Dos and Don'ts of a PhD Interview

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 certianly 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 are able to rise to the challenge and are academically capable of achieving this ultimate goal. And the interview is their way of maing sure that this is the case.

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 begininng your Doctorate journey.

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PhD Interview Questions: DOs

• “Brand” yourself. Show your personality. We must remember you for something else besides your academic skills.

• Establish rapport with us and show us your social 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.

• Avoid simple yes or no answers.

• All PhD interviews are different. Be flexible when preparing and don’t take anyone’s advice as definite.

• 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

• Don't pretend that you know things that you don’t. If you don’t know something, admit it. That is better than to give a weak answer signalling that you don’t know what you are talking about. 

• 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 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 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 come dressed as if you just woke up - make an effort!

• Don’t try to pretend that you are someone you're not. We don’t like pretentiousness.

• 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 talk jargon. It is not very likely that we were born in the same place or from the same background so we may not understand what you are saying.

• Don’t become too emotional during the PhD interview. Enthusiasm is good but not if it’s exaggerated.

Our table of potential PhD interview questions should help you prepare

Common PhD Interview Questions

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