Postgraduate degrees work a little differently from undergraduate degrees. You’ll have more of a focus on research longer form writing like dissertations.
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.
How to answer PhD interview questions
There isn’t necessarily a hard-and-fast rule for students who are answering difficult questions in a PhD interview, but the best thing for you to do is to remain confident, relaxed and attentive. And remember, be yourself!
These are some common questions for you to be asked:
Can you tell us about yourself?
It's common in all university interviews as well as job interviews. Talk about yourself, but make it relevant to your PhD and 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. As you will be specialising in a specific area when working on your thesis, if you already have some initial ideas and it is great to showcase this too.
What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
Another one to add to the bumper book of Commonly Asked PhD interview questions! Again, be honest.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 for it.
What impact would you like your PhD to have?
This can feel like an odd question, but universities like to know that students know what impact their studies will have. Of course, it’s important to see how the PhD will impact you, but also think of the broader picture.
How will it potentially affect the wider world? How will it shape the subject your studying or current areas of thought within the subject area? Universities like to know how you plan to use what you've learned in a real-world context and how it adds to the field you’re studying.
Why do you think you are the right candidate for this course?
This is a pretty common question to be asked. This is generally done to see why this specific course appeals to you and what you would bring to the university if you were to study it.
Universities like to be flattered. This is a chance to speak about the excellent facilities on offer at the university, or the standard of teaching you’ve heard so much about. Maybe there’s a specific course leader or lecturer you’re looking to learn from! It’s also a chance to speak about the course content. What was it about this course, specifically, that drew you to 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 for asking a question you’re least expecting. 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 miss out on this opportunity to gain a better understanding of the PhD programme. 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 foolish, it’s purely there to give you the chance to voice a concern or to ask a question that you haven’t previously asked.
What questions to ask in a PhD interview
After you’ve answered their questions, your PhD interview is great chance to have the panel answer some of your own questions. This is also a great way to highlight your enthusiasm for the course! But what should you ask? It’s good to focus on the questions you know you’ll need answering throughout your PhD and before presenting your thesis at the very end.
These are some examples of questions to ask when in your interview.
Will I have 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. This 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?
Funding arrangements are important to ask about. 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. That doesn’t mean there isn’t funding available so definitely ask how they can support your studies.
Are there any related programmes or events run during the course of my PhD?
This should be the number one question! Not only does it show that you are interested in the PhD, but also shows that you’re 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 as well. Again, itshows your interest in the development that the PhD can offer you and that you’are also interested in improving the skills you already have.
Make sure you ask what things that will help you the most. While it can be tempting to try and think outside the box and offer the clichéd fantasy of asking the totally left-field question, this could potentially derail the interview and not give you what you want out of the process.
More and more universities are opting for virtual interviews rather than face-to-face.
Universities will use platforms like Zoom to conduct their online interviews. If you're a student from Manchester, for example, and you're going to be studying in Plymouth, it may easier for the university to do thisvirtually.
While it’s virtual, still dress smartly - no pjs allowed! Make sure you look presentable and find a place with good signal, good lighting and has very little noise. While it may be tempting to wear a shirt on top and trackies on the bottom, we’d recommend dressing from head to toe - it can really help to 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 aren’t specific F1 Visa interview questions for PhD students. One thing to do is make sure that your F1 Visa, or your J1 Visa or even your Tier 4 Student Visa, allows you to study a PhD in the UK - you’d be surprised how many students haven’t checked this!