PhD Interview Questions and Answers (13 Questions + Answers)

practical psychology logo

Most PhD applications include an interview. This allows your university (and perhaps even your prospective supervisor) to discuss the PhD with you in more detail.

This article lists some of the most common PhD interview questions along with their answers. The goal is to help you prepare for a PhD interview and pass with flying colors.

1) How did you develop this proposal?

PhD interview questions

When responding to this question, demonstrate your thought process, research skills, and the evolution of your ideas. Let's choose the subject of "Renewable Energy Integration in Urban Planning" as an example.

Sample answer:

"My proposal on 'Renewable Energy Integration in Urban Planning' originated from my undergraduate thesis on sustainable cities. Intrigued by the potential of renewable energy in urban environments, I conducted a literature review to identify gaps in current research. This review highlighted a lack of comprehensive strategies for integrating renewable technologies at a city-wide level. I then consulted with experts in urban planning and renewable energy, which provided practical insights into the challenges and opportunities in this field. I designed a methodology that combines spatial analysis with energy modeling to explore optimal renewable energy integration in urban landscapes. This proposal represents an amalgamation of academic research, expert consultation, and innovative methodology development."

This answer is effective because it mentions a literature review demonstrates the ability to conduct thorough research and identify gaps in existing knowledge.

2) Why do you wish to pursue a PhD?

For this question, it's important to articulate your passion for the subject, your long-term career goals, and how the PhD program aligns with these aspects.

Let's choose the subject of "Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare" for this example.

"I am passionate about leveraging technology to improve healthcare outcomes, and pursuing a PhD in Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare aligns perfectly with this passion. During my Master's, I was fascinated by the potential of AI to revolutionize diagnostic processes and personalized medicine. I believe a PhD will provide me with the deep technical knowledge and research skills necessary to contribute significantly to this field. My goal is to develop AI systems that enhance medical diagnostics, ultimately improving patient care and treatment efficiency. This PhD program, known for its pioneering research in AI and strong healthcare collaborations, is the ideal environment for me to develop these innovations and achieve my career aspirations in healthcare technology."

This is a great answer because you clearly state that the PhD will provide the necessary skills and knowledge, indicating a clear understanding of the purpose of the program.

3) Why do you think you are the right candidate for this PhD program?

Discuss how your research interests align with the program's strengths and the faculty's expertise. Explain how the program's resources, courses, and research opportunities can help you achieve your academic and career goals.

"I am deeply passionate about environmental science, particularly in the area of sustainable urban development. This passion was ignited during my master's program in Environmental Studies at XYZ University, where I completed a thesis on urban green spaces and their impact on city microclimates. This research not only honed my skills in data analysis and GIS mapping but also highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues. I am drawn to your PhD program at ABC University because of its innovative research on sustainable urban planning and the renowned work of Professor Jane Smith in this field. Her research aligns with my interest in integrating green infrastructure into urban planning to mitigate climate change effects. My perseverance, attention to detail, and ability to synthesize complex data make me an ideal candidate for this challenging program. Pursuing this PhD is integral to my goal of becoming an environmental consultant, where I plan to develop strategies for cities to reduce their environmental footprint."

This response is effective because it mentions particular aspects of your experience and the program, avoiding generic statements. It also outlines how the PhD fits into your career path.

4) What do you plan to do after you have completed your PhD?

Be specific about the type of career you aspire to, whether it's in academia, industry, research, etc. Explain how the PhD will equip you with the skills and knowledge for your chosen career path.

"After completing my PhD in Computational Neuroscience, I plan to pursue a career in academia as a university professor. My doctoral research on neural network modeling will provide a strong foundation for teaching and conducting further research in this area. I aim to develop innovative courses that bridge computer science and neuroscience, addressing the growing demand for interdisciplinary knowledge in these fields. Additionally, I intend to continue my research on applying machine learning techniques to understand brain function, which has potential implications for developing new treatments for neurological disorders. This academic pathway allows me to contribute significantly to both education and research in Computational Neuroscience."

This is a great answer because it connects the PhD research directly to future career plans.

It also articulates how your work can impact both academia and the broader field of Computational Neuroscience.

5) Why have you chosen this specific PhD program?

Mention specific aspects of the program that attracted you, such as the curriculum, research facilities, faculty expertise, or reputation.

Explain how the program aligns with your research interests or academic background.

"I chose the PhD program in Artificial Intelligence at MIT because of its cutting-edge research and interdisciplinary approach, which perfectly aligns with my academic background in computer science and my passion for machine learning. The program's emphasis on both theoretical foundations and practical applications in AI is particularly appealing. Additionally, the opportunity to work under the guidance of Professor [Name], whose work in [specific area, e.g., neural networks or AI ethics] has deeply influenced my own research interests, is a significant draw. This program is an ideal fit for me to further develop my skills and contribute to the field of AI, ultimately aiming for a career in AI research and development in the tech industry."

This answer connects your background and goals to the program's offerings.

Including a specific professor's name shows detailed knowledge about the program and faculty.

6) What impact would you like your PhD project to have?

When answering this question, convey both the academic significance and the potential real-world applications of your research. Let's choose a project focused on developing eco-friendly battery technologies for electric vehicles for this example.

"My PhD project aims to develop new eco-friendly battery technologies for electric vehicles (EVs), addressing both the environmental impact of battery production and the efficiency of energy storage. I hope my research will contribute to the academic field by advancing our understanding of sustainable materials for energy storage, potentially leading to publications and patents. Beyond academia, I envision this project significantly impacting the EV industry by providing a more sustainable and efficient battery alternative. This innovation could play a crucial role in reducing the carbon footprint of transportation and supporting global efforts towards a greener future. Ultimately, I aspire for my work to not only advance scientific knowledge but also drive real-world changes in how we approach energy sustainability in transportation."

This is an excellent answer because it connects the project to larger environmental goals and societal benefits. It also reflects a forward-thinking approach, demonstrating your understanding of the project's potential long-term implications.

7) What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?

It's important to demonstrate awareness of potential challenges and convey a proactive mindset toward problem-solving. Let's choose a project focused on the development of a novel AI-driven diagnostic tool for early detection of neurological diseases for this example.

"In developing an AI-driven diagnostic tool for early detection of neurological diseases, I anticipate several challenges. Firstly, the accuracy and reliability of the tool depend heavily on the quality and diversity of the data used for training the AI algorithms. Obtaining a comprehensive dataset that adequately represents the population can be difficult due to privacy concerns and data availability. Secondly, ensuring the AI model's interpretability to be clinically useful while maintaining high performance is another challenge, given the complexity of neurological diseases. To address these, I plan to collaborate with interdisciplinary teams, including data privacy experts and neurologists, to source and utilize data ethically and effectively. I also intend to continuously refine the AI model, focusing on both its predictive accuracy and clinical applicability. These challenges, while significant, present valuable opportunities for innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration."

This response is effective because it clearly outlines realistic challenges specific to the AI diagnostic tool project. It also presents a proactive approach to overcoming these challenges, showing problem-solving skills.

8) How will you fund this project?

When answering this question, show that you've thought about the financial aspects of your research and are aware of funding sources that are available and applicable to your project. 

"I have identified multiple funding sources to support my renewable energy research project at Stanford University. Firstly, I plan to apply for the DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program, which offers substantial support for projects focusing on sustainable energy. My proposal for this grant is already in progress, highlighting how my project aligns with the DOE's priorities in advancing clean energy technologies. Additionally, I'm exploring departmental fellowships at Stanford, particularly those aimed at renewable energy research. I am also keen on establishing industry partnerships, given the project's relevance to current energy challenges and the potential for collaborative funding and technological exchange. Last but not least, I will seek conference grants to present my research findings, which can lead to further academic collaborations and additional funding opportunities."

Notice how this answer mentions funding sources that align with the renewable energy focus of the project and the resources available at Stanford University.

9) Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

Focus on a situation relevant to your academic or research experience. Let's use a real-world example where a research experiment failed due to unexpected variables.

"During my Master’s thesis on the effects of soil composition on plant growth, I faced a major setback. My initial experiments, which involved growing plants in different soil types, failed to produce consistent results due to unanticipated environmental variations in the greenhouse. This was disheartening, especially as the deadline approached. However, I responded by reassessing my experimental setup. I consulted with my supervisor and decided to control more variables, such as humidity and temperature. I also refined my data collection methods to include more frequent soil and plant measurements. These adjustments led to more reliable results, and I successfully completed my thesis. This experience taught me the importance of adaptability in research and reinforced the value of meticulous experimental design."

This is a great answer because it shows how you’ve encountered and overcame a specific problem, demonstrating resilience and adaptability.

10) What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When answering this question, it's important to present a balanced view of yourself, showing self-awareness and a commitment to personal development. Choose strengths that are relevant to a PhD program and weaknesses that you're actively working to improve.

"One of my key strengths is my analytical thinking, which I demonstrated during my Master's project where I developed a novel algorithm for data analysis. This required me to not only understand complex theories but also apply them creatively to solve real-world problems. As for weaknesses, I sometimes struggle with overcommitment, taking on too many projects at once. This occasionally led to stress during my undergraduate studies. However, I am actively working on this by improving my time management skills and learning to prioritize tasks more effectively. I've started using project management tools and setting clear boundaries, which has already shown improvements in my workflow and stress levels."

This answer maintains a good balance between strengths and weaknesses. It also shows self-awareness, demonstrating a proactive approach to personal development.

11) Why have you chosen to study for a PhD at this university?

Mention specific aspects of the PhD program that attracted you. Explain how your research interests align with the work being done at the university.

"I am drawn to the PhD program in Astrophysics at Caltech due to its outstanding reputation in space research and the unparalleled resources available at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. My research interest lies in the study of exoplanets, and Caltech's active projects in this area, such as the Zwicky Transient Facility, align perfectly with my academic goals. The opportunity to work under the guidance of Professor [Name], known for pioneering work in exoplanetary atmospheres, is particularly exciting. Additionally, Caltech's collaborative environment and emphasis on interdisciplinary research are conducive to my professional growth, providing a platform to engage with experts from various fields in astrophysics."

This response directly connects your research interests with ongoing projects and facilities at Caltech. It also shows you’ve done your research on faculty members and their work.

12) What can you bring to this research group?

Focus on your unique skills, experiences, and perspectives that will contribute to the research group's success. Let's choose the field of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University for this example.

"As a prospective member of the Biomedical Engineering research group at Johns Hopkins University, I bring a unique combination of skills and experiences. My expertise in microfluidics, honed during my Master’s research, aligns well with the group’s focus on developing lab-on-a-chip devices for medical diagnostics. I have also co-authored two papers in this field, demonstrating my ability to contribute to high-impact research. Additionally, my experience in a start-up environment, where I worked on developing portable diagnostic tools, has equipped me with a practical understanding of translating research into applications. I thrive in collaborative settings, often bringing interdisciplinary insights that foster innovative problem-solving. I am excited about the prospect of contributing to the group’s ongoing projects and introducing fresh perspectives to advance our understanding and application of biomedical technology."

This response shows your relevant expertise, ability to work in a team, and the unique perspectives you can offer, positioning you as a valuable addition to the research group.

13) Do you have any questions for us?

Asking good questions demonstrates your motivation. It also shows that you’ve given some genuine consideration to the project and/or program you’re applying to.

Some questions you can ask the interviewer include:

  • What will the supervision arrangements be for the project?
  • What kind of training and skills sessions are offered as part of the PhD program?
  • How many other PhD students has this supervisor seen to completion?
  • Are there any major developments or partnerships planned for the department?
  • Are there likely to be any changes to the funding arrangements for the project?
  • What opportunities will I have for presenting my research?

Remember: you’re a good student, with lots of potential. You’re considering at least three years of hard work with this university. You need to know that you’ll get on with your supervisor, that your work will be appreciated and that there are good prospects for your project.

What to wear to a PhD interview

Wear formal attire for a PhD interview. Your best bet is to wear a suit. A navy blue suit is the best and most versatile option. No matter your gender, a suit is always very professional.

For men, wear a suit with a tie, dress shirt, and dress shoes. For women, wear a suit (pantsuit or skirt suit) with a blouse, or conservative dress, and closed-toe shoes.

When in doubt, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. The goal is to make a professional impression and feel confident, without your attire distracting from the conversation.

What to expect from a PhD interview

At its core, a PhD interview will consist of questions that allow your potential supervisors to get to know you better and have an understanding of what you’d like to study, why you’ve chosen your field of study, and whether you’d be a good fit for the PhD program.

You should expect general questions to help the interviewer get a sense of your likes and dislikes, and your overall personality.

Next, expect questions about your personal motivations for studying a PhD. Your interviewer will also be interested in any relevant experience you have to qualify you to study this PhD.

In the next section, expect questions about your PhD project. You should be prepared to discuss your project idea in detail and demonstrate to the interviewer that you are the ideal candidate.

Last but not least, the interviewer will discuss your future ambitions and give you an opportunity to ask questions. Remember that this interview goes both ways.

It’s important to ask the interviewer relevant questions to show your engagement and the serious consideration you are giving their program.

You are preparing to spend several years of your life at this school. Think about what is important to you and what would make or break your decision to attend this university.

Prepare a list of questions ahead of the interview.

Understanding the interviewer’s point of view

During a PhD interview, interviewers are typically looking for a range of traits that indicate whether you are well-suited for the rigors of a doctoral program and a research career.

These traits include:

Intellectual Curiosity and Passion: A strong enthusiasm for the subject area and a desire to contribute to and expand knowledge in the field.

Research Skills and Experience: Demonstrable skills in conducting research, including designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and interpreting results. Prior research experience relevant to the PhD topic is often a plus.

Resilience and Perseverance: The capacity to handle setbacks and challenges, which are common in research, and to persist in the face of difficulties.

Collaboration and Teamwork: Although PhD research can be quite independent, the ability to work well with others, including advisors, faculty, and other students, is crucial.

Self-Motivation and Independence: The drive to work independently, manage one's own project, and stay motivated over the long term.

Fit with the Program: Alignment of the candidate’s research interests and goals with the strengths and focus of the PhD program and faculty.

These traits not only indicate your readiness for a PhD program but also your potential to contribute meaningfully to their field of study and succeed in a research-oriented career.

Related posts:

  • University Interview Questions (16 Questions + Answers)
  • Project Manager Interview Questions (14 Specific Questions + Answers)
  • Strength-Based Interview Questions (21 Questions + Answers)
  • Engineering Interview Questions (15 Questions + Answers)
  • Business Analyst Interview Questions (17 Questions + Answers)

Reference this article:

About The Author

Photo of author is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Follow Us On:

Youtube Facebook Instagram X/Twitter

Psychology Resources





Serial Killers

Psychology Tests

Personality Quiz

Memory Test

Depression test

Type A/B Personality Test

© PracticalPsychology. All rights reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

  • PhD Interview Questions and Answers – 12 Things You May Be Asked

PhD Interview Questions and Answers

Written by Mark Bennett

Your PhD interview will be an important part of your postgraduate research application. This is your chance to meet your prospective department, discuss your project and show your potential as an academic researcher.

Of course, it’s also when that potential is going to be assessed.

You’ll need to show an awareness of what’s involved in a PhD project and prove that you have the right aspirations and approach to work on one for three (or more) years. You’ll also need to make it clear that this is the right university , department, research group or laboratory for you.

None of this has to be especially intimidating. Putting some thought into your project and your choice of institution can make answering PhD entrance interview questions quite simple.

On this page we’ve put together a list of the questions you might be asked at an interview. We’ve also explained why the university might be asking each question, and provided some tips on how to answer them

You won’t necessarily be asked all of these questions – and you almost certainly won’t be asked them in the order here. Some of them also overlap with each other. But they’re all topics that you should prepare to discuss at a PhD interview .

We’ve also included a selection of questions to ask during a PhD interview .

Let's get you PhD ready

Sign up to our weekly newsletter for the latest advice and guidance from our team of experts.

Interview questions about you

Your qualities as a researcher, team-member and individual are some of the most important factors in a university’s decision to accept you for a PhD.

Regardless of your subject area, you need to be the kind of person who can dedicate themselves to a three-year project. You also need to be able to work alongside other students and academics in a positive and successful research environment.

The interview is the best way for a university to assess this. Just as there’s more to doing a PhD than research and writing, there’s more to a prospective candidate than their academic record.

#1 Tell us about yourself…

This popular opener can feel like an awkwardly open ‘question’.

You’ll be prepared to explain your project, to say what a great fit it is for the university, perhaps even reference some current research. But how do you ‘answer’ an invitation to introduce yourself?

By introducing yourself.

Your interview panel isn’t trying to catch you out here. They’re offering an icebreaker to help ease you into the rest of the interview.

Obviously your response should be relevant to the occasion. But it doesn’t just have to be a presentation of your academic achievements, interests and goals (the interview will get to those in time!).

Say a little about your background, where you’re from and what your interests are. Don’t be afraid to relate these to your academic specialism and your choice of university.

If something specific inspired you to consider a PhD, mention it. If there’s something that’s attracted you to this city as well as the university, say so. (There’ll be plenty of time to talk up the institution and its research later).

  • I’ve always been interested in discovering how things work, but my time as an undergraduate opened my eyes to the excitement and wider benefit of science. I had the chance to do some original research on my Masters and that’s inspired me to take up the challenge of a PhD. I’m also a keen hiker and amateur naturalist, so I’d love to combine my studies here with the chance to visit the local area.
  • I was born in a house next to the local post-office. My first cat was called Timothy and he liked chasing string. At school my best friend was Kevin. My favourite colour is blue and my favourite flavour of ice-cream is raspberry ripple…

#2 What made you choose to do a PhD?

At some point in your interview your interviewers are going to want to know why you decided to do a doctorate.

This may seem like a simple question, but be wary of giving an overly simplistic answer. Just pointing out that you’re good at your subject and a PhD seemed like the logical next step won’t be enough – especially if there’s a funding decision to be made.

The panel is already satisfied that you’re academically capable and interested. You’ve demonstrated that by getting an interview (and turning up for it).

Now they want to assure themselves that you’ve got the motivation and drive to see you through three or more years of hard work on a PhD project.

  • I’ve enjoyed my academic work so far, but I really feel I’ve got more to offer as an independent researcher. I’m also passionate about this subject and don’t feel enough attention has been paid to the questions I’m looking to address.
  • I can’t think of anything to do with my Masters, but my current tutor says I’m clever enough for a PhD.

#3 What do you plan to do after you complete your PhD?

It might seem strange for your panel to ask about your post PhD plans. After all, those don’t have any really impact on your ability to do a PhD, do they? And graduation is at least three years away in any case; should you have thought that far ahead?

The answers to which are ‘yes’ and ‘of course you should.’

Universities want to make sure you’re doing a PhD for the right reasons (as above). Asking about your future plans is a great way to check this.

Students who ‘sleepwalk’ into a research project are much more likely to come unstuck or lose motivation when the going gets tough later on.

This doesn’t mean you have to have everything worked out, or that your ambitions have to be unique. If you're planning to apply for a post-doc after your PhD, say so. But demonstrate an understanding of academic career paths – and show that you’ve put some thought into alternatives.

It’s also the case that not everyone who gains a doctorate will go on to an academic job. Universities want to recruit PhD students responsibly and provide the kinds of skills and training they actually need.

So, don’t feel that you have to want to be a scholar to be accepted for a PhD. Research training can prepare you for a range of career paths . An appreciation of these will impress your interview panel. (Particularly if you’re applying for a professional doctorate ).

  • I feel my PhD project can open up new lines of inquiry for this field and want to use it as the foundation for a fruitful research career. But, I’m also interested in the wider development opportunities included in this doctoral programme. I want to be an academic, but I’m happy to keep other options open.
  • I expect someone will give me a job doing more research. That’s what PhDs do, right?

#4 What are your strengths and weaknesses?

A well-worn question, but a great opportunity to reflect on your abilities - as well as opportunities for further development during your PhD.

What your panel is really interested in is not so much what your strengths and weaknesses actually are , but your ability to identify them.

In practice, this means giving solid examples for strengths and showing how they relate to the PhD project you have in mind.

Don’t just say you’re a good time-keeper. Point out when you’ve had to be well organised and show that you understand the importance of self-directed study to a successful PhD.

When it comes to weaknesses, maintain the right balance.

A PhD interview probably isn’t the best time to wallow in existential self-doubt (unless you’re applying for a very specific topic in Philosophy). Equally though, answers like ‘my only downfall is excessive perfectionism’ can sound a bit contrived. If the panel is asking you about strengths and weaknesses, they want you to identify and reflect on both.

Be honest about the things you find challenging, but identify them as training needs and discuss how you expect to improve upon them as part of your PhD.

  • I feel that I’m a good written communicator. My existing academic and professional work demonstrates an ability to put forward ideas clearly and concisely. I think this will help me manage the weight of information my PhD research needs to cover and the challenge of producing an effective thesis. But, I’m not always as organised as I’d like to be. I want to address this as part of my postgraduate training and hope to take advantage of classes and development opportunities early in my doctorate.
  • My greatest strength is that I have no weaknesses! And my only weakness is that I have no strengths. Hang on...

#5 Are there any training needs you can identify ahead of your PhD?

This question (and its answer) can be part of an invitation to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses (as above).

But, you may be asked about training needs more specifically. This is likely if you’re applying to a more structured programme, within a Doctoral Training Partnership or similar.

Either way, this is a great opportunity to reflect on your aspirations as a researcher and show that you’ve read up on the project you’re applying to. If the university offers a series of training modules, mention them. Say what you hope to gain from them and how you think they’ll help you succeed in your PhD.

You might also want to refer to any discussion of your aims and aspirations with a doctorate. If you’re keeping an open mind about non-academic career paths, show an awareness of the transferrable skills this PhD can give you.

And don’t worry about revealing a few gaps in the core skills required by your discipline. A PhD is a training process, not a three-year exam.

  • I’m really interested in communicating my research to a wider audience, but don’t know how best to go about doing this. I think the training module on public engagement will be a big help to me, both academically and more generally.
  • I’m really bad at interviews. Do you have a class for that?

Interview questions about your PhD project

This is the university’s chance to further assess your suitability for an advertised PhD position, and the likely fit between your planned project and the expertise it has available.

It’s also your chance to expand on your research proposal and show that you have the skills, experience and understanding to complete a doctorate. For funded places (or other competitive projects), this is the time for you to prove that you are the best student for this PhD.

It’s a good idea to reference your research proposal (or other appropriate parts of your application) when answering these questions. But expand upon what the panel has already read. (And make sure there isn’t anything in that proposal that you aren’t confident enough to ‘back up’ in your interview!)

#6 Why this project?

The exact focus of this question will depend on whether you’re applying for an advertised PhD project (more common in Science, Engineering and Medicine) or proposing your own research within a department's PhD programme (more common in Arts, Humanities and some branches of the Social Sciences).

If you’re being considered for a pre-defined project, make sure you know it inside out. Say what it is that interests you about it. Compare it to similar projects (if appropriate) and explain your particular choice.

If you’re proposing your own project, this is your chance to show some passion and enthusiasm for it. Refer to your research proposal and take the opportunity to discuss and expand upon it.

In both cases you should point to some existing scholarship and show an awareness of the field you’ll be entering. You’ll also want to re-iterate what makes your project distinctive. After all, the PhD is defined as offering ‘an original contribution to knowledge.’

This doesn’t mean preparing a comprehensive list of key works or current research projects (that ‘literature review’ will be one of the first things you do on the actual PhD). At this stage the panel just wants to see that you understand your proposed project and are enthusiastic enough to see it through.

Depending on how the question is phrased, you may also discuss your choice of university at this stage – or explain why your previous work makes you a good fit for this particular PhD (see below).

  • This PhD appeals to my existing research interests. But I’m also attracted by the opportunity to specialise and develop new expertise. Other projects didn’t seem to offer the same possibilities to pursue the questions that really interest me.
  • To be honest, I’ll do anything if it’s funded.

#7 What makes you the right candidate for this PhD?

If you’re applying for a pre-defined PhD project , you’ll almost certainly be asked why you are the best candidate to undertake it (especially if there’s funding available).

Remember too that some of these projects aren’t automatically funded. Their financing can depend on the quality of the student they attract, so your panel will be very keen to make sure you’re going to be ‘Dr Right’.

You might still be asked about your suitability for a self-proposed PhD (in Arts or Humanities, for example). This is another way for your interviewers to assess those all-important motivation and commitment factors.

Whatever your situation, this is a good place to talk a bit about your previous work at undergraduate or Masters level. The panel already knows the grades you received, but now you have the chance to talk about what you actually did on those degrees. Show passion and give examples.

If an undergraduate module on gothic literature inspired you to propose a PhD on an under-researched aspect of eighteenth-century culture, say so. If your Masters has given you skills in exactly the kind of statistical analysis required by this doctorate, mention that.

  • I’ve been interested in this topic since the final year of my undergraduate degree. This lead to my choice of Masters and helped me pick my dissertation topic, which I really enjoyed. I’m really excited to now go on and do some sustained research in this area as a PhD student.
  • Well, I really like books…

#8 What difficulties do you expect to encounter during this project?

This is another fairly popular question topic. It might form part of a discussion of your strengths, weaknesses and training needs. Or you might be invited to speak more specifically about the challenges involved in your project.

The panel isn’t trying to catch you out here, so don’t be afraid to speak frankly. All projects involve their own potential pitfalls and complications.

Overcoming them will be part of completing a PhD; recognising them will show that you're ready to begin one.

Show that you’ve put some thought into the approach necessary for your research and the methodology you might use.

Don’t be afraid to identify problems you aren’t yet certain how to solve (the best way to organise some data, the authors to include in your initial survey of texts, etc) but suggest how you might go about investigating them.

This is also a good time to mention any training needs (if you haven’t already) and speak about how you plan to take advantage of development opportunities within your programme.

  • I can see that some of the archival material I’ll need to examine for this project may be difficult to access. My first task will be to request permissions, arrange visits and develop a system for recording my findings. I’m hoping to undertake training in archival practices and seek advice from my supervisor as I develop these key skills early in my project.
  • Yeah, I know a PhD is hard, but I’m just going to see how I get on.

#9 What would you like the impact of this project to be?

‘Impact’ is an increasingly important factor in academic work and this applies to PhD research too – especially if you’re funded.

Even if your panel doesn’t explicitly ask about impact, it’s a good idea to mention what you hope the wider outcome of your project might be. If you are asked this question – and are prepared for it – this is a great chance to get a leg up on the competition.

Impact essentially refers to the measurable effects of research outside academia. It’s a given that your PhD will have an effect on future work in your field. But universities are increasingly focussed on the benefits of their work beyond the ‘ivory tower’ of higher education and research.

This is particularly important if your project is funded. The money supporting your studies will probably have come from public revenues (via a Research Council studentship) or from a large charity or trust. Those organisations will want to make sure their investment is worthwhile.

Examples of impact differ a bit between fields.

If you’re in the Social Sciences you may already have some idea of the ‘outputs’ from your project. These could be educational workshops, policy guidance, etc.

If you’re in Science, Medicine or Engineering you’ll hope to provide economic benefits to industry or to healthcare.

Arts and Humanities PhDs can have impact too. Think about the ways in which you could take part in public engagement, such as teaching people about local history or archival resources. You could partner with local schools, or even media companies producing documentary work.

  • I’m keen to share my passion for this subject with a wider audience. I’m hoping to maintain a public-facing blog documenting my research. I would also be keen to approach local schools and museums to discuss educational events.
  • To be honest, I can’t really see how my work on medieval manuscript preservation has any benefit outside the university. I’d still like some funding though.

#10 How will you fund this project?

This question is obviously more likely in interviews for non-funded PhDs. (It would be somewhat strange for a university to ask you about funding for a project that carries a full studentship).

However, you might still be asked about contingency plans if funding falls through (particularly if funding hasn’t been secured at this stage) or if your project over-runs.

Self-funding students will obviously need to go into more detail here. It’s not the responsibility of your university to ask for a complete breakdown of your finances (or for you to provide one). Yet the panel will want to be sure that you understand the cost involved in doing a PhD and have some kind of plans in place.

It’s fine to say that you’ll be looking for extra funding and part-time work as you start the project. But make it clear that you’ll still have enough time to apply yourself to the actual research.

  • I’ve shortlisted external funders and would be keen to investigate any small bursaries or other forms of support through the university. I’ve also made arrangements to work part-time, with the option to adjust this if my funding situation improves.
  • I have no idea how I’m going to afford this. Are you sure I can’t have a scholarship?

Interview questions about your choice of university

Unsurprisingly, your interview panel will be interested to know why you’ve chosen their university for your PhD.

If proposing your own project you’ll be asked about the fit between your research aims and the expertise of the department you’d be entering.

If applying to a pre-defined PhD, you’ll be invited to explain why this laboratory or research group particularly appeals to you and what you yourself can contribute to them.

Preparing for these kinds of questions is actually quite easy. Read up on your prospective university, department and supervisors. Show that you’re aware of the kind of work they do and give examples.

Feel free to mention other aspects of the university that appeal to you – its reputation, its alumni, even its location – but keep the main focus on the fit between your work and their research environment.

#11 Why have you chosen to study a PhD at this university?

Whatever else your panel asks, you can be pretty sure a question about your choice of university and department will crop up at some point in a PhD interview.

Your answer gives you the opportunity to do several important things.

Most obviously you can talk about the university and its research. Explain why you’d like to study with these supervisors in particular, when you’ve used their work during your Bachelors degree or Masters (if relevant) and how you can contribute to their future projects.

This is also an opportunity to reiterate your awareness of the wider research context for your project. If other departments or laboratories are undertaking related work, mention that. Say what attracted you to this university in particular and what you hope to achieve as one of its students.

If your PhD is part of a structured Doctoral Programme (as is increasingly likely) you can touch on any training and development opportunities it includes. You may mention these elsewhere in your interview, but make sure to include them when speaking about the university’s appeal to you.

Finally, show an awareness of any relevant research facilities, resources or collections.

Does the university hold a unique archive? Suggest how it might support your investigations. Has the laboratory you’re working in been equipped with any new facilities? Show that you know about them and are interested in using them (as relevant).

Universities spend a lot of money on facilities and resources. They want students – particularly postgraduate researchers – who will make use of them.

  • I’ve looked at lots of opportunities in this area. I feel that this project is the best of its kind, combining a unique research angle with a training programme that will meet my professional needs. I was already familiar with the work of my prospective supervisor and their research has greatly informed my own development as a scholar. I’m eager to combine my work with theirs and make use of the facilities the university has put together for this project.
  • I did my Masters here and already have a flat in the city.

#12 What can you bring to this research group?

PhD candidates are more than just students. You’ll function, in many ways, as a junior academic working within a wider research environment.

You’ll network with other students and academics. You’ll probably teach undergraduates. You may even publish some of your research (independently, or alongside your supervisor).

This means that your potential contribution to a department or laboratory is, in many ways, just as important as what it can offer you.

If you’re asked a question about this, take the opportunity to sell yourself a little.

Talk about your experience (academic or professional) and outline your ambitions. Make it clear that you will provide a return on the time, money and resources that the university is considering investing in you.

  • I’m eager to take advantage of the facilities and expertise this university has to offer. But I also want to contribute with my own expertise and enthusiasm. My previous work has given me the skills to make the most of the material involved in this project and I’m motivated to participate in new training. I’ll be proud to be a part of this department and would actively seek to represent it through my own publications and other research outputs.
  • I have a Bachelors and a Masters in this subject so I’m quite clever.

What to ask in a PhD interview

Your PhD entrance interview will probably end with an invitation for you to ask your own questions of the panel. This part of the interview is as important as the answers you'll have already given.

Asking good questions demonstrates your motivation. It also shows that you’ve given some genuine consideration to the project and / or programme you’re applying to.

Don’t just ask questions ‘for effect’ though. This is your chance to find out more about the project you’ll be doing, the people you’ll be working with and the expectations of you as a PhD student.

Remember: you’re a good student, with lots of potential. You’re considering at least three years of hard work with this university. You need to know that you’ll get on with your supervisor, that your work will be appreciated and that there are good prospects for your project.

You’re here to be interviewed for a PhD, but nothing’s stopping you from doing a little interviewing of your own.

Here are a few good questions to considering asking at your PhD interview. They include ways to express enthusiasm for your project, as well as some useful inquiries to make for yourself:

What will the supervision arrangements be for the project?

This shows that you’re thinking practically and looking ahead to the process of actually doing the PhD. It’s also something you’ll probably want to check for yourself.

What kind of training and skills sessions are offered as part of the PhD programme?

This shows that you’re interested in the development opportunities that form part of a modern PhD. It’s also a good way to address any concerns you have about your own skills. Be careful though. Avoid asking simple questions about material that’s already covered in the PhD project description, or in the university’s postgraduate prospectus.

Will I have opportunities to teach / present / publish?

This is something else you’ll want to know for yourself, but it also demonstrates a practical approach to your PhD (and future career). A good PhD programme should offer some opportunity to teach or demonstrate towards the end of your project. Equally, you should be encouraged to communicate your research and supported in doing so.

How many other PhD students has this supervisor seen to completion?

Don’t be afraid to ask about previous students and what they’ve gone on to do. You may also want to know if you’ll be working with or alongside other students and what the arrangements for that will be.

Are there likely to be any changes to the funding arrangements for the project?

A good practical question. If you’re applying for a funded place, make sure you understand the terms of that funding (its duration, whether you can combine it with any other income, etc). If you’re currently self-funding, it won’t hurt to ask if the university anticipates having any support available for you in future.

Is the university or department likely to run any events or other associated projects during the period of my PhD?

This might not seem like an obvious question, but it’s worth asking. The university might be in the early stages of planning a major hosted conference, external partnership or outreach project. Asking about these shows a genuine interest in your university and its research and suggests that you’ll be the right sort of PhD student to help deliver them. Needless to say, these kinds of projects are also excellent opportunities to gain experience and build your CV.

Other questions will probably occur to you according to your specific circumstances and the nature of the project you’re applying to.

Focus on the things that would concern you as a student actually doing the PhD in question, but avoid trivial topics. Your panel will be happy to talk about library resources and lab facilities. They’ll be less keen to advise on the best local pubs or say how often the bus runs between campus and town.

Also try to avoid asking for information that’s readily available elsewhere. This suggests you haven’t done your research – which is never a good sign when applying to do research.

Still looking for that perfect PhD project?

While you're preparing for the interview stage of applications, it's a good idea to keep searching as many PhD projects are advertised throughout the year .

Our postgrad newsletter shares courses, funding news, stories and advice

You may also like....

phd second interview

Are you preparing for a PhD interview? Learn some of the do's and don'ts from our expert who has been through the process to help you ace yours.

phd second interview

Holly is officially coming to the end of her first year of PhD study. She talks to some other students to compare experiences and lessons learnt along the way.

phd second interview

Our guest blogger, Holly sat down with an expert on Imposter Syndrome to find out what it really is and how to tackle it.

phd second interview

A PhD is a great way to help you make a difference. We spoke to Josephine Agyeman-Duah about her PhD journey to improve outcomes for babies born preterm.

phd second interview

PhD Hard-talk is an online community for postgraduates and researchers to share their work and advice. We sat down to chat with the project founder, Noma Mguni to learn what PhD Hard-talk can do for you.

phd second interview

After winning our PhD Supervisor of the Year Award, we caught up with Clive Palmer to see how he got to where he is now and what life is like as a supervisor.

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2024 All rights reserved.

Unknown    ( change )

Have you got time to answer some quick questions about PhD study?

Select your nearest city

You haven’t completed your profile yet. To get the most out of FindAPhD, finish your profile and receive these benefits:

  • Monthly chance to win one of ten £10 Amazon vouchers ; winners will be notified every month.*
  • The latest PhD projects delivered straight to your inbox
  • Access to our £6,000 scholarship competition
  • Weekly newsletter with funding opportunities, research proposal tips and much more
  • Early access to our physical and virtual postgraduate study fairs

Or begin browsing

or begin browsing

*Offer only available for the duration of your active subscription, and subject to change. You MUST claim your prize within 72 hours, if not we will redraw.

phd second interview

Do you want hassle-free information and advice?

Create your FindAPhD account and sign up to our newsletter:

  • Find out about funding opportunities and application tips
  • Receive weekly advice, student stories and the latest PhD news
  • Hear about our upcoming study fairs
  • Save your favourite projects, track enquiries and get personalised subject updates

phd second interview

Create your account

Looking to list your PhD opportunities? Log in here .

  • Home »
  • Advice »
  • Studying For A PhD

find your perfect postgrad program Search our Database of 30,000 Courses

Dos and don’ts of a phd interview.

Dos & don'ts of a PhD interview

Studying for a PhD is an amazing academic achievement, as well as serious time commitment , and it's certainly not one for the faint-hearted. Once you've decided to embark on this academic path, your PhD interviewer needs to be sure that you are able to rise to the challenge and are academically capable of achieving this ultimate goal. And the PhD interview is how they assess your potential for a place on the program when applying for a PhD .

Your PhD interview will consist of questions that will enable your potential supervisors to get to know you better and have an understanding of what you’d like to study, why you’ve chosen your field of study, and whether you’d be a good fit for the PhD program. 

This interview will also give you the opportunity to ask questions about the program and the university to make sure it’s the place you’d like to study. 

Here, we've compiled a list of dos and don'ts of a PhD interview from the interviewer's perspective, to hopefully guarantee you success when answering the PhD interview questions and thus beginning your Doctorate journey.

PhD Interview dos and don'ts

PhD interview questions to help you prepare

Your interviewers will ask a range of different questions in order to determine whether you will be let into the PhD program . They will ask different types of questions to get an idea of who you are, what your interests are, and how much of an asset your research will be to the university. 

General PhD interview questions

One important aspect of the PhD interview is for the interviewers to get a good idea of who the interviewee is.

They will do this by asking a series of questions that are more general to try and get a sense of your likes and dislikes, and your overall personality. These opening questions could be viewed as ‘warm up questions’ and are likely to also include questions and discussions about your academic history, reasons why you are interested in your particular research topic, and why you’re studying a PhD.

Example questions could include:

  • What is your academic background?
  • Describe your personal qualities?
  • What sets you apart from the other candidates?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The PhD interviewer will ask you questions about your motivation to study a PhD, which you should find straightforward to answer as you clearly have a keen interest and knowledge in a particular research topic to be considering studying it at PhD level. Now all you need to do is illustrate to the interviewer why you are the right person for this PhD at their university.

The first way to do this is to go into detail about your personal motivations for studying a PhD. Do you have a historical or family link with this topic? Was it an area you covered in your bachelors degree that you now want to explore further? Are you destined for a career in academia? 

Another thing you should demonstrate in your PhD interview is what experience you’ve had either academically, personally or in the workplace that has strengthened your passions for your research.

It is also important to show that you have researched the university, the supervisor and your project. If many universities offer this particular PhD course, then why did you choose this specific one? Do they have resources that will be useful? Is there a supervisor you’d like to work with? 

Example questions that you can expect to receive at this stage in your PhD interview could include:

  • Why are you motivated to pursue a PhD and why in this specific field?
  • Why did you choose this university?
  • Why did you choose this program?
  • Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

Relevant experience

Your PhD interviewer will be interested in any relevant experience you have to qualify you to study this PhD. Use your answers to draw attention to your specific qualifications that may not be obvious from your CV or project. Discuss other courses that you’ve taken, past research, etc. Use this time to reassure your prospective supervisor that you have the skills and experience needed to undertake a doctorate.

Consider what is the critical knowledge and skills needed for this project and explain to the interviewer how you meet these.

Don’t just summarise your CV as the interviewer has already seen this. They will want to see your passion and motivation for your research project.

Example questions they may ask at this stage could be:

  • What experience do you have that makes you suitable for this particular PhD and in what ways?’
  • Why should we choose you?

Your PhD project

Interviewers will want to know that students understand their project and the research involved in successfully studying a PhD. 

You should be prepared to discuss your project idea in detail and demonstrate to the interviewer that you are the ideal candidate. For example, you should explain that you understand the current gaps in knowledge around your topic and how you propose to fill these gaps. Show that you know what your aims and objectives are and how your efforts will contribute to the research field.

Here are some example questions to help you discuss your PhD project:

  • How are you planning to deliver your project on time? 
  • What will you do if you do not find the expected results?
  • What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?
  • How did you develop this proposal?

Future ambitions

It’s important for students to know where their work may lead them. Knowing how a PhD will help achieve this, and articulating these aspirations to the interviewer, will give the interviewer a better picture of the student’s goals. 

If the goal is to have an academic career, use this as an opportunity to show the interviewer that you understand the academic career path.

An example question at this stage could be:

  • How will this PhD open the door for future ambitions and aspirations?

Your own questions

As well as being properly prepared to answer questions about your PhD proposal, it is also important to ask your own questions to the interviewer to make sure that this is the university and PhD program that you’re looking for.

Example questions that you could ask a potential supervisor could include:

  • Are you likely to remain at the university for the duration of my PhD program?
  • Are there good links within a specific industry/work field for your post-PhD career?
  • How many PhD students to you supervise at one time?
  • How much contact time am I likely to get?

PhD interview questions: DOs 

PhD Interview dos

  • "Brand" yourself. Show your personality . We must remember you for something besides your academic skills.
  • Be confident and sure of your abilities, but don’t be overconfident. You are not the best in everything that you do, so don't pretend you are!
  • If we ask you a witty question, reply with a witty answer.
  • All PhD interviews are different. Be flexible when preparing for your interview and don’t take anyone’s advice as definite, instead use it to build upon.
  • Avoid simple yes or no answers.
  • Show that you are an independent and original thinker by engaging in debate and supporting your arguments with reasonable statements. However, always be polite and argue without insulting us.
  • Be professional. Professionals can find the right measure between being serious and being informal.
  • Show that you care about what you want to study and about what we do, and don’t be interested in our PhD program just to get the title.
  • Research what we do. We don’t want to talk to someone who knows nothing about our work.

PhD interview questions: DON’Ts

PhD Interview don'ts

  • Don’t undermine the importance of ‘soft’ general questions like “Where do you see yourself in future?” or “What is motivating you to do the PhD?”
  • Don’t be passive in communication. We are interviewing you, but you are also interviewing us.
  • Don’t give too general answers. Be specific and to the point because that will show us that you are not feigning but you know what you are talking about.
  • Don’t get nervous if you think the interview is not going well. In many cases this is just your personal impression, which may be wrong.
  • Don’t come dressed as if you just woke up – make an effort! 
  • Don’t talk jargon. It is not very likely that we were born in the same place or have the same background, so we may not understand what you are saying.
  • Don’t try to pretend that you are someone you're not. We don’t like pretentiousness and can usually see straight through it.
  • Don’t try to be too funny. We may have a different sense of humour than you do, especially if you come from a different culture.
  • Don’t become too emotional during the PhD interview. Enthusiasm is good but not if it’s exaggerated, then it becomes quite off-putting.

Summary of PhD interview questions 

This table shows some examples of different categories of questions you might enounter at a PhD interview.

Your academic background, personal qualities, what sets you apart from the other candidates, etc.

Why are you motivated to pursue a PhD and why in this specific field? Why did you choose the university?

What experience do you have that makes you suitable for this particular PhD and in what way?

How are you planning to deliver your project on time? What if you don’t find the expected results?

How will this PhD open the door for your future ambitions and aspirations?

At the end of each interview your interviewers will usually encourage you to ask them questions of interest to you.

Related articles

Applying For A PhD

How To Prepare For A PhD Viva

Are You Ready For A PhD?

How To Get The Most From Your PhD Supervisor

Common PhD Myths

Alphabet of PhD Study

Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries

Exclusive bursaries Open day alerts Funding advice Application tips Latest PG news

Sign up now!

Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries

Take 2 minutes to sign up to PGS student services and reap the benefits…

  • The chance to apply for one of our 5 PGS Bursaries worth £2,000 each
  • Fantastic scholarship updates
  • Latest PG news sent directly to you.

How to Prepare for a PhD Interview Step-by-Step

phd second interview

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

If you received an interview invitation for a PhD program, congratulations! This is a huge accomplishment. Your application and CV stood out among many others who did not make it to this stage. But how do you prepare for what’s next–your graduate school interview? 

Avoid Triggering These 3 “Red Flags”

A good way to understand how you can stand out among top finalists is to understand the “red flags” that PhD selection committees are looking for at this stage. Interviews are used to determine:

#1 Are you committed to a career in research?

PhD programs do not want to invest their limited funding into candidates who have motives other than the pursuit of a career in research and academia, because PhD programs are essentially years of training in the conduct of academic research. Your motive for pursuing a PhD will either support or discredit the hypothesis that you have the drive and aptitude to successfully complete a rigorous, long-term, independent research project (aka, your dissertation).

#2 Will you fit within the culture of the graduate program?

Unfortunately, PhD programs have historically poor records in achieving diversity, equity and inclusion in their student body; nevertheless, their assessment of your culture fit in the student body is a reality (read Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping by Julie R. Posselt). Because academic institutions are hierarchical organizations, selection committees look for clues of extreme viewpoints, arrogance, questioning of “authority”, previous conflicts with employers or professors, and other hints as to whether you might challenge or ruffle the feathers of the program’s faculty and administrators. Not surprisingly, they aim to select people who will be “model students” and will support the research and teaching goals of the faculty. That said, this interview process is not a one-way street. While they are assessing your ability to be a successful student in their program, you’ll need to determine if the program and faculty will provide you the space and support you need to succeed, while also letting you be yourself.  

#3 Do you have advanced fluency in written and verbal English?

Many foreign applicants submit written applications and writing samples that are impressive and grammatically perfect. However, international students who do not have advanced English fluency – both written and verbal – have a higher likelihood of falling behind in PhD programs. For foreign applicants, the selection committee will use an interview to assess how well you understand and communicate in English in real-time.

Now that we have those “red flags” identified, here some suggestions to help you prepare for your PhD interview.

Top 3 Tips to Prepare for Your PhD Interview

#1 show passion for academic research.

It’s important to discuss your interest in academic research specifically, not just your interest in the subject or discipline, practice-based work or the industry. Selection committees are looking for students who can successfully undertake a 4-6 year commitment to learning about and conducting academic research. You should show them you are someone who “geeks out” about research – the methods, the process, the writing – and that you are someone who has the potential to make a social impact through your research.

#2 Come prepared with detailed examples of your research experience

Be ready to go deep on the details of your previous research experience, including your involvement in aspects like participant recruitment, forming a research question, choosing a research method, overcoming challenges of research, addressing ethics in research, analyzing data and writing up results. You don’t need to be highly experienced in research to be a strong candidate, but to show authentic passion for research, you should be very familiar with the mechanics of it.

#3 Have specific reasons for why THIS program

Be armed with reasons why the PhD program you are interviewing for is unique and interesting for you. Each school will have aspects of their program that they believe makes them different, whether that is the coursework, curriculum format, focus areas, faculty, special programming, labs, international opportunities, academic and private partnerships, or something else. Do your research and be prepared to tell them what they already know – why their program is special. 

The interview is a big step in your journey towards achieving a graduate degree. The ProFellow community is rooting for you – best of luck!

If you want to learn more about PhD funding, get your copy of ProFellow’s FREE Directory of Fully Funded Graduate Programs and Full Funding Awards !

If you want to learn more about phd interviews, check out….

6 Top Interview Questions and How to Answer Them – Part 1 6 Top Interview Questions and How to Answer Them – Part 2 5 Strategies to Nail the Interview 3 Ways to Answer “What is Your Greatest Weakness?” in an Interview Stumped in an Interview? Three Tips to Remain Cool and Composed

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot

Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of  Fully Funded , an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2021, all rights reserved

Related Posts:

  • #9: Nailing the Individual and Group Interviews
  • 3 Key Steps to Prepare for Interviews for Fellowship, Job and Graduate School
  • 5 Things To Do Before Your Fellowship Interview
  • How to Manage Fellowship Interview Anxiety (and Nail the Interview)
  • 5 Ways to Prepare for a Fellowship Interview

Dr. Vicki Johnson , Graduate School Application Tips , Interview Tips , PhD Application Tips

A Rural Alaskan on His Schwarzman Scholars Experience in China

12 fellowships and grants for emerging writers, find and win paid, competitive fellowships.

Be alerted about new fellowship calls for applications, get insider application tips, and learn about fully funded PhD and graduate programs

Fellowship Resources

  • Calls for Applications
  • Upcoming Fellowship Deadlines
  • Fellowships Database
  • Interviews with Fellows
  • International Fellows Network
  • Graduate Funding Directory

Fellowship Tips

  • What is a Fellowship?
  • Fully Funded Course
  • Graduate School Funding
  • Fellowship Application Tips
  • Fulbright Application Tips
  • Fellowship Application Guide
  • Our Mission, History & Values
  • ProFellow Winner Testimonials
  • Fully Funded Course Testimonials
  • Fellowship Industry Report
  • Advertise With Us
  • Terms & Privacy

ProFellow is the go-to source for information on professional and academic fellowships, created by fellows for aspiring fellows.

©2011-2024 ProFellow, LLC. All rights reserved.

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.

Discover related jobs


Discover similar employers


Accelerate your academic career


Preparing for Your PhD Defence

Here are some tips to help you beat the nerves and rock your defence.


Should I Do a PhD?

Four questions to ask yourself before deciding to do a PhD.


PhD, Postdoc, and Professor Salaries in Belgium

Academic salaries for Flemish (Dutch-speaking) or Wallonian (French-spea...


Do You Need Publications to Apply for a PhD Program?

Many applicants spent a lot of time worrying about whether they need to ...


Dutch Academic Job Titles Explained

What's the difference between a universitair docent and a hoogleraar? Wh...


Fight Procrastination

Here are our best tips to stop procrastinating and get to work.

Jobs by field

  • Electrical Engineering 190
  • Machine Learning 151
  • Programming Languages 144
  • Artificial Intelligence 136
  • Molecular Biology 135
  • Electronics 128
  • Mechanical Engineering 126
  • Materials Engineering 124
  • Cell Biology 116
  • Engineering Physics 105

Jobs by type

  • Postdoc 313
  • Assistant / Associate Professor 134
  • Professor 99
  • Researcher 95
  • Research assistant 88
  • Engineer 85
  • Lecturer / Senior Lecturer 71
  • Management / Leadership 57
  • Tenure Track 33

Jobs by country

  • Belgium 332
  • Morocco 115
  • Switzerland 109
  • Netherlands 104
  • Luxembourg 67

Jobs by employer

  • KU Leuven 128
  • Mohammed VI Polytechnic Unive... 119
  • Ghent University 75
  • University of Luxembourg 67
  • ETH Zürich 52
  • KTH Royal Institute of Techno... 49
  • Karolinska Institutet 39
  • Silicon Austria Labs (SAL) 33
  • OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan U... 30

phd second interview

Stack Exchange Network

Stack Exchange network consists of 183 Q&A communities including Stack Overflow , the largest, most trusted online community for developers to learn, share their knowledge, and build their careers.

Q&A for work

Connect and share knowledge within a single location that is structured and easy to search.

What should I prepare before a second meeting with my potential professor?

I am applying for a PhD program and received a second interview invitation from my potential supervisor. She said she would like to discuss the potential direction of the project and my ideas for this project. My background isn't a perfect match with this project, so I have been working on the basic knowledge of this field (which is neurology). Before this interview invitation, I sent some emails to her to discuss some possible applications of the project, but all my questions were really general (for example, the project works on A, and I asked her if we can combine A and another therapy, B, together to expect an additive effect). However, most of them were less relevant to the main objective of this project, I asked them because I thought there could be more usage of the therapy A.

Do I need to come up with more specific questions about this project? How do I have impressive ideas for something I'm not familiar with?

  • application

xuehua an's user avatar

  • 4 "How do I have impressive ideas for something I'm not familiar with?" You don't, that's why she in all likelihood isn't expecting you to have "impressive ideas", but simply to "discuss the potential direction of the project and your ideas for this project". –  Adam Přenosil Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 9:16
  • @AdamPřenosil So the more important thing is to express my thoughts, even they could be dumb or useless? –  xuehua an Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 13:42
  • 1 There is a lot of space between "dumb or useless" and "impressive". You should be able to have some coherent ideas about what you want to do, but that doesn't mean you need to be trying to "impress" anyone. See the answer of cheery.beach for more detail. –  Adam Přenosil Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 13:51

She invited you for a first interview, so you look good on paper. She invited you for a second interview, so she liked what she saw. All good news. In my experience, a second interview is to evaluate how good of a fit you are to her lab, and to possibly assess what kind of projects you are capable of handling. Bring ideas of possible projects, and show flexibility in terms of tackling projects which are a little outside of your experience. You've already shown that you are a good scientist (hence the interview invitations), now show that you are also a good colleague and collaborator.

Cheery's user avatar

  • Thank you! I am more relaxed now, and I know what I should do. –  xuehua an Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 15:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for browse other questions tagged phd application interview ..

  • Featured on Meta
  • We spent a sprint addressing your requests — here’s how it went
  • Upcoming initiatives on Stack Overflow and across the Stack Exchange network...

Hot Network Questions

  • Dagesh on final letter kaf
  • Is it correct to say "glide my fingernail on the adhesive tape to feel its rim"?
  • Joint measurability in quantum mechanics
  • Is it possible to complete a Phd on your own?
  • Inversion naming conventions
  • Imagining Graham's number in your head collapses your head to a Black hole
  • How soon should you apply and unapply the sustain pedal after markings?
  • How can we describe intellect in a way that relates to philosophical knowledge?
  • Can you always extend an isometry of a subset of a Hilbert Space to the whole space?
  • Travel to Mexico from India, do I need to pay a fee?
  • Use of Compile[] to optimize the code to run faster
  • Books using the axiomatic method
  • lme4 Inconsistency
  • Every simple topological group is either discrete or connected
  • How do I prevent losing the binoculars?
  • Sitting on a desk or at a desk? What's the diffrence?
  • Remove duplicates in file (without sorting!) leaving the _last_ of the occurences
  • Did the BBC censor a non-binary character in Transformers: EarthSpark?
  • Will electrolysis hydrolyze esters?
  • What's the point of Dream Chaser?
  • Can you arrange 25 whole numbers (not necessarily all different) so that the sum of any three successive terms is even but the sum of all 25 is odd?
  • Ideal diode in parallel with resistor and voltage source
  • Turning Misty step into a reaction to dodge spells/attacks
  • Is it prohibited to consume things that unclean animals produce?

phd second interview

phd second interview

Community Blog

Keep up-to-date on postgraduate related issues with our quick reads written by students, postdocs, professors and industry leaders.

Questions to Ask During Your PhD Interview

Zebastian D.

  • By Zebastian D.
  • August 22, 2020

PhD Interview Questions to Ask

As someone applying for PhD positions, you’ll no doubt be thinking of and preparing for the interview with your potential supervisor(s). You’re absolutely right to be doing this and planning your answers to some of the PhD interview questions that they’ll probably ask you; make sure you’ve read our guide on this to help you prepare.

Remember though that the PhD student-supervisor relationship works both ways; as much as the potential supervisor is interviewing you for a PhD position within their lab, you should also have the mindset that you’re also interviewing the professor for the role of supervisor, and be ready to ask questions! Ultimately the key thing you want to know after your PhD interview is you are both a good fit for each other.

With that in mind, I’ve prepared a common list of questions that you should consider asking to help you decide if the supervisor and the research lab is the right fit for you. You don’t need to ask all these questions but instead use this list as a guide for picking what feels most important to you.

I should also note that some of the answers to these questions can usually be found through a quick Google search of the potential supervisor or looking at their university profile. So do think about which questions in particular you want to bring up in person at the PhD interview.

Now on to the questions….

How many PhD students have you supervised previously, and did they all gain their PhDs?

You’re asking this to firstly work out how experienced the professor is at supervising students, based purely on the numbers previously supervised. The reason to ask the second question of how many students gained PhDs is to get an idea of the supervisor’s track record of successful supervision. The lower the percentage of students that went onto complete their PhD under his or her supervision (and not leave the program early ), the more alarm bells that should be ringing for you. This of course shouldn’t be your only data point in the decision-making process, and you should try and find out more about why those that left their PhD program before completion, did so. Equally it’s also a possibility that some students have been successful in their PhD research in spite of a supervisor’s lack of support. A good way to get a truer sense of this is by speaking to the supervisor’s current and past students.

Whilst a supervisor’s successful track record can be reassuring, don’t be put off if they haven’t supervised many (or even any) students before, particularly if they’re still fairly new in the job. There are many other ways in which you can get a sense of the supervisor-student fit.

phd second interview

How many years does a PhD project usually take in your lab?

If you’re in the UK, a full time PhD should normally take you 3-4 years to complete , as reflected by most funding grants for PhD research being for this time frame. You want to know and have some reassurance that most students in this lab do finish within this time frame. Asking this question will also help you better understand the supervisor’s attitude towards completion time frames; is this someone that would have no issue with a student that’s been working on their PhD for 6 years or are they driven to help students complete ‘on time’.

What are the key milestones for progression that you expect from students?

This is a good follow on from the previous question. Some supervisors can be very ‘hands off’ and set no expectations on their students about deliverables and if this is the type of student-supervisor relationship you’re after (which some are), then perfect!

However, whilst a PhD project is an independent body of work, that doesn’t mean you have to do it in isolation. Having a supervisor that also acts as a mentor is important; a key aspect of this is to help keep you on track to complete your project ‘in time’, which is most effectively done using regular milestones.

The actual milestones will vary between supervisors but what you’re looking for in their response is some indication that they’ve actually thought about them. Examples of milestones may be the completion of the literature review within the first 6 weeks of starting, first experimental data captured by month 3 and first paper published by the time you end year 1.

phd second interview

How many other students do you supervise?

You ideally don’t want your supervisor to have too many (>5) other PhD students under his or her supervision at any one time, simply because of the dilution of their time that will naturally occur. Being part of an active research lab is a big advantage however, so you don’t necessarily want to be the only student under their supervision either. Remember that the professor may also be responsible for several Master’s and undergraduate students too so you just need to know what to realistically expect from him in terms of available time to meet with you regularly.

How often do you meet with your PhD students?

You don’t want a supervisor that’s too prescriptive in how you run your project, but you do want someone who you know you can rely on to meet with regularly. Some professors set weekly one-on-one or group research meetings that occur at the same time, day and venue; you know exactly what you’re getting here. Others tend to meet less frequently but still at regular intervals. A good balance would be to have catch up meetings every 2 weeks but it’s important to know upfront what the expectations are from both sides about how often to meet.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

How flexible is the direction of the PhD project?

At the PhD level of higher education, the supervisor is there to provide mentorship and guidance to help you avoid going in a completely wrong direction with your research. You should however expect to have the freedom to take your project in any direction you want to (within reason). This should be the case even if it means deviating from the original research questions that were proposed at the start; you and your supervisor should be in agreement before you start about how much flexibility there can be. Remember too that sometimes the project may have to stay closely aligned to the original plan if it’s required by the industry funder, so this decision may be out of the supervisor’s hands to some extent.

What funding is available for this project?

You should know by the time you come to interview if the project is to be self-funded or if there is specific funding associated with it. It may feel like an awkward question to ask but you need to be very clear on how much of a living stipend you should expect and if there is any additional funding for things such as conference travel, paying for journal publication fees or other bench fees; you don’t want any unpleasant surprises about finances when you’ve already started the PhD.

phd second interview

Do you expect there to be any changes in funding during the course of the project?

Specifically, you want to find out if there’s any risk that the funding associated with the project could be removed. Most often, funding bodies don’t transfer the entire monetary amount of the agreed funding up front in one lumpsum (which can be in excess of £75,000 for a 3-year studentship). Instead, payments are made in instalments and may be done so on the basis that certain milestones are met. For industry funded projects, for example, there may be a service work element (such as specialist analysis using university-based equipment) associated with the funding which will need to be delivered on time for the university to continue to receive money. In reality a complete loss of funding is unlikely to happen, but you should find out if this is at all a possibility of happening.

What is the source of the funding?

It’s important for you to understand how your project will be funded. As discussed in the previous question, the specific funder may place certain requirements on the university that need to be fulfilled to receive the funds. Don’t let this put you off applying or even impact your decision to take on the specific project, but it’s an important factor to be aware of.

Are there any opportunities to earn additional money as a PhD student?

Even if you will receive a stipend during the course of your research project, it comparatively won’t be a lot of money to live on. If you want it, the opportunity to earn extra money can make a big difference in managing your finances. This may in the form of one day/week working as a research technician or paid work preparing and delivering lectures to undergraduate students. It’s useful to know if these opportunities will exist to help you manage your expectations about your finances. Make sure you don’t let yourself feel obligated to take on this additional work however, even if it is paid; the priority will be ensuring your research progresses on schedule.

Will I have the opportunity and be expected to publish papers?

phd second interview

In the UK there is no requirement for you to have published any journal papers before you are awarded a PhD. Doing so however can go some way towards making your final viva that much easier, and also giving you a ‘head-start’ on your publication track record if you continue on into academia after your PhD.

You should get a sense of if your potential supervisor sees an opportunity for you to publish your research, if this is something that you want to do. Equally you should be aware of the supervisor’s expectations about publishing to avoid any potential conflict between your supervisor wanting you to publish work during your PhD and you wanting to wait until you’re in the post-doc stage before writing papers.

How many papers have previous PhD students published with you?

Knowing the answer to this should give you a good idea about the expectations and opportunities of publishing papers during your PhD. It’s certainly a positive sign to know that previous students have successfully published their research and is often a sign of a good supervisory system being in place.

How often does your research group present at academic conferences?

Having the opportunity to present your research at an academic conference is a key experience to have obtained during your time as a PhD student. Some supervisors actively encourage this and ensure that all funding applications include allocations for paying for conference related fees. Others are less convinced about the value of students going to conferences, particularly due to the additional expense of doing so, and may therefore not be as supportive of conference participation.

It’s useful to know what the norm is within the supervisor’s research group so that there are no surprises further down the line.

phd second interview

Is there funding support available for attending conferences?

Again, to be clear on expectations of funding and support for conference attendance, you should find out if there are funds specifically allocated for this purpose. If there aren’t, does the supervisor actively provide support to their students in applying for additional funding for this?

Are there courses and training sessions available for PhD students?

Find out if there are extra resources available to you should you want to use them. For example, do the supervisors students go on paper writing courses, or workshops on how to perform literature reviews? There are lots of new things that you’ll be doing during your PhD, especially at the beginning so it’s good to know that there’s external help available if and when you need it.

What are your past PhD graduates doing now?

This is an interesting one to find out from the supervisor. Are most of their graduates continuing their career development within academia or have many moved into industry work or even to a field completely different to their area of research? Ideally, you’d want this to align with your own career options. If most PhD holders have gone into industry whereas you want to pursue an academic career, you should try and find out why they ended up leaving academia. For example, did these graduates initially have aspirations of becoming professors themselves but were not able to do so or does your particular field normally open up more opportunities within industry?

What kind of support do you or the university provide for helping with jobs after?

In particular, what role does the supervisor play in helping their recent PhD graduates find their next job role? Do they have any connections within industry that they’d be able to help you network with? Or have any of their past PhD students stayed on in the lab as post-docs and are there resources in place for you to potentially do the same?

Will there be opportunities to teach undergraduate students?

The opportunity to give lectures to undergraduate students or lead tutorials with them can be a good way to earn some extra money during your PhD (note though that not all universities/departments formally pay PhD students to do this). Getting teaching experience is also important if you’re planning on continuing on down an academic career path at a university so it’s useful if you can gain some of this during your PhD.

Do you as a lab do any team activities together?

This will help you get a sense of the environment you’ll be working in for at least the next three years. Is this a lab with several PhD students and post-docs that make up an active ‘research family’? Does the team ever go out for lunch together or day trips away together to unwind? This can be a great way to build a sense of comradery in a research job that can often feel like you’re working alone in. Some supervisors actively encourage and get involved in nurturing a team environment whilst others are more hands-off, leaving the students to do their own thing.

phd second interview

What is the work environment like? Do students work in a shared office space?

Be clear on what your daily workspace will be like at the lab and university. Do all PhD students sit together in an open space or are there smaller office spaces for one or two students to work in? Some people prefer the buzz of an open space whilst others like the quiet of lone working. Either way, you should know what your work environment will look like for the next three years and plan accordingly (e.g. buy some noise cancelling headphones if you need some quite time in the open plan office).

I’ve given you a number of different questions to think about and ask your potential supervisor at your PhD interview. Not all of them may be relevant, or even appropriate to ask, so do think carefully about which ones you do want to bring up at the interview and which answers you could find out independently by either speaking to other students or looking online. Your research project and your experiences at the university will be so much more enjoyable if you can make sure you and your supervisor are a good fit for each other. The best way to do this is to ask questions!

What are the consequences of Self-Plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism is when you try and pass off work that you’ve previously done as something that is completely new.

Multistage Sampling explained with Multistage Sample

Multistage sampling is a more complex form of cluster sampling for obtaining sample populations. Learn their pros and cons and how to undertake them.

List of Abbreviations Thesis

Need to write a list of abbreviations for a thesis or dissertation? Read our post to find out where they go, what to include and how to format them.

Join thousands of other students and stay up to date with the latest PhD programmes, funding opportunities and advice.

phd second interview

Browse PhDs Now

Significance of the Study

In this post you’ll learn what the significance of the study means, why it’s important, where and how to write one in your paper or thesis with an example.

What is the Thurstone Scale?

The Thurstone Scale is used to quantify the attitudes of people being surveyed, using a format of ‘agree-disagree’ statements.

phd second interview

Kat is in the second year of her PhD at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia (WA). Her research involves studying supermassive black holes at the centres of distant galaxies.

phd second interview

Emma is a third year PhD student at the University of Rhode Island. Her research focuses on the physiological and genomic response to climate change stressors.

Join Thousands of Students

  • +44 (0) 207 391 9037
  • UCAS personal statements
  • Oxbridge Personal Statements
  • Specialist Personal Statements
  • Postgraduate Applications
  • Services for Education Agencies
  • Personal Statements
  • Professional
  • Specialist Applications

Key PhD Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

12th October 2023

Speak right now to our live team of English staff

phd second interview

Embarking on a PhD is a significant step in your academic journey, and the interview process is a crucial part of securing a place in your chosen programme. Being well-prepared for the questions that may arise during a PhD interview can help you present yourself confidently and increase your chances of success. In this post, we’ll explore some key PhD interview questions and offer tips on how to answer them effectively.

Can you explain your research proposal in detail?

This is likely to be one of the first questions you’ll be asked, and it’s your chance to showcase your research interests and the significance of your proposed study. Be sure to articulate your research question clearly, explain the methodology you plan to use, and highlight the potential contribution of your research to the field. Avoid using overly technical language and try to convey your enthusiasm for the project.

Why do you want to pursue a PhD?

This question aims to assess your motivation for undertaking a PhD. Be honest and reflective in your response, explaining how your academic background, research interests, and career goals align with the programme. Show that you have a clear understanding of the commitment required and are prepared for the challenges of a PhD.

What relevant experience do you have?

Highlight any previous research experience, publications, or relevant work experience that demonstrates your suitability for the programme. Be specific about your role and the skills you developed, and explain how these experiences have prepared you for the challenges of a PhD.

How did you develop your research proposal?

This question aims to assess your research skills and the thought process behind your proposal. Discuss how you identified a research gap, formulated your research question, and designed your methodology. Be prepared to explain any challenges you encountered and how you overcame them.

How do you plan to manage your time and workload during your PhD?

Time management is a crucial skill for PhD students, who often juggle multiple responsibilities. Discuss any strategies you have for staying organised, prioritising tasks, and maintaining a work-life balance. Show that you have a realistic understanding of the demands of a PhD and have thought about how to manage them effectively.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a researcher?

Reflect on your skills and experiences as a researcher and be honest about areas where you may need to improve. Highlight any strengths that are particularly relevant to your proposed research and discuss how you plan to address any weaknesses.

How do you handle criticism and feedback?

Being receptive to feedback and willing to learn from it is an essential trait for any researcher. Discuss how you have dealt with criticism in the past and explain how you use it to improve your work. Show that you are open to different perspectives and can adapt your approach when necessary.

Answer Your PhD Interview Questions With Confidence

Preparing for a PhD interview requires careful reflection on your research proposal, experiences, and motivations. By anticipating the questions that may arise and thinking through your responses, you can present yourself confidently and make a strong impression on the interview panel.

A compelling personal statement is key to nailing your PhD interview – if you need support, we are here to provide personalised guidance, helping you articulate your strengths, experiences in your statement, and motivations in a way that resonates with admissions panels. Contact us today to elevate your application and take a confident step towards your academic aspirations.

You may also like...

phd second interview

Crafting a Standout CV Personal Statement: Expert Tips and Examples

phd second interview

Common Admission Interview Questions

phd second interview

How to Prepare for an Admissions Interview

Masters Compare - Find your perfect masters course.

My List

  • Finding a PhD or Masters Course

5 steps to nailing your PhD interview

Share this article.

  • Facebook Sharer
  • Twitter Sharer
  • LinkedIn Sharer

5 steps to nailing your PhD interview

Explore other topics

  • Funding a Postgraduate course
  • Living as a Postgraduate student
  • Popular masters degree subjects
  • Student Wellbeing
  • Studying a Postgraduate degree

Think Postgrad

First things first - well done and congratulations! Be proud of yourself for getting this far. You’ve done the hard part - now let’s make sure you get over the final hurdle. Here are 5 steps to nailing your PhD interview.

Like a job interview, a successful PhD interview takes preparation. Even the most brilliant research proposal may fall short if what the panel sees on paper, does not match what they see in person. What’s more, successful PhD completion - which your chosen university will care about as much as you - takes more than your academic capability.

Your interview is your chance to show you have the focus, motivation and tenacity to complete a large research project on your own. It’s also an opportunity for you and your potential supervisors to confirm if you’re a good fit for each other . After all, the strength of this relationship is one of the key factors to ensure your successful PhD completion.

So how should you prepare for your PhD Interview?

Step 1: Demonstrate your knowledge of your research area

Ensure you are familiar with - and knowledgeable about - your PhD proposal. That means that you can demonstrate knowledge around any PhD interview questions that come your way. Make sure you can contextualise your area of research focus. Why have you developed an interest in this research topic in particular? Why are you proposing the methodology presented? What makes this research project unique and why?

In order to really shine, be prepared to show the panel your knowledge beyond your proposal. In order to achieve this you are going to need a good understanding of how your research proposal differs from the body of work currently in existence, along with knowledge of who the research experts are in this field and their key studies.

Step 2: Sharpen your knowledge of your research supervisor(s) work and that of the wider department

Showing your interview panel about your knowledge of your potential supervisors’ research and that of the wider department is not only a great way to demonstrate your interest in this research area, but to also hint that you may be a good fit within the department longer-term. Forming good relationships with other researchers will stand you in good stead for Post Doc positions and any co-authorship opportunities which may arise in future - should academic research be your longer-term goal. Even if your career aspirations are outside of academia, being able to explain why this university and potential supervisor(s) are your first choice will only help to reinforce your suitability.

Step 3 Show your interview panel why they should invest time and energy in you

Academic researchers and lecturers are incredibly busy people with multiple demands on their time. They may have enthusiasm for supporting your research, but they need to see the same on your side. In addition to your passion, show them that you are a good listener and willing to learn, but that the idea of working autonomously does not faze you. 

Step 4: Come up with some interview questions

Like a job interview, it’s a good idea for you to come up with some prepared questions to ask the panel. The 5 steps to nailing a PhD interview is a series of tasks, so having questions to ask is important . This provides an additional opportunity for you to not only check that this university and supervisor(s) are the right fit for you, but is a further opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of what a PhD involves. Here are some possible questions to consider:

  • How many other PhD students are there in the department/school and are there any opportunities to socialise with them?
  • What support is available to help you with your career?
  • Is training available to help you with the necessary skills to successfully complete your PhD? (eg time management; writing)
  • Is funding available for things like conferences or travel?
  • Are there any opportunities to teach?
  • Who funds some of the key research within the department?
  • What resources will you have access to? eg library, labs etc
  • How quickly will you be expected to complete your PhD and are there options to switch to part-time study/distance learning if relevant?
  • What wellbeing support is available?
  • Do they encourage a work/life balance?
  • What have similar PhD students gone on to do?
  • What does the panel see as the key challenges to you successfully answering your research question?

Step 5: Preparation for the face to face moment

So you’ve prepared what you’re going to talk about. The last step is about taking as much pressure off you on the day by thinking about the details in advance. None of this is rocket science - but considering these points sooner rather than later may just help you stay calm and focused.

Firstly, what are you going to wear? Dress as you would for a job interview. If that shirt’s not ironed, don’t leave it until the interview day to do so. Where is your interview taking place? Make sure you’ve planned your route/parking/booked your tickets, and if possible, familiarise yourself with where you have to go when you arrive. Also familiarise yourself with who is interviewing you, their role/specialism (and name pronunciation!)

Many interviews are now through video call, so ensure you have downloaded - and are familiar with - the software being used. This is particularly true if you are required to present or share further information during your interview. If you’re not based in the UK, make sure you check the time difference based on the time of year.

Nerves can cause real problems for some, so consider downloading a mindfulness app such as Calm or Headspace if this is you. Some even offer specific ‘before an interview’ sessions. Finally, imposter syndrome is more common than a cold with many PhD students. Remember, you are worthy and you can do this!! Just follow these 5 steps to nailing your PhD interview and you will be fine. Good luck.

  • Advertisers
  • Cookie Policy
  • Terms and Conditions

Sorry! You need to sign up

Sign up to Postgraduate Studentships

Sign up to compare masters

Opportunity added!

Thanks for making your selection. Click below to view your list.

Course Added

Thanks for making your selection. Click below to view your comparisons.


Think Postgrad Ltd 2008-2024 Website By Parachute

Academia Insider

Phd 2nd interview advice.

Hi everyone,


The PhD will be focused on health resilience and is out of a university in the Netherlands. For context, I have a Master’s of Public Health, specialising in Global Health and Health Disparities. I published one paper during my Master’s and have a mixture of research to industry experience. I’m also South African but studied in the United States.

The first interview went very well, I gave a short presentation and received a lot of excitement from the three interviewers. We also went 10 minutes over the allotted time. The second interview will also be virtual and a bit longer. The discussion’s general topic concerns how I see my specific contribution to the project aims, their faculty team, and any reflections on my proposal in light of our first interview discussion. Their last guidance is also around how I think the PhD will bring me to the next step in my career and when I will feel that I have accomplished what I hope.

Gratefully, Jen


I recently dropped out of a Ph.D. program in Social Sciences and I am currently applying for others, all in the US. So there is a chance of little overlap of our fields. But I did want to leave you hanging for a reply, so here are my two cents.

I believe this part is a bit technical between your skills/knowledge and your research project. The only thing that crosses my mind is for you to read the faculty’s work so you can pinpoint the connection between their skills and yours. But considering you are being called for a second interview, I assume you have already been doing this.

On this part, if I was in your place, I would probably emphasize that the PhD would give you access not only to knowledge and methods but also to the faculty and their network. Through them and through their insights you would be intellectually challenged to constantly learn and grow.

One thing that I read every now and then is that the goal of a researcher should be to shift the conversation. That is a signal that he/she was able to create a significant contribution to the domain. I would answer something like this. “My goal is being able to shift the conversation because that would mean that I create a significant contribution to [your topic of research]”. That way your goal is more altruistic rather than personal/arrogant.


Best of success!!

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and for your encouraging words! Your advice is incredibly helpful in providing a framework for concisely answering each specific question.

I’ve read many of the most prominent papers for each interviewer, which is a large part of why they moved me forward for a second interview. It’s a little tough to draw technical similarities with them because they each come from different technical backgrounds to me and each other. However, this is also a fascinating opportunity to collaborate across fields and is another motivation to work there specifically. I want to make sure I give logical answers to how our various expertise could intersect, but in a way that doesn’t come across as forced!


I hear you @rouxj about wanting to be sincere rather than forcing a connection. My opinion is that if you really believe there is a connection between your interests and their expertise just talk about them. I am sure you are able to notice the difference when you fake that connection just by using the same terms or when you create a real connection. My understanding is that when that connection is real, you are able to talk about it using your own words. It does not matter the degree of mastery you have of the jargon, you will be able to find your way around.


You read their work, you know what they talk about and what they value and you know what you are interested in. So, as a rule of thumb, I would say that if you can talk about your connection with theirs, using your own words, without any preparation, you will be able to do that in your interview.


@rouxj congratulations!!! I am glad that I could help.


The University of Edinburgh home

  • Schools & departments

phd second interview

Prepare for an academic interview

What to expect at academic interviews and how to prepare effectively.

Most academic interviews will follow a similar format. 

What to expect

Panel interviews are most common, where you are interviewed by a number of people together, usually between two and six. The panel is likely to include at least one person from the department (possibly the head of department or research group), a representative from Human Resources, and often someone from another department outside your discipline. 

You will usually be asked to give a presentation either to the panel or to other members of the department or research group. This will commonly be on your research and could include plans for future research. You may also be asked to present on your teaching practice or give a mini-lecture. 

You may also be given the opportunity to talk informally to other departmental staff to find out more about the department and teaching and research activities. 


Take time to develop a deeper understanding of the research group you're applying to. Use a variety of approaches to get to know the department or institution; you could ask your colleagues, explore the institution's website and read relevant papers related to their research.

Job adverts often include contact details of someone you can talk to informally about the vacancy before applying. It is a good idea to do this especially if you are not already known to the people recruiting. 

Here are some examples of the things you will want to know:

what are the research interests of other staff and how can your research complement or add to the group? 

(if it’s a teaching position) what courses are currently being taught? Where you can make a contribution? 

are there any new courses you could develop as a result of your subject expertise? 

what opportunities are there for collaborations, both intra- and inter-disciplinary? 

In preparation for your presentation you should ask for advice from, and practise with, your supervisor and any other members of your department or research group who have  knowledge of your research area. 

Find advice on presentations for academic interviews on the website: - tips for presentations  

Part of your preparation should include thinking about the questions which might come up during the interview. Academic interviewers will focus on questions about your: 

previous research, including research methodologies and skills 

ideas for future research projects and funding proposals 

track record in attracting funding 

teaching experience and style 

thoughts on how you can contribute to the teaching and research of the department 

involvement in the wider academic community through committees 

Examples of questions asked

Some examples of the type of questions asked at academic interviews are given below. 

Motivation and Knowledge 

Why are you attracted to this post? 

What do you feel are the key skills of an effective lecturer? 

Describe your working relationships? For example, tell me about your experience of collaborative projects, close working with colleagues in department, development of external relationships? 

What are the current issues around teaching, learning and assessment in Higher Education? 

What do you think are your particular strengths that would make you the ideal person for this job? 

There is considerable administration involved in running courses.  How do you think you would cope with this, as well as the teaching and research? 


How do you feel your particular research interests would allow you to contribute to and complement the research activities in this department? 

What do you see as your major research achievements? 

How can you demonstrate international excellence in research quality? 

Describe your experience of generating research income. What plans do you have to generate research funding in the future? 

What impact do you believe your research to date has made? 

How have you disseminated your research findings? 

What does “making an impact with your research” mean to you? 

Tell me about your publication record? How would you judge this achievement and what are your future plans? 

How much influence have you had on the direction of work undertaken?  Tell me about something which you have initiated. 

Tell me more about your future research plans. 

Teaching and Supervision 

How equipped do you feel to contribute to teaching within our degree programmes? 

What teaching methods have you used? 

What level of experience have you had in planning and developing teaching material for courses? 

What do you think are the main challenges facing a lecturer when teaching a large group of undergraduates? 

How would your teaching methods vary according to the size and level of groups you would be teaching – if at all? 

How do you address different learning styles in your teaching? 

What experience do you have of using e-learning systems? 

How do you evaluate your teaching effectiveness? 

Teaching is important but in your view should a department give it as much of a priority as research? 

What experience have you had of supervising research projects or students? 

Related Links 

Further support with interviews - interview tips  

AGCAS survey - Getting the first lecturing job  

This article was published on 2024-05-14

Stanford University

Interviewing and Talking with Prospective Faculty

The graduate application process varies broadly and depends on your specific academic program.

The variations might include:

  • Admission decision based only on an online application
  • In the cases where you are admitted to work with a specific faculty member, you should contact faculty directly
  • A short list of applicants are invited for an on-campus interview trip
  • Applicants are admitted first, and then invited for an on-campus recruiting trip

Because of the range of possible application processes, it’s critical to learn about each program's requirements. For some graduate programs, you will need to directly contact faculty because a specific professor will decide whether to admit you as their own graduate student. In these circumstances, make sure to contact the faculty directly. (When contacting faculty for the first time, see the side box below for suggestions.)

It will be important in your decision-making process to determine if you envision working closely with that faculty member and if you have complementary working and communication styles. The faculty member will also want to assess your experiences and how you work by communicating with you. Thus you will want to sharpen your interview skills as you communicate with faculty.

Some graduate programs will invite you to conduct a phone interview or invite you to the university for a campus visit (common in the biosciences). The interview is your opportunity to more thoroughly demonstrate that you have what it takes to be in the graduate program. You will want to show your understanding and enthusiasm for the research that you have done. Some suggestions to prepare for the interview are provided below.

Bryen E Irving's portrait

My advice to the next generation of scholars is to never be afraid to ask for help. At times it may seem like brilliance is a singular, herculean effort, but a lot of great ideas have been shaped and molded from the minds of many. Whether it’s your advisors or peers, we’re all here to help. Never be afraid to acknowledge that you don’t fully understand something—collaboration is encouraged and celebrated.

— Bryen Irving, PhD candidate in Physics

1. Before the interview

  • For campus visits, it’s OK to ask what is expected of you and how to prepare (e.g., if your travel expenses will be covered, how to dress, if you should bring your CV, etc.).
  • Learn about the faculty and people you will be meeting or communicating with. Read about the research interests of the faculty, including abstracts or papers. Prepare at least 1-2 specific research questions for each interview.
  • Review the research that you conducted. If it was published or presented at a conference, reread the paper, abstract, or poster. Prepare a brief (1-2 minutes) oral summary of your past work. What was the research question? How did you address it? What did you specifically complete and achieve? What are some possible questions that faculty might ask?
  • Prepare detailed questions you have of the program you are considering. Generic questions (e.g., tell me about your program) indicate that you didn’t read the basics on their website, and so won’t leave a positive impression. Determine what’s important for you (specific research facilities, professional development activities, student groups, opportunities for collaborations, etc.) and research them online.
  • Determine and list the questions you have about the program, university, and location of where you are visiting. What are you hoping to see and learn?
  • Ask a peer or friend (e.g. a current grad student or postdoc who is familiar with grad school interviews) to help you sharpen your interview skills.
  • Come prepared to the mock interview in professional attire and with your materials (CV, papers, etc.).
  • If possible, video record your mock interview. Although many cringe at watching themselves, the video can be incredibly helpful in revealing blind spots.
  • If your interview will be conducted via Skype or another video platform, some helpful tips are provided in this YouTube video .
  • After the mock interview, ask your peer for honest and critical feedback. Listen actively without being defensive and allow your peer to speak openly, which will help you improve.

2. During the interview

  • For campus visits, dress appropriately (usually business casual, but be comfortable); be on time; organize your papers (e.g., résumés/CVs, slides or images, questions).
  • Even for phone/Skype interviews, dressing professionally will help you to mentally prepare for the interview.
  • Speak enthusiastically about your work. Highlight your research accomplishments and/or professional growth. If asked to speak about a weakness, phrase your answer in a forward-looking manner to demonstrate learning and growth, and awareness of your weaknesses.
  • You’ll want to sound positive and enthusiastic. But avoid excessive enthusiasm, which could be interpreted as naiveté or desperation. This is a tough balance to achieve, so practice with others.
  • Listen actively to your faculty interviewers as they talk about their research.
  • Ask questions, using your prepared lists. Take notes to remember comments and suggestions.

3. After the interview

  • Summarize your perceptions of the program, university, and environment. Make a table listing the pros and cons. List the people whom you met on your visit, and write a brief comment for each person to help you remember your interactions. Is it a good fit for you?
  • Email your interviewers and thank them for their time. Follow up if you promised to provide any materials. Even if you determine that you don’t wish to work with that faculty member, this isn’t the time to burn bridges, and you might bump into them in the future.
  • Reflect on your interview performance and make adjustments to strengthen your next interview.

contacting faculty for the first time

Your first contact with faculty is absolutely critical, because you don’t get second chances to make a first impression. You’ll need to craft an initial email message that will clearly communicate who you are, and why you’re reaching out to them specifically.

This can be very challenging because you’ll need to be clear and concise in a brief email message. Provided below is a sample email message with additional suggestions.

Don’t simply copy this message, but this example provides a template that can be used to customize your own initial email message.

Subject: Ecology PhD Program at Stanford

Dear Professor Peter Beak, I am currently a senior and McNair Scholar at UC Davis, and would greatly appreciate an opportunity to briefly speak with you about your research and the Ecology and Evolution PhD program at Stanford. I am seeking to pursue a PhD in Ecology, and my research advisor (Professor Emilio Laca) spoke highly about Stanford’s graduate program. I am particularly fascinated by studies on the influence of infectious diseases on population dynamics and community interactions. I have conducted similar research here at UC Davis, and also at Northwestern University using freshwater plankton, and won an oral presentation award at ABRMCS. These are further described in my attached CV. I carefully reviewed your website, and would greatly appreciate speaking with you on the phone (~15 min) to learn more about future directions of your research, particularly on developing mathematical models. I am available during these time slots. Please let me know if any of these work for you, and I’d be happy to offer more time slots if needed.

Sept 1, Wed 12-5 pm Sept 3, Fri 12-7 pm Sept 6, Mon 12-7 pm Sept 7, Tue 9-12 pm

Steve Lee McNair Scholar splee "at" (cell) 650-555-1234

  • Use a brief subject line. Avoid vague subjects (e.g., “question” or “request”).
  • Address them by their full name and professional title. Don’t use “Hi” or “Hey” or other informal greetings.
  • In the very first sentence, quickly summarize who you are and why you’re contacting them. If a person known to the professor suggested that you reach out to them, include that info also.
  • Explain why you’re contacting them specifically. Describe your highlights briefly. Attach CV and/or link to LinkedIn profile. Include other links as needed.
  • State your request; be specific. Make it easy for them to say yes to your request; provide ample times when you’re available.
  • Include your full name. If you’re in a graduate prep program, include info. Include your email and phone.

Stanford University

© Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305

Advice for STEM PhD interviews and common questions

PhD interviews are part of almost every PhD application process, and they are an opportunity for you to get to know the faculty of the institution/university you’re applying to, and to demonstrate your potential to embark on a research project. This blog post provides examples of some of the most common interview questions, and advice on how to prepare a presentation on either a research project you’ve done (e.g. during an internship, bachelor’s thesis, or a master’s programme). I am currently doing a PhD at Oxford in Genomic Medicine and Statistics, and I applied to several biomedical science, biochemistry, and genetics PhD programmes in the UK in 2022 - below are questions taken from interviews at Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College.

At the start of the interview, you will often be asked warm-up questions such as “tell us about yourself in 2 minutes”, “why do you want to do a PhD?”, “what experiences have you had that could help you during a PhD?”, and “what makes you different compared to other candidates?”. It’s a good idea to brainstorm answers to these questions in advance, which should help to calm your nerves, and help you communicate to the panel why you’d make a great PhD student on their programme.

Often PhD programmes will ask you to present a previous research project for 5-10 minutes, either with or without slides. If they ask you to make slides, they will often specify the maximum number of slides: keep to the slide count, but you can use animations. Your slides should be simple and uncluttered and don’t have anything on your slides that you don’t talk about. Make sure you explain enough background so that someone from a general science background can understand you - your interviewers are very unlikely to have experience in your current field. Furthermore, explain why you are doing/did specific experiments or made particular choices - this needs to come before the “how”. You can end with the implications of your findings and why they are important, along with possible future directions for your work. Practice the presentation in front of friends, family, and members of your current research group if you have the opportunity, and if your interview is over Zoom, it’s a good idea to have a rehearsal with a friend to make sure you’re as confident as possible for the real thing.

Your interviewers are very likely to ask you some questions about this presentation. They may ask why your experimental setup is a good model for what you’re investigating, what previous findings your work relies on, what other labs are doing research in your current field, or what is new in your current/previous research field(s). They may also ask how you ensure that you generate high-quality data, what your controls were (positive and negative), or how a particular technique you used works. Another interesting question I was asked at one of my PhD interviews was “what would you include in a grant based on your current findings?”. Alongside these technical questions, your interviewers may ask what you found challenging in your project, and what you enjoyed the most. One of the best things to get across in your answers to these questions is how they have prepared you for a PhD - how did they help you become more resilient, acquire problem-solving skills, or learn a particularly useful technique?

Aside from your scientific abilities, they may also want to know what you do outside the lab for work-life balance, how you deal with any conflict in the lab, and what you’re looking for in an ideal PhD supervisor. The interviewers also often ask students to tell them about a time you failed or troubleshooted, alongside “what are you doing to work on your weaknesses?”. The purpose of these questions is to find out whether you’re prepared for the challenges that arise during a PhD.

Some PhD programmes will send you a paper in advance of the interview to present to them. If this is the case for you, it’s a good idea to present the knowledge gap this paper was trying to fill, how they solved it, and what this means. They may also ask what you liked/didn’t like about the paper, whether the authors make unsupported claims in the discussion, and what further work could be done to build on the findings.

Interviews often end with the panel asking whether you have any questions for them - remember, this is your opportunity to see if the programme is a good fit for you! Examples of questions you could ask are: “what surprises PhD students when they start a PhD?”, “are there opportunities for teaching?”, and “what do you like about working here as a group leader?”.

I hope this information was useful, and further information can be found on the Find a PhD website 🔗 and the YouTube channels of Dr Andy Stapleton 🔗, Hira Javaid 🔗 and Dr Amina Yonis 🔗.

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • View all journals
  • Explore content
  • About the journal
  • Publish with us
  • Sign up for alerts
  • 25 June 2024

How researchers navigate a PhD later in life

  • Elizabeth Landau 0

Elizabeth Landau is a science writer based in Washington DC.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Krista Bresock sitting on top of a skate ramp wearing roller skates, graduation cap and gown

On a roll: Krista Bresock celebrates in her local skate park after graduating with a PhD in mathematics from West Virginia University, Morgantown, aged 41. Credit: Michael Germana

Krista Bresock sat crying in her professor’s office. She had to discuss one of five questions with her professor, in person. It was the concluding step of her final exam in functional analysis, the last course that she needed to complete for her PhD in mathematics. He’d shuffled a set of five cards, and she’d picked Card Number Two — corresponding to the one problem that she had not fully studied.

Unlike her fellow students studying intractable maths problems, Bresock was in her late thirties redoing coursework that she had failed years earlier. As a full-time maths teacher at West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown, she could find time to study only during nights and weekends.

“Problem Number Two was just collateral damage to being able to maintain this life of work full-time and be in grad school full-time,” Bresock remembers. She “fell to her knees” in relief when, a week later, she learnt she’d still got an A- in the course.

Many think of doctoral degrees as the domain of people in their twenties. Yet according to the US National Science Foundation, 17% of people who gained a PhD in science or engineering in the United States in 2022, the most recent year for which figures are available, were aged 36 or older . In some countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Iceland, Greece and Israel, the median age for entering a doctoral programme is 32 or higher, according to 2017 data from the OECD in Paris 1 .

phd second interview

Resources for mid-career scientists

A PhD requires a vast commitment of time and energy, often lasting five or more years. Stipends, when available, are often lower than salaries for other full-time jobs or professions. What’s more, students might have to move to another city, or even a different country, to attend their chosen course. Although difficult for any age group, those constraints can create different challenges for prospective students in their thirties, forties and beyond than for their younger colleagues.

At the same time, age often brings wisdom and self-confidence, qualities that can help older students to cope with a strenuous academic life. “The extra ten years that I was out doing other things gave me a lot of perspective and maturity to the way in which I think and live, and I think that was a big reason why I’ve succeeded,” says Peter Swanton, a 36-year-old graduate student working towards a doctoral degree in astrophysics at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Motivation is key

For Bresock, a doctoral degree represented “unfinished business”. She had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction from the age of 16, but hit a dangerous low point in early 2013, when she was a graduate student at WVU the first time round. She dropped out and checked herself into an in-patient programme, but still drank heavily afterwards. With the support of friends, family and Alcoholics Anonymous, she became sober in July 2013.

Bresock then taught maths at WVU, first as an adjunct and then as a full-time instructor, but she didn’t forget her incomplete doctorate. Finally, at the age of 37, she re-enrolled. “This little voice was like, ‘You have more to say. You have more to do. You have this thing sitting on the back burner that is kind of eating away at you,’” she says.

Despite her drive to finish the degree, motivating herself was “really hard sometimes”, she says, “because if I didn’t finish, no one would care: I would just not finish and still have this job and be fine.” One of her top tips for others looking to pursue a doctorate in mid-life is to fully understand and reflect on their motivations. If the goal is “more money”, that might not be enough, she says.

Before returning to his studies, Swanton held a variety of jobs, including hauling sugar cane, working in nightclub security and tutoring in secondary schools. He has this advice for anyone who’s considering a doctorate: make sure you’re “doing it because you love it”. For him, that has meant finding ways to combine telescopic investigations of cosmic objects, such as active galactic nuclei, with preserving folklore about the cosmos from the Gamilaraay, the people of his Aboriginal culture.

Peter Swanton preparing a telescope in an observatory dome at dusk

Peter Swanton, a 36-year-old graduate student in cultural astronomy at the Australian National University in Canberra, says that his previous work experience has given him the maturity to cope with the strains of academic life. Credit: Lannon Harley/ANU

Swanton’s heritage influences both his academic interests and the way in which he wants to communicate them. For example, the Gamilaraay language was originally a purely oral one. So, rather than just writing “a big block of text” for his dissertation, Swanton says that he would like to include elders and community members telling their own stories, and to bridge their knowledge with the Western understanding of the universe.

“My success has come down to finding something I am passionate about, and not concerning myself with future employability, which was the focus of my earlier attempts at academia and ultimately the reason why I didn’t succeed” at the time, he says.

Finding mentors

María Teresa Martínez Trujillo arrived at the Paris Institute of Political Studies to embark on a graduate programme in political science at the age of 32. Having spent her whole life up to that point in Mexico, she felt isolated from her classmates because of linguistic and cultural barriers, in addition to being the oldest student in her cohort. Martínez Trujillo had already had a career in the Mexican government, including working as an adviser to the secretary of the interior, yet she felt “less brave” than younger students, and had many more questions about reading materials.

She also felt ashamed about her lack of fluency in French. Over time, with the help of a therapist, she learnt to be less judgemental of herself and to overcome her impostor syndrome. Classmates helped her to proofread some of her assignments and she focused on improving her language skills.

María Teresa Martínez Trujillo looking at a map whilst sat next to a fence near a church in Paris

Cultural and linguistic barriers left María Teresa Martínez Trujillo feeling isolated from her peers when she arrived from Mexico, aged 32, to embark on a graduate programme at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Credit: Hiram Romero

Martínez Trujillo’s advisers — Hélène Combes and Gilles Favarel-Garrigues — were key for her as she dived into reading and fieldwork on the relationship between drug trafficking and the business world in Morelia, Mexico, for her master’s project. “They let me go to the ‘forest’ and spend time and lose myself,” she says, adding that when she felt lost or stuck, her advisers helped her to find her way.

Time and money

Finances often pose a problem for graduate students who don’t already have savings and support, including those who have worked previously. Even with tuition covered, and a stipend to help towards living expenses, making ends meet can be challenging, especially for students who have other financial responsibilities, such as providing for family members or maintaining a home.

Martínez Trujillo received a stipend, but she spent almost all of it on rent and didn’t want to ask her family for money. She worked as a nanny, consulted for a Mexican think tank and spent summers working in Mexico on friends’ projects. “I’d never have free days,” she says.

Bresock wishes she could have spent more time away from both work and studies. “I did a terrible job of that. Make sure you make time for yourself. That dissertation will still be there, if you go take a walk, or if you go swim or whatever, for an hour out of your life.”

phd second interview

Training: Data Analysis: Planning and Preparing

Like Bresock, Marc Gentile kept a full-time job while doing his PhD in astrophysics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne in his mid-to-late-fortiess. He needed to earn enough to support both himself and his wife, and to address other financial responsibilities.

“The top advice would be establishing effective work and study habits right from the start,” he says. “In my case, time was the most precious resource, and I had to be very well organized to make the most of it.”

Gentile would work on his doctoral assignments from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. each weekday, before leaving for his day job. He would then read articles while commuting by train, and tackle more PhD tasks or further reading in the evenings. “I was told that I was, on average, more productive and better organized than most other, younger students, because you develop such skills when you work professionally,” he said.

Family matters

When Wendy Bohon walked across the stage to receive her doctorate in geology, she was nearly 38 years old and pregnant with twins. She wound up at Arizona State University in Tempe after beginning her career as an actor, and then becoming fascinated with earthquakes after one shook her apartment in 1999.

For her dissertation, Bohon conducted fieldwork in India on two large fault systems, focusing on how fast they had been moving, their intersections and their frequency of earthquakes — as well as the growth of mountains around them — over the past 34 million years. Today, she heads the Seismic Hazards and Earthquake Engineering branch of the California Geological Survey in Sacramento.

Wendy Bohon wearing a graduation cap and gown whilst visibly pregnant

Wendy Bohon was nearly 38, and pregnant with twins, when she graduated from Arizona State University in Tempe with a PhD in geology. Credit: Linda Bohon

As a student, her desire to expand her family had put her in a different life stage from younger peers. She had met her husband, who already had a young daughter, while in her graduate programme. And whereas her classmates had wanted to avoid pregnancy, she had struggled to conceive. “That emotional disconnect and the difference in their reality and my reality — it was really tough,” she says. Ultimately, she and her husband chose to try the intensive process of in vitro fertilization, which Bohon mostly kept secret. At the same time, she was helping to co-parent her husband’s daughter, and the couple were given full custody of the girl when she was seven.

Bohon coped with parenting and finishing graduate school with the help of “a built-in village of people around who could step in to help us”. Other graduate students would play the card game UNO with the girl, or colour pictures with her. And Bohon’s mentor, along with the mentor’s husband, became the child’s godparents.

“In a lot of ways, it was easier to parent during my PhD, because my schedule was relatively flexible, so I could stay home with her when she was sick, or attend school functions,” Bohon says. What’s more, she adds, “having a kiddo that needed me helped me to set and keep healthier boundaries than I think I would have otherwise”.

Charlotte Olsen, a postdoctoral researcher in astrophysics at the New York City College of Technology, earned a PhD at the age of 42 and now investigates the factors that influence star formation and galaxy evolution. Olsen says that working on her doctorate presented challenges for her marriage. “I’m not gonna lie: grad school is really rough on a relationship,” she says — adding that, especially at the beginning, “it’s an incredibly stressful time”.

Among the responsibilities that older students might have is taking care of ageing parents. Olsen recalls that during her qualifying exams, she hadn’t heard from her mother, who was 76 years old at the time, for a while. She assumed that her mother wanted to give her space during that stressful time. Later, she found out that her mother’s appendix had ruptured, necessitating surgery and a stay in a hospital’s intensive-care unit.

Through it all, Olsen’s spouse was an invaluable source of emotional support. “Having somebody who is there with you along the way” helps a lot, she says.

What happens next?

Not everyone who gets a PhD stays in their field. Gentile, now 60, works as a data scientist for a Swiss television station. He had a postdoctoral research position for five years after graduation — but for several reasons, including financial ones, he could not find an academic job afterwards. “If I had really wanted to continue in astrophysics, then I would have had to move abroad; it’s difficult now,” he says.

Still, Gentile found the PhD experience rewarding and worthwhile. As well as acquiring problem-solving techniques, he learnt coding and data-science skills, such as machine learning and statistical methods. And he has used all of these in subsequent jobs, including his current one.

His graduate work also remains relevant. Some of the algorithms and software that he worked on during his PhD helped to inform the tools that scientists will use to analyse data from the European Space Agency’s Euclid observatory, which aims to explore dark energy and dark matter.

Bresock received a promotion at West Virginia University after earning her PhD in maths in December 2022, aged 41. Her dissertation examined how students understand the definite integral, a fundamental concept in calculus, when solving different kinds of problem.

Today, she has greater empathy for her own students because of her own struggles as a graduate student. Finishing her doctorate remains one of her most satisfying accomplishments, she says. “When people ask me what’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life, it’s: get sober, and then, finish my PhD. That’s a close second.”


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators (OECD, 2019).

Download references

Related Articles

phd second interview

  • Research management

How to network with the brightest minds in science

How to network with the brightest minds in science

Career Feature 26 JUN 24

What it means to be a successful male academic

What it means to be a successful male academic

Career Column 26 JUN 24

Is science’s dominant funding model broken?

Is science’s dominant funding model broken?

Editorial 26 JUN 24

The strategy behind one of the most successful labs in the world

The strategy behind one of the most successful labs in the world

Comment 26 JUN 24

How I’m using AI tools to help universities maximize research impacts

How I’m using AI tools to help universities maximize research impacts

World View 26 JUN 24

Osaka University Immunology Frontier Research Center Postdoctoral Researcher

IFReC, Osaka University in Japan offers Advanced Postdoc Positions for Immunology, Cell Biology, Bioinformatics and Bioimaging.

Suita Campus, Osaka University in Osaka, Japan

Immunology Frontier Research Center, Osaka University

phd second interview

PostDoc Researcher, Magnetic Recording Materials Group, National Institute for Materials Science

Starting date would be after January 2025, but it is negotiable.

Tsukuba, Japan (JP)

National Institute for Materials Science

phd second interview

Tenure-Track/Tenured Faculty Positions

Tenure-Track/Tenured Faculty Positions in the fields of energy and resources.

Suzhou, Jiangsu, China

School of Sustainable Energy and Resources at Nanjing University

phd second interview

Postdoctoral Associate- Statistical Genetics

Houston, Texas (US)

Baylor College of Medicine (BCM)

phd second interview

Senior Research Associate (Single Cell/Transcriptomics Senior Bioinformatician)

Metabolic Research Laboratories at the Clinical School, University of Cambridge are recruiting 3 senior bioinformatician specialists to create a dynam

Cambridge, Cambridgeshire (GB)

University of Cambridge

phd second interview

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Quick links

  • Explore articles by subject
  • Guide to authors
  • Editorial policies


  1. PhD Interview Questions + Answers

    phd second interview

  2. PhD Interview

    phd second interview

  3. Self Introduction for PhD Interview with Sample

    phd second interview

  4. PhD Interview Questions: The Dos and Don'ts of a PhD Interview

    phd second interview

  5. Introduce yourself in a PhD interview (4 simple steps + examples

    phd second interview

  6. 23 PhD Interview tips

    phd second interview


  1. Should you do a second PhD, doctorate or doctor of philosophy?

  2. My IISc PhD Interview Experience (Chemistry)

  3. Why do PhD students suffer from perfectionism?

  4. PhD interview tips part:2 #phd #australia #students #science #research #interview #college

  5. How to prepare for PhD interviews||what to study||Books to study||IITs&IISc Interviews||

  6. another PhD decisions reaction video


  1. Tips for second interview : r/PhD

    Congrats on a second interview, that's a good sign! Have someone practice call you on whatever platform the interview will take place before the actual interview. Pay attention to connectivity, sound quality, (if it's a video, lighting, what is in the background of your video screen, etc.). Also a good idea to establish a back up communication ...

  2. Common PhD Interview Questions

    Common PhD Interview Questions. In this guide, we'll share 11 common PhD interview questions and our suggestions on how to answer them. A PhD interview is an essential step in securing a doctorate position. This is because it enables the prospective supervisor to get to know you better and determine whether you'd be a good fit for the project.

  3. PhD Interview Questions and Answers (13 Questions + Answers)

    Most PhD applications include an interview. This allows your university (and perhaps even your prospective supervisor) to discuss the PhD with you in more detail. This article lists some of the most common PhD interview questions along with their answers. The goal is to help you prepare for a PhD interview and pass with flying colors.

  4. The PhD Interview

    Depending on the format for your PhD interview it could involve: A formal question and answer session in front of a postgraduate recruitment panel. A presentation, based on your research proposal or area of expertise. A one-to-one discussion with your prospective supervisor.

  5. PhD Interview Questions and Answers

    Be honest about the things you find challenging, but identify them as training needs and discuss how you expect to improve upon them as part of your PhD. Do answer: I feel that I'm a good written communicator. My existing academic and professional work demonstrates an ability to put forward ideas clearly and concisely.

  6. To ace your Ph.D. program interviews, prepare to answer—and ...

    To ace your Ph.D. program interviews, prepare to answer—and ask—these key questions. You've made it to the last step of the Ph.D. application process: the interview. Congratulations! But amid the excitement and butterflies, don't neglect the crucial next step: preparation. Grad school interviews—in which aspiring graduate students meet ...

  7. PhD Interview Questions & Answers

    PhD interview questions can be very tricky to answer and this is for a good reason. Studying for a PhD is an amazing academic achievement, as well as serious time commitment, and it's certainly not one for the faint-hearted.Once you've decided to embark on this academic path, your PhD interviewer needs to be sure that you are able to rise to the challenge and are academically capable of ...

  8. How to Prepare for a PhD Interview Step-by-step

    The interview is a big step in your journey towards achieving a graduate degree. The ProFellow community is rooting for you - best of luck! If you want to learn more about PhD funding, get your copy of ProFellow's FREE Directory of Fully Funded Graduate Programs and Full Funding Awards! If you want to learn more about PhD interviews, check ...

  9. Questions To Ask In A PhD Interview: PhD Interview Questions

    Asking the right questions during your PhD interview is a powerful tool to assess the fit with your prospective supervisor and research group. It demonstrates your commitment to your academic career and the specific PhD programme. This dialogue is your chance to explore the research field, understand the expectations of the PhD project, and ...

  10. How to Prepare for a PhD Interview

    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 ...

  11. phd

    I am applying for a PhD program and received a second interview invitation from my potential supervisor. She said she would like to discuss the potential direction of the project and my ideas for this project. My background isn't a perfect match with this project, so I have been working on the basic knowledge of this field (which is neurology).

  12. Questions to Ask During Your PhD Interview

    You're asking this to firstly work out how experienced the professor is at supervising students, based purely on the numbers previously supervised. The reason to ask the second question of how many students gained PhDs is to get an idea of the supervisor's track record of successful supervision. The lower the percentage of students that ...

  13. Key PhD Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

    Answer Your PhD Interview Questions With Confidence. Preparing for a PhD interview requires careful reflection on your research proposal, experiences, and motivations. By anticipating the questions that may arise and thinking through your responses, you can present yourself confidently and make a strong impression on the interview panel.

  14. 21-Point Interview Presentation Checklist For PhDs

    Always ask for clarification. And, once you know what they want, it's time to prepare. Here is a 21-point checklist for PhDs preparing for an industry interview presentation…. 1. Know your audience and tailor your talk to them.

  15. 5 steps to nailing your PhD interview

    Step 4: Come up with some interview questions. Like a job interview, it's a good idea for you to come up with some prepared questions to ask the panel. The 5 steps to nailing a PhD interview is a series of tasks, so having questions to ask is important . This provides an additional opportunity for you to not only check that this university ...

  16. PhD 2nd Interview Advice

    Hi everyone, I've been asked to interview for a second time for a funded PhD position, and I'd appreciate any advice or general insight into how to prep for a second interview! 😊 The PhD will be focused on health resilience and is out of a university in the Netherlands. For context, I have a Master's of Public Health, specialising in Global Health and Health Disparities. I published ...

  17. Top 15 PhD interview questions that you must be ready to answer!

    PhD interview is a crucial part of the admission process. To help you prepare, we've put together a list of the best PhD interview questions! Check it out! ... you need to make an official application to your grad school and answer their questions. Then, in the second step, you may be invited for a PhD interview during which a panel, ...

  18. Prepare for an academic interview

    Find advice on presentations for academic interviews on the website: - tips for presentations . Part of your preparation should include thinking about the questions which might come up during the interview. Academic interviewers will focus on questions about your: previous research, including research methodologies and skills

  19. Interviewing and Talking with Prospective Faculty

    2. During the interview. For campus visits, dress appropriately (usually business casual, but be comfortable); be on time; organize your papers (e.g., résumés/CVs, slides or images, questions). Even for phone/Skype interviews, dressing professionally will help you to mentally prepare for the interview.

  20. Advice for STEM PhD interviews and common questions

    This blog post provides examples of some of the most common interview questions, and advice on how to prepare a presentation on either a research project you've done (e.g. during an internship, bachelor's thesis, or a master's programme). I am currently doing a PhD at Oxford in Genomic Medicine and Statistics, and I applied to several ...

  21. Second interview, what to expect? : r/PhD

    There are two different positions, one in imaging and another one in risk prediction. First Interview: mostly asked the typical questions, whh a PhD, tell about experience, how experienced I am at programming, whats my experience with AI. You didn't tell the field of study, you didn't tell the country, you didn't tell what they already asked ...

  22. PhD Second round of interview

    PhD Second round of interview - Tips & Suggestions. So I have got interview call for a PhD position and the first round was completed. In this round of interview (hangouts) I have presented my previous work, future research plans and they asked me some general questions (2 PIs were there). After few days they sent me a mail that they liked the ...

  23. How researchers navigate a PhD later in life

    Krista Bresock sat crying in her professor's office. She had to discuss one of five questions with her professor, in person. It was the concluding step of her final exam in functional analysis ...