How to Ace Your PhD Interview: Prepare to Discuss These 10 Topics

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Acing Your PhD Interview

Acing Your PhD Interview

While not all PhD programs require interviews, some do (including many overseas). If you’re invited to a PhD interview, take full advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given by preparing effectively – review your research on the department, prepare to talk about your PhD research goals, etc. (P.S. A mock interview can be helpful!).

PhD interview must-know tips

Here’s what you need to be prepared to discuss at your PhD Interview:

  1. Your PhD goals
  2. Why this PhD program
  3. Your research interests
  4. Important issues in your field
  5. Your PhD resume and statement of purpose
  6. Relevant grant projects
  7. Teaching/mentoring experiences
  8. Your fit with your target PhD program
  9. Questions about the PhD program
  10. Life as a PhD student

A deeper look at the most common PhD interview topics

Your PhD goals

Be prepared to discuss why you want to pursue your PhD, what your short-term and long-term goals are, etc. At this stage in the admissions process, you should have already spent plenty of time thinking about and discussing your goals. Now is your opportunity to share these goals with an expert in your field. Be specific, use details, and show the breadth and depth of your passion and knowledge in the area.

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Why this PhD program

Why did you choose this PhD program? Review your notes on the department, the research agendas of the faculty you’re interested in working with, etc. What unique opportunities would you have as a student in this department?

Your research interests

Be prepared to discuss your research interests – both your broad field and your specific research plans. What are your goals for your PhD? Whom do you want to work with? How will your work make a contribution to your field? What questions are most exciting to you?

Important issues in your field

Be ready to talk intelligently about the important issues/questions in your field. (If the interviewer mentions a book or article you’re not familiar with, don’t pretend to have read it – acknowledge you haven’t gotten to that article yet, but show that you’re interested in seeing how it relates to your work. If you can, refer to related articles or books that you have read.) Show that you’ve done research and that you are eager to continue researching and addressing issues or challenges in your field of interest.

Your PhD resume and statement of purpose

Review your CV and SOP. Be prepared to discuss the experiences that have prepared you for doctoral study (especially research work, your master’s thesis, undergrad thesis, any assistantships or significant fieldwork/labwork). If your CV has gaps – especially with regard to the specialized skills that are important in your field – be ready to explain how you have gained those skills (or will gain them prior to starting your degree).

Relevant grant projects

If you’re interviewing for a position on a grant-funded project, explain how your research goals relate to the goals of the project. This is especially pertinent overseas, where you may have applied for a PhD spot as part of a specific project.

Teaching/mentoring experiences

If the program expects PhD students to serve as teaching assistants, be prepared to talk about the teaching/mentoring experiences you’ve had and why you want to be a teacher/scholar).

Your fit with your target PhD program

By interviewing you, the department is also trying to get a sense of who you are as a person (and as a potential colleague). They might ask general questions about your experiences, your taste in books, your undergrad experience, etc. – just to start a conversation. Be yourself.

Questions about the PhD program

Remember that the interview is a two-way conversation – be ready to ask intelligent questions about the department. Don’t ask about things that you should already know from researching the program, such as basic requirements. (If the information is on the school’s website, then it qualifies as too basic.)

Life as a PhD student

If your interview is on campus, visiting is also a great opportunity to meet current students and get a feel for the campus and department community. You’ll be able to get a sense of how happy students seem, how stressed they are, how respected they seem to feel – factors you can’t learn without being there. You can also learn something about day-to-day life for a student in the program: Where do students and faculty live? What are their schedules like? Does the department seem like an environment you could flourish in for the next several years?

An interview is a great opportunity for the PhD program to learn more about you – and for you to learn more about them. Take advantage of it!

Prep for your PhD interview with an admissions expert

The best way to prep for a PhD interview is to participate in a mock interview with a PhD admissions expert. That’s where we come in. Work one-on-one with an Accepted advisor to practice your interview, boost your confidence, and get the tools you need to truly impress the doctorate program adcom. Learn more about Accepted’s Mock Interview Services here.

PhD Mock Interview client feedback

Here is what a happy client says about his PhD interview prep experience:

“I’m very fortunate to have worked with Dr. Barry Rothman. I was very anxious, not only because of the unpredictable nature of graduate program admissions, but because I had been rejected by all programs that I applied to during the last year. So I decided to find someone very experienced to guide me through the process. This year, I get offers from 7 fully-funded PhD programs, including University of Michigan, University of Southern California, NYU, Teachers College Columbia University, UC Davis, and others, and a Master’s program from Harvard University. I’m extremely happy about my results, which really boosts my confidence. I would strongly recommend Dr. Rothman for anyone looking for graduate school application consulting. He is super warm, caring, relatable, and understanding personally, and also professional to work with.”

We look forward to helping you ace your interviews too! View our Mock Interview Services here.

Applying to grad school? Schedule a free discovery call to find out how Accepted can help you!

By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, former Accepted admissions consultant. Dr. Blustein has a BA and PhD from UCLA in English and Comparative Literature. She formerly worked as a Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center where she gained experience guiding applicants in areas of admissions and funding. Dr. Blustein’s clients have been accepted to top Master’s and PhD programs in dozens of fields across all disciplines. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

Related Resources:

Plotting Your Way to a PhD: 8 Topics in PhD Admissions, a free guide
• How to Be a Competitive PhD Applicant and Apply to the Best Programs for You
Applying to PhD Programs: When, Where, How, and Why?

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