I still remember that feeling of anxiousness when I was preparing for my PhD interview. I think it was the feeling of unknowingness that scared me most of all. I had had job interviews before but I imagined a PhD interview to be somewhat different.
I was lucky that my university was providing a "mock" interview service where I could experience the environment similar to a PhD interview. If you have a similar opportunity, just grab it and I can guarantee that it will be helpful, at least from a psychological point of view.
So what is a PhD interview like?
In fact, if you have ever been to a job interview, then you would know what to expect since a PhD interview is very similar. The people who interview potential PhD candidates can be HR staff, heads of departments and almost always your future supervisors. An interview can be done face to face as well as via the internet. If you are not restricted by distance, and can attend a face to face interview, I would certainly advise you to do so.
No super modern means of virtual communication can replace personal interaction and the "chemistry" that you may or may not feel in relation to your potential supervisors. Sometimes, you just feel that you will not be able to work with a particular person, and sometimes you just know that you will make a perfect team.
What questions do they ask during a PhD interview?
- Background: Any PhD supervisor will be interested in your academic background and experience in research work and academic environment. It does not mean that you need to have many years of research experience but this does mean that you need to demonstrate your experience in writing reports and dissertations and your ability to work on long and short-term research projects.
- Personality: You potential supervisors wants to be sure that you are suitable for doing research work. In this case it is not only the experience that matters but also your personality. So you can expect some questions on your abilities to work independently and in a team, time management and communication skills. It is always better to answer such questions in the context of some specific activities that you've done in the past.
- Motivation: They will certainly ask you why you would like to pursue a PhD degree. It is as important as your academic abilities since this will define your commitment to the project.
- Research-topic related questions: They will most certainly like to make sure that you have some background knowledge in this area of research. So a way forward would be to identify the key people in your area, studies that you may use as a basis for beginning your research and methodologies that you are going to use. All of these things will be mentioned in your research proposal. But be ready to articulate and elaborate on them during the interview.
- Career plans: What would you like to do when you finish your PhD degree? Some research shows that many people do a PhD in order to improve their career prospects. Having that end point in mind is an important aspect of doing a PhD and is closely related to the motivation that you have for doing this.
These are some of the main areas that could be covered at any PhD interview. There can be many more questions and it is worth checking the discussion on forums and getting in touch with current PhD students that can share their experience. Good luck with your interview!