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How to Answer Common Interview Questions

You cannot predict every question that you will be asked during a PhD interview, but certain questions are almost inevitable. Make sure you’re ready to impress the interviewer with these answers to common interview questions.

The question: Tell us about yourself.

The answer: Introduce yourself in a way that is relevant in the context of a PhD interview. The interviewer doesn’t need to know how many siblings you have or what your favourite colour is. Instead, tell them where you currently study, how you became interested in the field, what your research interests are, and why you applied to this program. You don’t have to go too in depth at this point, just give an overview.

The question: Why do you want to do a PhD?

The answer: For many researchers, their passion for the subject, love of research, and desire to contribute to the academic conversation are major drivers in their decision to do a doctorate. Do you have a research question that can only be answered by PhD-level research? Or what about a personal connection to the field? Make sure that however you answer you convey your passion and enthusiasm for the research field.

The question: Why are you interested in this program?

The answer: Convey your familiarity with the program, the department, and its people. Think back to why you decided to apply and then spend some time on the department’s website. Does the program offer a unique opportunity or take a different approach than other programs? Are there certain professors you are interested in working with? Did a professor with a connection to the school suggest you apply?

The question: What experience do you have that makes you a good candidate?

The answer: Mention the skills and qualifications that might not be obvious from your CV. Talk about courses you have taken that have taught you the necessary skills for graduate work or give examples of your past research experience from your Bachelor’s or Master’s. Don’t forget about any relevant internships or work experience as well.

The question: How did you develop this project proposal?

The answer: Take them through your thought process and discuss the research you did to put the proposal together. Why is this topic important? What other approaches did you consider before deciding on this one? Why did you choose this investigation method? What sources influenced your thinking? How will the results of your project contribute to the field?

The question: What difficulties do you expect to encounter during this project?

The answer: Be honest about where you see potential difficulties, but more importantly discuss how you plan to work through them.

The question: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The answer: Pick a strength that is relevant to this position and then give a few examples of when it has helped you achieve success in an academic context. When it comes to choosing a weakness, be truthful and then use examples again to discuss how you have been working to overcome it.

The question: Tell me about a time you experienced a setback.

The answer: Think of an academic challenge you have had to overcome. Describe the problem and how you used your problem-solving skills to come up with a solution. Bonus points if your solution led to the project’s success.

The question: What are your future career plans?

The answer: Talk about your career goals and demonstrate how a PhD is essential to help you achieve them. If your goal is to pursue an academic career, make sure your answer shows that you understand the realities of the academic career path.

The question: Do you have any questions for us?

The answer: Think about what would make or break your decision to attend this university and prepare a list of questions ahead of the interview. Consider things like upcoming sabbaticals, summer funding, and publishing opportunities. If you’re stuck for questions to ask you can find several examples here.

The interview is your time to shine, and being prepared will allow you to do just that.

Good luck!

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