Dos and Don'ts of a PhD Interview

PhD interview questions can be very tricky to answer and this is for a good reason. Doing a PhD is an amazing academic achievement and not one for the faint hearted - your PhD interviewer needs to be sure that you are academically capable and can rise to the challenge.

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:


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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.

• 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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The Dos And Don'ts Of A PhD Interview


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