PhD Interview Questions

By Ben Maples  · Nov 29th 2021

If you’re going to be studying a PhD, you will need to have an interview for your degree. We have a number of PhD interview questions to help you with your university interview.


Postgraduate degrees work a little differently from undergraduate degrees, you have more of a focus on research and on dissertations etc.

With a PhD, you will have an interview at the beginning of the course to see if you are a good fit for the course and a good fit for the subject itself. You will be asked to complete a dissertation, project or thesis to submit to a regulatory body, which will then require you to defend your thesis.

PhD interview questions

What questions to ask in a PhD interview

Plenty of students are always asking what questions should I ask at a PhD interview? There are a few PhD interview questions and answers that will come in handy for you at university and while it can be difficult to know what PhD interview questions to ask when there, it's best to ask the questions that you want answering.

These are some examples of questions to ask when in your interview.

Will I have the opportunities to present or publish?

This should be a very important question to ask your PhD panel. It’s not one of the more difficult PhD interview questions, but it will nevertheless allow you to work out what the opportunities are on your course. The best PhD programmes allow you an opportunity to teach or to present your findings and to communicate your ideas.

What are the supervision arrangements for the course?

All PhDs will have arrangements of some kind, and will also show your interviewer that you have a vested interest in how the course is taught, this is one of the more common PhD interview questions, but you’d be surprised just how far it can go.

What are the funding arrangements for the project?

PhD funding has always been a point of contention for some universities, with most bursaries, grants and scholarships not necessarily covering the necessities at PhD level for students. But it is an important question for you to ask.

Are there any related programmes or events run during the course of my PhD?

This should be the number one question really. Not only does it show that you are interested in the PhD, but it also shows that you are very interested in the extracurricular activities of the university and the course itself. Working on these projects might even beef up your student CV as well, and who can say no to those?

Are there any training sessions offered as part of my PhD?

This ranks pretty high in terms of good questions to ask at PhD interview. It again, shows that you are interested in the development that the PhD can offer you and you are also interested in improving the skills that you already have as well.

While it can be tempting to try and think outside the box and offer the cliched fantasy of asking the totally left-field question that wrongfoots your interviewer and forces them to give you a place on the course on the spot, don’t forget to ask the obvious questions too.

Make sure you ask what things that will help you the most.

PhD university interview questions

How to answer PhD interview questions

There isn’t necessarily a hard-and-fast rule for students that are answering difficult questions in a PhD interview, but the best thing for you to do is to remain confident, relaxed and attentive.

These are some common questions for you to be asked:

Can you tell us about yourself?

It's common in all university interviews, including university admission interviews and it’s also common at work interviews as well. The way to answer this is by telling the truth. Talk about yourself, but make it relevant to your PhD and to your study-subject, your interviewer is there to see how you will fit into university life, so the more passion you show for your course, the better it will be.

Why do you want to study a PhD?

This is one of the most common questions asked in a PhD interview and it’s a tough one to answer initially. The best thing for you to do is speak about your passion for the subject, your passion for study and your interest in a career in this area. Enthusiasm is key to answering this question.

What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?

Another one to add to the bumper book of Commonly Asked PhD Interview Questions. Be honest again, don't try to cut corners by listing a strength as a weakness, be honest about what you're good at and what you feel needs improvement. The best thing to do when listing a weakness is to follow it up with a short plan on how to plan to improve on it. Why are you interested in this subject/programme?: As with being asked why you want to study a PhD, let your enthusiasm and your passion do the talking here, don't oversell things too much, but show that you have a passion in it.

What are your future career plans?

This is again, fairly easy to answer, just tell the interviewer what you plan to do with your career and how you plan on moving forwards to achieving your goal. Make sure you mention how the PhD would aid that.

Tell us about a time that you have faced a problem and how did you deal with it?

This too is a very common question in job interviews as well, but for a PhD, it’s a bit more unlikely. That doesn’t mean it won’t get asked, interviewers have a knack of picking the question that you're not expecting and asking it. Just speak about how you have overcome any issues using some of your more impressive skills. It's best to mention something whereby your problem-solving skills led to the project succeeding.

Do you have any questions for us?

It always seems like a bizarre question, but don’t squander this opportunity. This is the chance for you to ask a question about something that you don't understand: you can ask anything you like (within reason) and you can find out more about the course. It’s not one of those questions to ask during a PhD interview that is designed to catch you out or make you look follish, it is purely there to give you the chance to voice a concern or to ask a question that you hadn’t previously asked.

PhD uni interview questions

Virtual interviews

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more universities have had to find different ways to conduct interviews with respect to social distancing. Even with social distancing out of the way, it’s often easier to conduct interviews from a remote location, rather than requiring you to travel to speak face-to-face.

Skype or Zoom are common ways for universities to ask students questions and to conduct university interviews. If you're a student from Manchester, for example, and you're going to be studying in Plymouth, it may not be worth either the university’s or your time to come down all that way to answer some interview questions for PhD candidates, so they may feel that it is better to ask you questions on Skype.

Now, it’s not always Skype, sometimes they may use a different software, but this is the most common, so you’ll need to prepare for some PhD Skype interview questions. It isn’t difficult to answer some PhD interview questions Skype, but there is a dress etiquette.

Dress as you would for almost any other university interview and comb your hair! Make sure you look presentable and find a place with good signal, good lighting and has very little noise. Also, whilst it may be tempting to only dress the top half of yourself in relevant interview attire, and have loungewear on the bottom half, we recommend dressing as though you are attending the interview in person, as this will help put you in the right frame of mind and keep you focused.

What if I’m in the UK on an F1 Visa?

This shouldn’t affect you too much. Those on an F1 Visa, are not going to be treated any differently, so there are not specific F1 Visa interview questions for PhD students, however, you should make sure that your F1 Visa, or your J1 Visa or even your Tier 4 Student Visa allow you to study a PhD in the UK, you’d be surprised how many students haven’t checked this.