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

Establish rapport with us and show us your social skills.

“Brand” yourself. Show your personality. We must remember you for something else 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

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 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 from 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.


Potential PhD interview questions to help you prepare

Common PhD Interview Questions


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