your research, listening to other people's research and being part of a research community. A PhD can be very lonely at times, so having the active support of other people around you will be crucial. Ask about the supervision arrangements etc. Asking these questions will help you to make the right decision and also shows that you are thinking carefully about what you are doing.


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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 26/3/22
Last modified on 26/3/22
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