PhD Interview Questions and Answers (13 Questions + Answers)

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Most PhD applications include an interview. This allows your university (and perhaps even your prospective supervisor) to discuss the PhD with you in more detail.

This article lists some of the most common PhD interview questions along with their answers. The goal is to help you prepare for a PhD interview and pass with flying colors.

1) How did you develop this proposal?

PhD interview questions

When responding to this question, demonstrate your thought process, research skills, and the evolution of your ideas. Let's choose the subject of "Renewable Energy Integration in Urban Planning" as an example.

Sample answer:

"My proposal on 'Renewable Energy Integration in Urban Planning' originated from my undergraduate thesis on sustainable cities. Intrigued by the potential of renewable energy in urban environments, I conducted a literature review to identify gaps in current research. This review highlighted a lack of comprehensive strategies for integrating renewable technologies at a city-wide level. I then consulted with experts in urban planning and renewable energy, which provided practical insights into the challenges and opportunities in this field. I designed a methodology that combines spatial analysis with energy modeling to explore optimal renewable energy integration in urban landscapes. This proposal represents an amalgamation of academic research, expert consultation, and innovative methodology development."

This answer is effective because it mentions a literature review demonstrates the ability to conduct thorough research and identify gaps in existing knowledge.

2) Why do you wish to pursue a PhD?

For this question, it's important to articulate your passion for the subject, your long-term career goals, and how the PhD program aligns with these aspects.

Let's choose the subject of "Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare" for this example.

"I am passionate about leveraging technology to improve healthcare outcomes, and pursuing a PhD in Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare aligns perfectly with this passion. During my Master's, I was fascinated by the potential of AI to revolutionize diagnostic processes and personalized medicine. I believe a PhD will provide me with the deep technical knowledge and research skills necessary to contribute significantly to this field. My goal is to develop AI systems that enhance medical diagnostics, ultimately improving patient care and treatment efficiency. This PhD program, known for its pioneering research in AI and strong healthcare collaborations, is the ideal environment for me to develop these innovations and achieve my career aspirations in healthcare technology."

This is a great answer because you clearly state that the PhD will provide the necessary skills and knowledge, indicating a clear understanding of the purpose of the program.

3) Why do you think you are the right candidate for this PhD program?

Discuss how your research interests align with the program's strengths and the faculty's expertise. Explain how the program's resources, courses, and research opportunities can help you achieve your academic and career goals.

"I am deeply passionate about environmental science, particularly in the area of sustainable urban development. This passion was ignited during my master's program in Environmental Studies at XYZ University, where I completed a thesis on urban green spaces and their impact on city microclimates. This research not only honed my skills in data analysis and GIS mapping but also highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues. I am drawn to your PhD program at ABC University because of its innovative research on sustainable urban planning and the renowned work of Professor Jane Smith in this field. Her research aligns with my interest in integrating green infrastructure into urban planning to mitigate climate change effects. My perseverance, attention to detail, and ability to synthesize complex data make me an ideal candidate for this challenging program. Pursuing this PhD is integral to my goal of becoming an environmental consultant, where I plan to develop strategies for cities to reduce their environmental footprint."

This response is effective because it mentions particular aspects of your experience and the program, avoiding generic statements. It also outlines how the PhD fits into your career path.

4) What do you plan to do after you have completed your PhD?

Be specific about the type of career you aspire to, whether it's in academia, industry, research, etc. Explain how the PhD will equip you with the skills and knowledge for your chosen career path.

"After completing my PhD in Computational Neuroscience, I plan to pursue a career in academia as a university professor. My doctoral research on neural network modeling will provide a strong foundation for teaching and conducting further research in this area. I aim to develop innovative courses that bridge computer science and neuroscience, addressing the growing demand for interdisciplinary knowledge in these fields. Additionally, I intend to continue my research on applying machine learning techniques to understand brain function, which has potential implications for developing new treatments for neurological disorders. This academic pathway allows me to contribute significantly to both education and research in Computational Neuroscience."

This is a great answer because it connects the PhD research directly to future career plans.

It also articulates how your work can impact both academia and the broader field of Computational Neuroscience.

5) Why have you chosen this specific PhD program?

Mention specific aspects of the program that attracted you, such as the curriculum, research facilities, faculty expertise, or reputation.

Explain how the program aligns with your research interests or academic background.

"I chose the PhD program in Artificial Intelligence at MIT because of its cutting-edge research and interdisciplinary approach, which perfectly aligns with my academic background in computer science and my passion for machine learning. The program's emphasis on both theoretical foundations and practical applications in AI is particularly appealing. Additionally, the opportunity to work under the guidance of Professor [Name], whose work in [specific area, e.g., neural networks or AI ethics] has deeply influenced my own research interests, is a significant draw. This program is an ideal fit for me to further develop my skills and contribute to the field of AI, ultimately aiming for a career in AI research and development in the tech industry."

This answer connects your background and goals to the program's offerings.

Including a specific professor's name shows detailed knowledge about the program and faculty.

6) What impact would you like your PhD project to have?

When answering this question, convey both the academic significance and the potential real-world applications of your research. Let's choose a project focused on developing eco-friendly battery technologies for electric vehicles for this example.

"My PhD project aims to develop new eco-friendly battery technologies for electric vehicles (EVs), addressing both the environmental impact of battery production and the efficiency of energy storage. I hope my research will contribute to the academic field by advancing our understanding of sustainable materials for energy storage, potentially leading to publications and patents. Beyond academia, I envision this project significantly impacting the EV industry by providing a more sustainable and efficient battery alternative. This innovation could play a crucial role in reducing the carbon footprint of transportation and supporting global efforts towards a greener future. Ultimately, I aspire for my work to not only advance scientific knowledge but also drive real-world changes in how we approach energy sustainability in transportation."

This is an excellent answer because it connects the project to larger environmental goals and societal benefits. It also reflects a forward-thinking approach, demonstrating your understanding of the project's potential long-term implications.

7) What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?

It's important to demonstrate awareness of potential challenges and convey a proactive mindset toward problem-solving. Let's choose a project focused on the development of a novel AI-driven diagnostic tool for early detection of neurological diseases for this example.

"In developing an AI-driven diagnostic tool for early detection of neurological diseases, I anticipate several challenges. Firstly, the accuracy and reliability of the tool depend heavily on the quality and diversity of the data used for training the AI algorithms. Obtaining a comprehensive dataset that adequately represents the population can be difficult due to privacy concerns and data availability. Secondly, ensuring the AI model's interpretability to be clinically useful while maintaining high performance is another challenge, given the complexity of neurological diseases. To address these, I plan to collaborate with interdisciplinary teams, including data privacy experts and neurologists, to source and utilize data ethically and effectively. I also intend to continuously refine the AI model, focusing on both its predictive accuracy and clinical applicability. These challenges, while significant, present valuable opportunities for innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration."

This response is effective because it clearly outlines realistic challenges specific to the AI diagnostic tool project. It also presents a proactive approach to overcoming these challenges, showing problem-solving skills.

8) How will you fund this project?

When answering this question, show that you've thought about the financial aspects of your research and are aware of funding sources that are available and applicable to your project. 

"I have identified multiple funding sources to support my renewable energy research project at Stanford University. Firstly, I plan to apply for the DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program, which offers substantial support for projects focusing on sustainable energy. My proposal for this grant is already in progress, highlighting how my project aligns with the DOE's priorities in advancing clean energy technologies. Additionally, I'm exploring departmental fellowships at Stanford, particularly those aimed at renewable energy research. I am also keen on establishing industry partnerships, given the project's relevance to current energy challenges and the potential for collaborative funding and technological exchange. Last but not least, I will seek conference grants to present my research findings, which can lead to further academic collaborations and additional funding opportunities."

Notice how this answer mentions funding sources that align with the renewable energy focus of the project and the resources available at Stanford University.

9) Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

Focus on a situation relevant to your academic or research experience. Let's use a real-world example where a research experiment failed due to unexpected variables.

"During my Master’s thesis on the effects of soil composition on plant growth, I faced a major setback. My initial experiments, which involved growing plants in different soil types, failed to produce consistent results due to unanticipated environmental variations in the greenhouse. This was disheartening, especially as the deadline approached. However, I responded by reassessing my experimental setup. I consulted with my supervisor and decided to control more variables, such as humidity and temperature. I also refined my data collection methods to include more frequent soil and plant measurements. These adjustments led to more reliable results, and I successfully completed my thesis. This experience taught me the importance of adaptability in research and reinforced the value of meticulous experimental design."

This is a great answer because it shows how you’ve encountered and overcame a specific problem, demonstrating resilience and adaptability.

10) What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When answering this question, it's important to present a balanced view of yourself, showing self-awareness and a commitment to personal development. Choose strengths that are relevant to a PhD program and weaknesses that you're actively working to improve.

"One of my key strengths is my analytical thinking, which I demonstrated during my Master's project where I developed a novel algorithm for data analysis. This required me to not only understand complex theories but also apply them creatively to solve real-world problems. As for weaknesses, I sometimes struggle with overcommitment, taking on too many projects at once. This occasionally led to stress during my undergraduate studies. However, I am actively working on this by improving my time management skills and learning to prioritize tasks more effectively. I've started using project management tools and setting clear boundaries, which has already shown improvements in my workflow and stress levels."

This answer maintains a good balance between strengths and weaknesses. It also shows self-awareness, demonstrating a proactive approach to personal development.

11) Why have you chosen to study for a PhD at this university?

Mention specific aspects of the PhD program that attracted you. Explain how your research interests align with the work being done at the university.

"I am drawn to the PhD program in Astrophysics at Caltech due to its outstanding reputation in space research and the unparalleled resources available at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. My research interest lies in the study of exoplanets, and Caltech's active projects in this area, such as the Zwicky Transient Facility, align perfectly with my academic goals. The opportunity to work under the guidance of Professor [Name], known for pioneering work in exoplanetary atmospheres, is particularly exciting. Additionally, Caltech's collaborative environment and emphasis on interdisciplinary research are conducive to my professional growth, providing a platform to engage with experts from various fields in astrophysics."

This response directly connects your research interests with ongoing projects and facilities at Caltech. It also shows you’ve done your research on faculty members and their work.

12) What can you bring to this research group?

Focus on your unique skills, experiences, and perspectives that will contribute to the research group's success. Let's choose the field of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University for this example.

"As a prospective member of the Biomedical Engineering research group at Johns Hopkins University, I bring a unique combination of skills and experiences. My expertise in microfluidics, honed during my Master’s research, aligns well with the group’s focus on developing lab-on-a-chip devices for medical diagnostics. I have also co-authored two papers in this field, demonstrating my ability to contribute to high-impact research. Additionally, my experience in a start-up environment, where I worked on developing portable diagnostic tools, has equipped me with a practical understanding of translating research into applications. I thrive in collaborative settings, often bringing interdisciplinary insights that foster innovative problem-solving. I am excited about the prospect of contributing to the group’s ongoing projects and introducing fresh perspectives to advance our understanding and application of biomedical technology."

This response shows your relevant expertise, ability to work in a team, and the unique perspectives you can offer, positioning you as a valuable addition to the research group.

13) Do you have any questions for us?

Asking good questions demonstrates your motivation. It also shows that you’ve given some genuine consideration to the project and/or program you’re applying to.

Some questions you can ask the interviewer include:

  • What will the supervision arrangements be for the project?
  • What kind of training and skills sessions are offered as part of the PhD program?
  • How many other PhD students has this supervisor seen to completion?
  • Are there any major developments or partnerships planned for the department?
  • Are there likely to be any changes to the funding arrangements for the project?
  • What opportunities will I have for presenting my research?

Remember: you’re a good student, with lots of potential. You’re considering at least three years of hard work with this university. You need to know that you’ll get on with your supervisor, that your work will be appreciated and that there are good prospects for your project.

What to wear to a PhD interview

Wear formal attire for a PhD interview. Your best bet is to wear a suit. A navy blue suit is the best and most versatile option. No matter your gender, a suit is always very professional.

For men, wear a suit with a tie, dress shirt, and dress shoes. For women, wear a suit (pantsuit or skirt suit) with a blouse, or conservative dress, and closed-toe shoes.

When in doubt, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. The goal is to make a professional impression and feel confident, without your attire distracting from the conversation.

What to expect from a PhD interview

At its core, a PhD interview will consist of questions that allow your potential supervisors to get to know you better and have an understanding of what you’d like to study, why you’ve chosen your field of study, and whether you’d be a good fit for the PhD program.

You should expect general questions to help the interviewer get a sense of your likes and dislikes, and your overall personality.

Next, expect questions about your personal motivations for studying a PhD. Your interviewer will also be interested in any relevant experience you have to qualify you to study this PhD.

In the next section, expect questions about your PhD project. You should be prepared to discuss your project idea in detail and demonstrate to the interviewer that you are the ideal candidate.

Last but not least, the interviewer will discuss your future ambitions and give you an opportunity to ask questions. Remember that this interview goes both ways.

It’s important to ask the interviewer relevant questions to show your engagement and the serious consideration you are giving their program.

You are preparing to spend several years of your life at this school. Think about what is important to you and what would make or break your decision to attend this university.

Prepare a list of questions ahead of the interview.

Understanding the interviewer’s point of view

During a PhD interview, interviewers are typically looking for a range of traits that indicate whether you are well-suited for the rigors of a doctoral program and a research career.

These traits include:

Intellectual Curiosity and Passion: A strong enthusiasm for the subject area and a desire to contribute to and expand knowledge in the field.

Research Skills and Experience: Demonstrable skills in conducting research, including designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and interpreting results. Prior research experience relevant to the PhD topic is often a plus.

Resilience and Perseverance: The capacity to handle setbacks and challenges, which are common in research, and to persist in the face of difficulties.

Collaboration and Teamwork: Although PhD research can be quite independent, the ability to work well with others, including advisors, faculty, and other students, is crucial.

Self-Motivation and Independence: The drive to work independently, manage one's own project, and stay motivated over the long term.

Fit with the Program: Alignment of the candidate’s research interests and goals with the strengths and focus of the PhD program and faculty.

These traits not only indicate your readiness for a PhD program but also your potential to contribute meaningfully to their field of study and succeed in a research-oriented career.

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Top 25 PhD Interview Questions and Answers in 2024

Editorial Team

Ph.D. Interview Questions and Answers

If you desire to advance academically, be aware that attending a Ph.D. interview is a fundamental part of the admission process. Many institutions must interview potential candidates to ascertain whether they exhibit adequate commitment, discipline, and passion for completing the program. Still, an interview allows candidates to meet program advisors and gain more insights about the institute they wish to join.

Before you get admission into a graduate school, you must pass two stages. The first one is to make a formal application and answer any queries. Then, in the next stage is an invitation for an interview, during which a panel comprising your supervisory team will expect you to tackle any additional questions they ask.

To succeed, you must comprehensively answer all questions and use that opportunity to showcase your commitment, discipline, and enthusiasm for your academic career. Ph.D. interview questions may be confusing, but only if you don’t prepare. Below is a sample of commonly asked questions and the most likely responses that Ph.D. panels will expect you to answer.

1. Please Tell Us About Yourself?

I’ve always been enthusiastic about research and making discoveries. It was during my undergraduate studies that drove my interest in learning more about environmental science. I had the opportunity to research more during my master’s degree program, which inspired me to advance to the Ph.D. level. I love traveling and sightseeing, so I’d love to utilize that to visit different places and do my research while sensitizing communities on the importance of environmental conservation.

2. How Do You Intend To Financial Support This Project? 

Academic excellence has always been a passion for me. Immediately after high school, I enrolled in a business-related short-term course while awaiting to join campus. That led me to start a business that has successfully been able to break even. I have a reliable team that works for me and can independently handle the business operations while taking a less active role. In case of a funding challenge, I will utilize proceeds from the business to help support me. However, I intend to approach external sponsors and agencies willing to support this research.

3. Why Do You Need To Enroll In A Ph.D. Program?

After graduating with a master’s degree, I got a chance to lecture undergraduate students and discovered my enthusiasm for sharing knowledge with the younger generation. My background in research drives me to want to further my academic knowledge and make an impact on the next generation.

I want to pursue my Ph.D. studies, lecture at institutions of higher learning, and hopefully, one day, become a professor. I am excited about advancing my knowledge in environmental studies, which will enable me to make a valuable academic contribution in this field.

4. Why Do You Think You Are An Ideal Candidate For This Ph.D. Program? 

After completing my master’s degree, I realized there is a need to sensitize the public, especially the disadvantaged communities about the importance of conserving our environment for a better future. After graduation, I worked as a volunteer for a non-governmental organization and learned a lot about global warming and its effects on future ecosystems.

Through this Ph.D. program, I will make an impactful contribution as it strongly aligns with my master’s degree research and my field of specialization. I want to use my research to make an environmental difference.

5. What Long-Term Objectives Do You Have As A Ph.D. Graduate? 

I desire to live in an environment free from global warming drives my passion for dedicating time and effort to increasing environmental awareness. That is why I majored in environmental science for my undergraduate studies.

My research during my master’s revolved around the effects of industrialization on weather patterns. My Ph.D. research extends my master’s degree as I want to develop solutions that minimize environmental degradation.

6. Share With Us Your Strengths And Weaknesses? 

My colleagues and acquaintances consistently complement my leadership skills . I find it easy to mobilize departments and organize activities within the community. Under my leadership and guidance, we have accomplished much through mentorship programs in learning institutions in my locality.

We’ve also initiated tree planting activities and other programs to conserve the environment. I am also a good orator with excellent verbal and written communication skills . My academic background and professional experience enable me to clearly and concisely demonstrate and articulate my ideas. I believe this strength will help me systematically document my research findings.

However, my greatest challenge is maintaining set deadlines. In my previous academic journey, I struggled to complete my assignments within set deadlines. Though my work was thorough and well researched, I could not stick to the set time frame because I was handling too many responsibilities at the time. To counter this, I hope to delegate most of my responsibilities and outsource some duties to other professionals to enable me to concentrate on my studies.

7. How Will You Motivate Yourself Not To Give Up?

My academic journey is not just a duty but something I am passionate about. I thoroughly enjoy academics and am at my best when compiling content for my thesis. I’m convinced I have more to offer as an independent researcher, which is enough motivation to complete each academic year. My passion for this subject makes me sacrifice and come up with solutions. I also feel the matter is not receiving enough attention, and I hope to address that.

8. What Do You Intend To Achieve With This Project? 

Much research outlines steps needed to contain global warming and save future ecosystems. There have also been a lot of theoretical solutions the findings have yet to translate into action. I want to re-direct this project to a bearing that focuses on theory and translates that information to solutions.

I would dedicate more effort to minimizing pollution from manufacturing firms and sensitize communities to play a more active role in environmental conservation. Since my work will revolve around the environment, I hope to provide practical global warming solutions and share my passion for this topic with a broader audience.  

9. Why Do You Want To Enroll For A Ph.D. In This Institution? 

One of my major reasons for desiring to join this institution is because the facilities here are ideal for my research and are second to none. Also, the university’s approach toward my subjects of interest is very supportive and will help me achieve my goals. Thankfully, this university prides itself on being a trendsetter in my chosen field, and it will be a pleasure to be a part of a winning team like this one. The lecturers are also well-versed and will give me the mentorship I need to complete my thesis.

10. What Books Or Publications Have You Read Recently? 

Currently, I am reading a seminal paper on conservation that primarily involves sustainable logging processes that help eliminate deforestation. I’ve also just read about New Scientific, a newsletter I have subscribed to.  

11. What Are You Bringing To The University? 

As a passionate member of my previous school debating club, I enjoy academic discussions, so I believe I’d contribute to industry-related academic dialogs. My skill and knowledge of MS PowerPoint make me an asset as I love creating and giving presentations that will benefit research and documentation for future reference.

12. Do You Have Any Work-Related Experiences? What Have You Learned? 

One of my responsibilities in a past task as a part-time lecturer was to teach environmental studies to first-year students at a local university. The role was very satisfying as I am passionate about imparting knowledge and mentoring the youth. The responsibilities and experiences have taught me to read widely and increase my knowledge on the subject as things are consistently evolving. It also gave me insights into how academia relates to the real world.

13. What Inspired The Subjects You Chose For Your A-Levels? 

I settled on subjects I believed would best prepare me for this career path. I picked topics that I genuinely enjoy and am good at. I also chose units that would teach me a wide range of skills to help me get maximum value from my A-levels.

I considered these subjects ideal and would comprehensively support my direction for my undergraduate studies. The unit selection and subject choice were perfect links that quickly merged and complemented each other to make me better market my skills in the job market.

14. What Challenges Do You Anticipate During This Academic Season? 

Most of the previous research on this subject has mainly concentrated on the effects of global warming, but not many have come up with practical solutions. To start, I need to study archived research material, easily accessible in the institution’s library.

I also need access to scientific data, proper SOPs, and field research that will constitute a large portion of my research. The institution will play a significant role in sharing archived statistics to help me start.

The most common crisis I may face is raising adequate funds for field research. Though I will partially pay for the project, I still need the scholarship to help me complete the project.

15. Is There Training You Intend To Take During Or After Your Ph.D.?

There are technical skills and developmental programs on my top priority list. These skills include learning to use software and modern apps to make my work easier and save time. I also intend to take a refresher computer course that will help me improve my typing skills and make it easier to compile my thesis.

I intend to utilize project management software to help me effectively manage my finances and time and ensure I complete my research productively.

16. What Plans Do You Have After Finishing Your Ph.D. Studies? 

First, I would be honored to start my academic Ph.D. journey at this institution. It will be an answered prayer as I have always envisioned myself graduating here. I also am very excited to do my Ph.D. in this subject as it has been my topic of interest since my undergraduate and master’s studies.

After graduation, I want to commit to publishing statistics and information that I believe will be helpful for further research. I feel my Ph.D. project can open opportunities for inquiry in this field which can be a foundation for a fruitful career. I desire to partner with stakeholders to collaborate and develop environmentally friendly solutions for conserving the ecological system.

17. Share One Of Your Most Outstanding Academic Achievements And What You Learned From It? 

My most outstanding academic achievement was taking four years to complete my Bachelor’s degree with a 3.8 GPA. I had a lot of financial challenges at the time and could not access any scholarships or financial support. I had to work full-time while pursuing my undergraduate studies.

That experience taught me the importance of discipline and focus. I also learned that you could achieve anything you put your mind to through dedication and commitment. I am proud of this achievement and know that what I have learned will propel me to greater heights as I embark on this Ph.D. academic journey.

18. What Impact Has Your Bachelor’s And Master’s Degree Had On Your Professional Journey So Far?

During my attachment, I got a chance to intern at the prestigious United Nations Environmental Programme, a position I got due to my exemplary academic performance while on campus. Soon after completing my Bachelor’s degree, I immediately got a job as I graduated at the top of my class.

Though I had no working experience, my academic performance favored me to start working in a managerial position. The job gave me a lot of exposure and opportunities to advance in my studies, which is how I got a full scholarship to do my master’s degree. I am grateful for the opportunities presented to me and utilize them to make the world a better place.

19. How Do You Handle Defeat Or Failure? 

My first job was at a supervisory level, and I was ill-equipped and inexperienced, but I knew I had the qualities for success in that position. I had to swallow my pride and take instructions and learn from junior staff. I recognized that to excel at the top, I had to learn everything from scratch, and who better to teach me than those at entry-level positions.

I had to create a conducive working environment based on mutual respect between management and junior staff, a relationship that had previously been strained and nonexistent. Creating a harmonious working environment saw the company grow its production, improve efficiency and expand much faster. We spread to other towns and launched two more branches within two years thanks to the harmonious working relationship between management and employees.

20. Do You Have Any Concerns Or Questions You Would Like To Ask?

I want insights into who my supervisor is and how you will structure my supervision. I also would like to know if there are any publishing opportunities available in the department.

21. What Impact Will Your Project Make On This Faculty?

My research will make an instrumental contribution and support other related studies in the department. My outcomes will be supporting material for future studies as I intend to gather data and publish my findings. I also anticipate contributing to other relevant publications within the department.

Last year, I researched and published a paper that I presented at the international environmental conference held last month, which got widespread approval from participants. I intend to use that experience for the good of the department. If given a chance, I am willing to volunteer a few hours of my time to tutor new students or mentor those interested in my field of study.

22. What Strategy Do You Have To Ensure Success For This Project?

I intend to have a schedule where I will indicate deadlines for each milestone. Scheduling will help me stay on course and complete my research on time. 

23. What Qualities Do You Have To Guarantee Success In Compiling This Project? 

My background as a research assistant and data analysis knowledge is beneficial as I will easily compile and interpret my findings with minimal challenges and resistance.

24. What Challenges Are You Likely To Face In The Field, And How Do You Intend To Overcome Them? 

Scheduling time to meet respondents can be challenging, but I intend to communicate and book appointments early enough. From previous experience, I know that research needs ample time and adequate funding to succeed.  

25. How Do Your Colleagues Describe You? 

My colleagues consistently tell me that I am well organized, selfless, and excellent at time management . During a recent research assignment on the effects of globalization on wildlife habitation, my team praised me for proper planning and maintaining set deadlines. We completed the project ahead of time, and it was very successful.


While it is imperative to make a good impression by being assertive, you should not lose your individuality. Try not to be someone else but strive to be as authentic as possible. Ensure to remain objective without losing your enthusiasm.

By the time you make it to the Ph.D. interview stage, you must have explored your project feasibility and institution and program research, which are needed and give you confidence in addressing the interviewer’s concerns. Practice studying various potential Ph.D. interview questions to prepare you to answer questions from an informed viewpoint.

Study your Ph.D. project in detail to help you defend your research and support the relevance of your research question while displaying its academic contribution.

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phd interview questions and answers pdf

  • Common PhD Interview Questions
  • Applying to a PhD

In this guide, we’ll share 11 common PhD interview questions and our suggestions on how to answer them.

A PhD interview is an essential step in securing a doctorate position. This is because it enables the prospective supervisor to get to know you better and determine whether you’d be a good fit for the project. Equally, it provides you with the opportunity to learn more about the project and what the university offers. Although being asked to attend an interview by the admissions committee can be daunting, it’s actually a positive sign. It means that based on your application and academic qualification, the academic department believes you have the potential to make a good PhD student for the position.

Whilst most questions you’ll be asked during your PhD interview will focus on your proposed research project, a handful of generic questions will almost certainly be asked. To give yourself the best chance of succeeding in the interview, we highly recommend that you prepare answers to these generic questions beforehand.

Without further delay, here are 11 common PhD interview questions and tips on how you should answer them.

1. Tell Us About Yourself

It comes at no surprise that this common ice-breaker question is at the top of our list. This question will likely be asked to help you calm your initial nerves and settle into your interview. As this is a warm-up question, aim to give the interviewer a general overview about yourself as opposed to a detailed breakdown. To achieve this, structure your answer into three sections:

Tell us about yourself - Common PhD Interview Questions

  • Academic History : start with a summary of your academic background – where and what have you studied? What grades did you achieve?
  • Research Topic : go onto explain your research interest in your chosen topic – what do you like about it? Do you intend to pursue a career related to it upon obtaining your degree?
  • Why a PhD : Finish with why you want to undertake a PhD – do you want to make a contribution to science? Do you want to get a job in academia?

2. Why Do You Want to Do A PhD?

Although you may have touched on this in your answer to the above, your interviews will want to know more of the detail if they ask this question as a direct followup.

Though it may appear obvious, the interviewer is specifically interested in discovering your personal motivations for undertaking a PhD . Too often, students answer this question by listing the benefits of a PhD. Not only will the interviewer already know the benefits of a PhD, but a generic answer also won’t help you stand out among the other applicants.

To answer this question and leave a lasting impact, try to include an academic or personal experience that has strengthened your passion for research. As well as this, outline what your career aspirations are and explain how the proposed PhD will help you achieve them. The key to selling yourself here is to let the interviewer know how passionate you are about the project without having to say it.

3. Why Did You Choose This Project?

This is your chance to show that you have researched the University, supervisor and project.

First, talk about the project. Is there a particular aspect that you’re interested in? If so, mention it. This will show that you’re engaged in the topic and already have a basic understanding of the field. Besides this, a great way to show that you’ve really looked into the research topic would be to discuss a certain part of the methodology the project could adopt.

Next, talk about the University – there may be several universities offering similar projects, but what makes this one stand out? Is it their resources? Is it the prospective supervisor’s research group? Is it their previous involvement in previous influential studies? Again, show that you’ve adequately researched the University and clearly understand what makes it unique.

Finally, you can mention if your decision to apply to their university has been influenced by the expertise of the proposed supervisor. Given that the supervisor will be highly knowledgeable in the research topic you’re applying to, it’s possible they may have contributed to some significant findings in it. If so, it’s acceptable to acknowledge this by mentioning how you would like the opportunity to work under their guidance. However, be careful not to overdo. Although you may be sincere in your answer, it can go against you if your supervisor feels like you’re trying to flatter him. To avoid giving this impression, focus on how his or her expertise will help you develop into a competent researcher.

4. Why Should We Choose You?

A very blunt question, but your PhD supervisor will want to make sure you’re the best candidate for the position. This is especially true given they’ll be responsible for supporting you over the next few years. Therefore, the primary aim of your answer will be to reassure them you have the skills and experience required to undertake a doctoral study. To achieve this, identify the critical knowledge and skills required for the project and discuss how you meet each of these. Follow up each justification with a short, relevant example to help give your answers more impact.

When asked this question, some students tend to just summarise their academic CV and cover letter . This isn’t an effective way to answer the question as you’re telling the supervisor information they already know about you. It’s fine to reiterate a few key points, however, try to delve deeper into what you can offer going forward as opposed to what you’ve achieved in the past. As part of your answer, identify the soft skills which will be imperative to the doctorate and state how you have each of these. These can include skills such as effective communication, great time management, problem-solving, adaptability and high work ethic.

5. How Did You Come up With This Project?

If you’ve developed your own research proposal , then expect to have to defend it as part of your interview. You should have a thorough understanding of what the current gaps in knowledge are surrounding your research topic and how these could limit the findings of your study. Besides this, you’ll want to show that you’re clear on what the key aims and objectives of your project are and appreciate how they could contribute to your field of research. This last point is essential in convincing the interviewers this project is a worthy pursuit. What makes your project groundbreaking and worth dedicating several years to?

The interviewer wants to know if you have thought out all aspects of your project and so will likely scrutinise the finer details of your proposal. Therefore, be ready to outline the literature you’ve read and discuss how you evaluated different methodologies before suggesting your current one.

If you want an edge over other students, you can also produce a high-level plan, similar to the one below (but with more detail), which outlines the different phases of your research project. This can include stages such as the literature review, undertaking experiments, producing your thesis and preparing for your viva voce. Although they won’t expect your plan to be fully accurate, especially given how dynamic research projects can be, it will show your positive attitude towards being imitative and taking responsibility for your project.

PhD Project Plan - How to Prepare for A PhD Interview

6. What Challenges Are You Expecting to Encounter in This Project?

A common PhD interview question students struggle with is “What difficulties do you think you will face?” This purpose of this question is to check how much you’ve thought about the project. Students who provide a poor answer generally do so as they think admitting to any potential difficulties may make them seem incompetent. This couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Identifying potential difficulties shows the interviewers you’ve given serious thought to the project. This reassures the supervisor that should you run into difficulties during the research, you’re not only capable of identifying them but also mature enough to do so. Not highlighting potential difficulties, whether it’s due to a lack of confidence or understanding the project, suggests your project will be vulnerable to problems which could go amiss.

When answering this question, try to follow up on each potential difficulty with how you intend to address it. This can include measures such as making use of internal development opportunities, enrolling onto external training courses or signing up to specific research master classes.

7. What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

This is a standard question for most interviews, and a PhD interview is no different.

Pick strengths that compliment your PhD programme. For example, if applying to a Physics or Engineering PhD, mentioning you have good attention to detail would be highly beneficial given the amount of data analysis involved. Try to support each of your claims with a relevant example. Using the above case as an example, you could discuss how as part of your Bachelor’s or Master’s dissertation project, your high attention to detail allowed you to streamline some of your experiments or identify potential problems with your data.

Likewise, try to discuss a weakness that won’t be detrimental to your research project. An example of something you would want to avoid would be “I have a tendency to put the hard tasks off until the end until I know I should really start working on them to not miss any deadlines“. Although this may seem like a harmless response, it will seriously concern the interview panel. This is because a model student will need to be consistent in their efforts to meet the challenging workload, even in times of difficulty. As before, follow up your weakness with a plan on how you intend to address it. For example, if you state your weakness as public speaking, a suitable follow up would be to discuss how you would like to work on it by presenting your research to undergraduate students and attending seminars.

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8. Can You Describe a Time You Encountered a Problem or Challenge and How You Approached It?

A key trait of all successful researchers is the ability to overcome problems independently. Given that even a minor problem can derail a research project, it’s important for your project supervisor to know whether you can adequately address them.

Despite what your example may me, try to cover the below three aspects as part of your answer:

  • Identification – How did you identify the problem? Was a check you had in place triggered or did you stumble upon it naturally?
  • Deconstruction – How did you break the problem down? Did you identify any assumptions or limitations which could have been associated with it? If so, how?
  • Overcoming – How did you identify the solution? If you had several solutions, how did you determine the most sensible one? What did you learn from it?

Your example doesn’t need to relate directly to the research programme you’re applying to, however, it should be kept academic if possible. For example, you could discuss a challenge you encountered during your undergraduate dissertation project, such as limited literature on your research topic or inaccurate experiment results.

The key point to remember here is that a supervisor is there to supervise, not to fix all your problems. Not only will they not have the time do to this, but it will directly go against the ethical requirement of ensuring your work is yours and yours alone.

9. What Are Your Career Aspirations?

PhD Interview Questions - Career path and aspirations

Your interviewers will want to see that you’ve considered what you will do after completing your PhD. This is to help them determine what your motivations are and to confirm that you want to enrol onto a PhD for the right reasons. It’s clear that anyone who has thought through their decision will have a long-term plan in mind, even if it’s a handful of well-considered options.

Don’t feel like your answer needs to relate to academia. One of the many benefits of a PhD degree is that it can lead to a variety of career paths. By being open with your true intentions, they can better determine what support and training you’ll require from them.

Despite your long-term goals, research into this and know the route you’d like to take post-PhD. A good understanding of your career plans and how to get there will go a long way in conveying your commitment to the project.

10. How Will You Fund This Project?

The interviewing panel will ask about this if your project is self-funded or conditionally funded (e.g. competitive funding schemes where funding is not guaranteed).

You don’t need to provide a complete breakdown of your savings, nor would they expect you to. The primary concern the interviewers want to address is that you’re fully aware of the costs associated with undertaking a PhD . If you intend to apply for external funding or take on a part-time job, mention this. In doing so, make sure you stress that you will base your part-time work around your PhD and not the other way around. The interviewers want to reassure themselves that you will make your research your top priority throughout the course of your degree.

11. Do You Have Any Questions for Us?

This interview is not only for the supervisors to evaluate you but also for you to evaluate them, the PhD project and University.

Although you will have already researched the position at length, ensure you ask questions when offered to do so. Asking questions will show that you’re engaged and are an individual who likes to make informed decisions. Not asking questions, or not asking well thought-out ones, will send the wrong message.

If you’re wondering what makes a great question, a quick internet search for “What questions should I ask at a PhD Interview?” show’s you’re not alone. Some examples of great questions to ask in a PhD interview are:

  • Are there any major developments or partnerships planned for the department? – Although this won’t always be the case, the department may be planning to upgrade its research facilities or partner with another leading institution. Asking about this shows you’re genuinely enthusiastic about undertaking influential research.
  • What are the supervision arrangements? – This is a great way to find out if your expectations match that of your potential supervisors. This can include aspects such as how often the two of you will meet and what level of support they intend to provide.
  • Will there be any opportunities for teaching within the department? – If you intend to pursue an academic career after completing your research, this will be a brilliant way to show them you’re committed to your long-term plans. Even if you plan on following a different career path, asking will let you know whether there is any opportunity to earn whilst you study.
  • What opportunities will I have for presenting my research? – This shows you intend to be an active member within your research field. This won’t be great only for your development but will help the university increase its research network and reputation in the wider community.

Other PhD Interview Tips and Advice to Help You Prepare

  • Format – The format of the PhD interview varies depending on the University. If you’re unsure of what format your upcoming interview will follow, get in touch with the department you will interview with. They should be able to give you an idea about what to expect and how long it will typically last. This knowledge will prove invaluable when preparing for a PhD interview.
  • Video interview – Some interviews will be conducted as either a phone interview or a skype interview. This is especially true if you’re an international student still within your home country. If so, conduct your interview in a place with a reliable internet connection and a clean backdrop.
  • Attendance – Usually, your interview will comprise the primary and secondary supervisor. However, sometimes your interview panel can comprise non-technical staff or the Head of Department.
  • Presentation – You may be asked to prepare a PhD interview presentation if you’re proposing your own research topic . If you’re requested to do this, keep it brief, use at least 80% of the time they permit and base it around your research proposal.
  • Paperwork – Bring two to three copies of your application form, and if applicable, your research proposal. Although in most cases your interviewers would have bought their own copy, it’s better to be on the safe side.
  • Etiquette – If you’re unsure of what to wear to a PhD interview, a good general rule of thumb is to wear what you would to a formal job interview. In other words, keep it formal. Additionally, learn how to pronounce the names of the interviewers and any other staff members you may mention beforehand.
  • Practice – There’s a lot of truth in the old saying ‘practice makes perfect’. You will want to practise as many PhD interview questions as you can. Don’t just limit yourself to the ones discussed on here. Find as many PhD questions as you can and prepare draft answers for all of them. In fact, you don’t even need to limit yourself to questions specifically for PhD students. There are many out there that, although written for generic academic interviews or the job market, will be applicable to you. If you find yourself short on resources, try searching for ‘tell us a time when you…’ in google as these will provide great scenario-based questions you can practise with.

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