20 questions to ask about potential PhD programmes

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There usually comes a time in a PhD application process when the candidate can ask the admission committee questions about the programme. If you made it to this stage, you may b e wondering: What questions should I ask about the PhD programme?

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What makes this PhD programme unique?

What are the requirements in terms of coursework, how does this programme structure the thesis writing process, how long does it take on average for phd students to complete the degree, how much flexibility do phd students have to create their unique programmes, what facilities and equipment are available to phd students in this programme, how are phd students of this programme integrated into the wider academic community, do phd students in this programme interact with senior scientists beyond their research group, how common is it for phd students in this programme to co-author academic articles with supervisors and colleagues, what support is offered to phd students in the programme, does the programme offer any financial support, does the phd programme provide grant writing support to phd students, does the programme encourage and support phd students to work as teaching assistants, what happens if there is a problem with a phd supervisor, what are common career trajectories of phd students who complete this programme, what does the programme do to prepare phd students for the job market, does the emphasis lie on training phd students for academic careers, does the phd programme foster industry connections, collaborations with external partners and public outreach activities, does the programme organise networking events or career fairs for phd students, questions to ask about a phd programme’s setup.

A PhD interview is not just an opportunity for you to convince your interviewers that you are a good match for their programme. Your interviewers should also leave a good impression on you! This relatively open question allows them to convince you to choose their programme over any other offers that you may have. It is a good way for you to see what arguments they have to offer.

The amount of coursework can differ from PhD programme to PhD programme. Therefore, it is good to ask about specific requirements in terms of courses to follow, credits to earn, etcetera.

Similar to coursework, the thesis writing process can also differ from PhD programme to programme. Is the process divided into fixed stages (such as data collection, data analysis, and writing up)? Or is the process flexible? How is the thesis supervision organised? It is good to have answers to these types of questions in advance.

Most universities indicate the length of their PhD programmes. However, there can be a difference between the supposed length and the actual one. Potentially, a PhD programme takes 4 years on paper but most PhD students take 6 years to complete it. This information is useful to consider before committing to a programme.

You may have specific requirements for your PhD. Unique interest. And you should be aware that unexpected things can happen. For instance: care leave, illness or simply failed experiments can delay the completion of a PhD programme. Therefore, it is good to test the water and ask about the stance of the PhD programme when it comes to being flexible.

You may also like: 9 smart questions to ask a professor about graduate school

Questions to ask about a PhD programme’s environment

You want to know what the PhD programme offers to PhD students, for example in terms of office space, lab equipment, laptops, etcetera. Think about the type of facilities and equipment that you would need for your specific PhD research.

There can be a huge difference in terms of how PhD students are treated in different universities. In some, they are considered regular students who have limited contact with senior scientists besides their supervisor/s. In others, they are treated as colleagues and/or staff members who are included in department meetings, research exchanges or joint lunches. Try to get a feeling for the situation in the specific PhD programme that you are considering.

As a follow-up to the previous question, you should enquire about the contact that PhD students of a specific programme have with scholars outside of their supervisor/s or small research unit. Being exposed to different perspectives, people and insights can hugely benefit PhD students’ work. Therefore it is good to know whether PhD students in a programme tend to work in isolated silos.

Co-authoring ( when done right! ) is hugely beneficial to PhD students. It enables them to learn the art of writing scientific papers, and how to collaborate effectively. Furthermore, having publications can boost their career. In some universities, it is very common for PhD students to be included as co-authors in joint research papers. In others, it is not.

questions to ask for phd

Questions to ask about a PhD programme’s support mechanisms

It is smart to start with a relatively broad question, to see what support mechanisms are offered in a PhD programme. This can be, for instance, a PhD council, a study advisor, or a mental health counsellor.

Some departments have funds, for instance, to support fieldwork. Some also offer budgets to PhD students, so that they can participate in (international) conferences. You can even think of travel reimbursements if you have a longer commute. It is good to know about possibilities for financial support in advance.

PhD students without full-time funding often rely on grants and bursaries. Additionally, gaining experience in grant writing during a PhD can be advantageous in an academic career, regardless of one’s funding situation. However, grant writing is time-consuming and often requires approval and administrative support from the university. Is this support provided?

Working as a teaching assistant during a PhD has financial benefits, and also improves PhD students’ chances of securing work as a lecturer once they graduate. Try to find out whether the PhD programme helps students to find these positions, and whether they support them (for instance by being flexible with the coursework schedule, etcetera).

A PhD supervisor plays a major role in the success of a PhD student. Unfortunately, not all PhD supervisors are good ones . Without being overly pessimistic, it can be a good idea to ask what would hypothetically happen if there is a problem with a PhD supervisor in the programme.

Questions to ask about a PhD programme’s career training and prospects

Try to get a sense of what PhD students of a programme do once they graduate. This question also helps you to assess what type of career trajectories are highlighted in the programme. Based on this information, you can draw some conclusions about the programme’s outlook on post-PhD careers.

Some universities don’t do anything to prepare PhD students for the job market. Be it the academic or the non-academic one. Others may offer special training sessions, application support and other job-market-related activities. Even though you are only exploring options for PhD programmes, it can be smart to think ahead.

Many PhD students start their degree programmes with the ambition to pursue academic careers and ultimately become professors. The reality, however, looks very different: only a very small percentage ultimately pursues an academic career. New insights about the possibilities to work in a non-academic setting and a highly competitive labour market play a role in this trend. Finding out whether a PhD programme is aware and adjusts their training to this reality can be informative.

Being exposed to job opportunities outside of academia, and conducting practice-oriented research go hand in hand with the relationships that are fostered with industry, community or any other external partners. These connections are also increasingly valued by grant and promotion committees.

A PhD programme is not solely responsible for your career after graduation. Yet, it can be advantageous if a PhD programme actively organises events or fairs that help PhD students to network, and to forge good relationship with external parties.

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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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questions to ask for phd

  • 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.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

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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Questions to Ask A Graduate Program

Going for a campus visit or preparing for an admissions interview with a graduate program? Bookmark this page (or  download it as a PDF ) to make sure you ask the right questions that will help you decide if the program is right for you.

Graduate Student Support

  • Is there a diverse group of students, faculty, and administrators?
  • Is there support for the needs of students from all backgrounds?
  • Are there regular followup meetings with graduate students?
  • Are there symposia on issues pertaining to graduate students?
  • Are there graduate education workshops for undergraduates?
  • What kind of social events does the graduate school or university sponsor each year?
  • How is the access to faculty and graduate school administrative staff?
  • Are there comprehensive wellbeing services with a professional staff equipped to serve a diverse student population?
  • How robust is the communication between the graduate school and students (e.g., newsletters, social media)?
  • Do the program, the graduate school, and the university focus on mentoring for student success?
  • How much professional development programming is there for graduate students?
  • Are there active student groups that appeal to me?
  • What kind of resources and support are there for students with children?

Financial Support for Graduate Students

  • Is the award merit-based or need-based?
  • What are the standard eligibility requirements (e.g., citizenship, residency, field of study, career goals)?
  • What types of awards are available? (e.g., teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships)
  • What is the stipend amount? Does the award cover tuition and fees?
  • What is the duration of the award? Is the stipend guaranteed over the life of the award?
  • Can the award be held concurrently with another award? Can it be used as a supplemental award? 
  • What are the academic requirements? (e.g., student must maintain good academic standing, must make satisfactory progress toward the degree, etc.)
  • What are the teaching and research requirements? How many hours per week are expected?
  • What are the penalties (if any) if you fail to complete the degree?
  • What are the payback provisions? Does the award require anything of you upon completion of the degree? 
  • How do you apply for the award and how are the recipients chosen? Competition (nationwide, statewide, university-wide, or departmental) or nomination by the department at the time of admission?
  • Is the award available to both master’s and Ph.D. students?
  • What kind of dissertation support funding does the university provide?
  • What kinds of travel grants does the university provide for conference participation and research?
  • Does the university provide funding support for emergencies (e.g., short-term loans, hardship assistance grants)?

For External Awards from Outside the University

  • Is the award portable (may be used at any institution to which you are admitted) or institutional (may only be used at the awarding institution)?
  • Do you have to be admitted to a school to be eligible for award consideration, or can you apply for the award before seeking admission to graduate school?

Academic Support for Graduate Students

  • What kind of formal and informal support networks exist in the department, the graduate school, and the university?
  • Does the campus and departmental culture encourage mentoring?
  • What research opportunities are there for graduate students?
  • What opportunities exist for scholarly discussions among students and faculty in a multidisciplinary setting?
  • Do curricula address ethnic, racial, gender, and cultural issues?
  • Are there robust English language resources for international students?

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  • Grad School Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

Grad School Interview Question & How to Answer Them

Published on March 29, 2021 by Lauren Thomas . Revised on June 1, 2023.

Grad school interviews are the last step of the application process , so congratulations for making it to this stage! Getting this far is a big accomplishment—graduate schools only conduct interviews with those applicants they are seriously considering accepting.

Grad schools conduct interviews to assess your “fit” with their program and faculty, as well as your interpersonal skills. In many cases, they may also be attempting to match you with a supervisor.

Before the interview, you should prepare by doing your research and reflecting on how you’ll answer these common questions.

Table of contents

How to prepare for your interview, questions about your background, questions about your interests and motivations, questions about your post-graduation plans, what to ask your interviewers, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about grad school interviews.

First, read the website of the program you’re interviewing for. They’ll usually have information on job placement, curriculum, and expectations of graduate students.

If possible, talk to previous students about their experiences interviewing. Although no two interview experiences are exactly alike, they may be able to provide you with valuable tips for preparing.

You should prepare answers for certain, very common questions. You don’t need to memorize your answers—you don’t want to sound scripted, but you should have a sense of what you’ll say.

Don’t be afraid to take a few seconds to gather your thoughts before answering a question. Remember, the substance and quality of your answer are far more important than the quantity of words.

Tips for specific programs

If you’re interviewing for a research program, you should try to read as many research papers in your field of interest as possible. Reading others’ research helps you generate ideas of your own. You’ll also be more prepared to answer questions about the topics you’re interested in researching, which could come up during your interview.

Research programs may ask you about a current topic in your field and what methods you would use for tackling it. Make sure you know some of the current open questions in your field and think about how you would answer them, including dealing with any obstacles that might come up. One potential tip is to talk to older students or professors that you know about these questions.

Focus on the CVs or biographies of professors that you’re particularly interested in working with. Read any research they’ve authored and jot down questions that come to mind when reading. Try to come up with a good argument for why they would be a good fit to supervise or work with you.

Business schools are also interested in your interpersonal skills, so your interview performance is an essential part of the application process.

Business school interviews will focus particularly on your career—both your past work experiences and your future goals. Go through your resume and prepare stories that illustrate the challenges and successes you had at each major work experience. Focus especially on any experiences you’ve had managing others, since an MBA is ultimately a management program. Identify the unique contributions that you’ll bring to the school.

In addition to your professional background, don’t be afraid to bring in experiences from beyond work and the classroom, such as from volunteering or extracurricular activities you participated in undergrad or afterwards.

Medical schools are looking for more than just academic ability—they want to find candidates well-suited to the unique demands of medicine. As such, they look for integrity, empathy, reliability, ability to interact with the general public, and motivation for a career in medicine. Ensure you have your answer to why you want to be a doctor down pat.

Medical school interviews sometimes ask about “ethics questions” that are designed to assess your thoughts about ethical dilemmas that you may face as a physician. To prepare, think about a general ethical framework that you can apply to any ethical question. What are some ethical considerations that you, as a physician, will have to keep in mind when treating patients? How important is a patient’s autonomy? Should equity or efficiency matter more?

Many undergraduate universities do mock medical school interviews with their students and graduates—take advantage of this opportunity if you can.

Law schools might ask about your opinions on current events, especially those with a legal angle. You may also be asked about your future career plans.

Many people apply to law school because they see it as a natural next step, without really knowing if they actually want to practice law. Interviewers know this and will be on the outlook for such an attitude. Make sure you have thoroughly researched the career and know why you want to pursue this path. Ask current lawyers you know about what they actually do in their daily work life and the best and worst parts of their jobs.

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questions to ask for phd

Interviewers want to know how your previous experiences will serve you in this program and ensure you have the relevant skills and knowledge to succeed.

What will you bring to this program/why should we admit you?

This is one of the most important questions you’ll be asked to answer. Focus on the skills and background that you will uniquely bring to the program. Be prepared with specific anecdotes that demonstrate your abilities.

You should also tailor your answer to the type of program you’re applying to:

  • If you’re applying for a research-based master’s or doctoral program, you will want to focus particularly on your academic and research background.
  • If you’re applying to medical school, your academic background is important, but so is your personal motivation.
  • Business schools will want to hear about how your professional experience has prepared you to manage others in a rapidly changing and increasingly global business climate.

Tell us about the research you’ve completed or contributed to

Because future potential as a researcher is difficult for graduate programs to assess, they will be particularly interested in the background that you already have. Oftentimes resumes do not make it clear what exactly someone did as a research assistant, so you should be prepared to discuss your work and what you learned.

As part of Dr. Jane Smith’s class on religion in politics, we were required to complete an independent research project, so I looked at the influence of right-wing authoritarianism in anti-Semitism. To measure anti-Semitism, I used an implicit bias test, which has been shown to measure racial or gender bias in other studies. I found that tendencies towards right-wing authoritarianism were associated with worse performance on the anti-Semitic test. The project was my first introduction to performing independent research, writing literature reviews, and performing statistical analysis using the coding language R.

I’ve also assisted Dr. Hannah Wilson on her research on the impact of globalization and job losses on voting patterns in the United States. I wrote literature reviews and aided in data analysis using R. I was a co-author on her latest paper, which used the recent tariffs on steel as an instrumental variable to demonstrate that increased globalization led to a higher increase in votes for political populist parties, since the choice of instrumental variable was originally my idea. The paper has been accepted to a top journal of political science. I am currently completing an independent senior thesis expanding our methodology to the United Kingdom and France, for which I have received a competitive research grant from my university.

I believe that I have demonstrated strong research skills through my work with Dr. Wilson, in addition to my strong academic performance. It is very rare for undergraduates to co-author with professors at my university, let alone write a paper accepted by a top journal.

Specific questions about classes you took or skills you have

This depends on the program you’re applying to. Medical programs may ask about weak grades that you’ve received in science or math subjects or about your personal experiences shadowing doctors.

Business schools might want you to discuss any management experience you’ve had—particularly experiences where you overcame obstacles or a difficult interpersonal interaction.

You’ll be asked questions designed to assess your knowledge of the program and how well it fits with your academic or professional interests.

What interests you about this program?

This is probably the most common question that you’ll be asked, so you should be sure you have your answer down pat.

Stay away from answers like “because you’re a good program” or “I want to attend a prestigious school.” While prestige matters, graduate programs want to hear more about why you think you’re a good fit for their particular program.

If the program has a particular speciality that interests you—say a medical school that’s particularly well known for their research on Alzheimer’s or a business school whose marketing program is top notch—be sure to bring it up. This will demonstrate to the interviewers that you have a genuine interest in their program.

Mention any professors you are especially interested in working with or any resources that the school may have special access to. Perhaps they run an internship program in an area you’re interested in or have strong connections in a particular industry.

My experience working in marketing at X Marketing Agency has shown me that my future career path lies in this field. Your program is arguably the best in the world for marketing, so you are my top choice of business school.

I am particularly interested in taking classes under Dr. Jennifer Adams—I’m greatly interested in her work showing that many companies use marketing to demonstrate a personal lifestyle brand that customers want to align with. I would also love to participate in the semester-long San Francisco internship program that you have, which I think would allow me to explore my interests in marketing in the technology industry.

What topics are you interested in researching?

Graduate schools know that what you’ll end up researching is not yet set in stone, particularly if you are applying to a doctoral program. However, they like to see that you have some idea of what you would like to do, mostly as a way of demonstrating your seriousness in pursuing research and knowledge of the field.

You should therefore come up with a few topics, preferably ones that are strengths of the school’s faculty, to discuss during an interview.

Who would you like to work with in our program?

Most graduate programs, particularly those in research, will assign you some sort of supervisor or advisor . You should have a few ideas of who you’d like to work with in this case. Ensure that it’s not just a single person—faculty can and do often leave their universities for other opportunities, so you’ll want to have a few back-up options.

Interviewers may also ask about how this program fits into your longer-term goals.

What career are you interested in pursuing after graduation?

Be honest but realistic in your answer to this question. Importantly, you should not indicate your interest in a career that doesn’t fit with the program—if you don’t want to be a lawyer, don’t mention that in an interview with a law school!

Ideally, I’d like to start off by gaining experience in a law firm, then move to a company where I can work as an in-house lawyer. I’m not entirely sure which branch of law I’d like to pursue yet, but I’m planning on taking classes in bankruptcy and corporate law to see if they interest me.

If you’re applying to a doctoral program, you will most likely be expected to continue in a career in academia, although this may vary based on the program. If you don’t have a perfect idea of what you want to do, don’t panic—that is part of what the program is intended to do! Just answer with your current thoughts.

I’m interested in becoming a researcher in applied microeconomics, hopefully as a tenured professor at a research university. I am particularly interested in applying the methodology of behavioral and experimental economics and the rigor of econometrics to issues like the political economy of housing policies and voting.

Interviews are a two way street. Interviews will almost always ask if you have questions for them—make sure you have some good ones! Here are some examples of things you can ask about:

  • Funding opportunities : do they have funding available for research or projects you might want to carry out? How accessible is it?
  • Access to advisors : How often do advisors meet with their students? How hands-on are advisors?
  • Other access to resources : if you need computing resources for your projects, will you have access to them? Do they have a library of books or academic articles that will be available for you as a student?
  • Placement record (if not available online): How do students normally place after completing this program? What sort of jobs do they take? How long do they require to find a full-time job? Do they normally go on to tenure-track positions or something else?

What not to discuss

Stay away from any questions that can be easily answered from looking at the program website. Admissions officers want to know that you’ve done at least a little bit of research on the program!

Although personal considerations (such as what it’s like to date or live in the city where the school is located) are vitally important to the choice of a graduate program, you should generally ask these questions only of current and former students, not faculty or admissions officers. Try to keep your questions on the theme of academic or professional experiences.

There are also some questions that interviewers should not ask you. Although it rarely occurs, be aware that you don’t have to answer questions that are inappropriate, or possibly even illegal, including anything that relates to your marital status or pregnancy, age, disability status, race, or gender. If asked a question that falls into this category, you should inform the interviewer that you’re not comfortable answering and report the incident to an admissions officer afterwards.

If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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Graduate schools often ask questions about why you are interested in this particular program and what you will contribute.

Try to stay away from cliche answers like “this is a good program” or “I got good grades in undergrad” and focus instead on the unique strengths of the program or what you will bring to the table. Understand what the program is looking for and come up with anecdotes that demonstrate why you are a good fit for them.

Different types of programs may also focus on different questions:

  • Research programs will often ask what topics you’d like to research and who you would like to work with, as well as specific questions about your research background.
  • Medical schools are interested in your personal motivation, qualities such as integrity and empathy, and how you’d respond to common ethical dilemmas.
  • Business schools will focus on your past work experience and future career prospects, and may be particularly interested in any experience you have managing or working with others.

In addition to thinking about your answers for the most commonly asked grad school interview questions , you should reach out to former and current students to ask their advice on preparing and what sort of questions will be asked.

Look back through your resume and come up with anecdotes that you could use for common questions, particularly those that ask about obstacles that you overcame. If you’re applying for a research program, ensure that you can talk about the previous research experience you’ve had.

You should also read as much research in your field as possible. Research the faculty at the schools you’re applying to and read some of their papers. Come up with a few questions that you could ask them.

Most medical school programs interview candidates, as do many (though not all) leading law and business schools.

In research programs, it depends—PhDs in business usually do, while those in economics normally do not, for example.

Some schools interview everyone, while others only interview their top candidates. Look at the websites of the schools you’re applying to for more information on whether they conduct interviews.

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Top 10 PhD Interview Questions

So, you’ve been invited for a PhD interview. Congratulations! This means that the admission committee thinks you are qualified and capable of doing a PhD at their university. The interview will allow the committee to determine if you’re a good fit, and you have the motivation and drive to complete a doctorate. While you cannot predict the exact questions you will be asked, certain topics are almost inevitable. Here are ten common PhD interview questions.

1. Tell us about yourself

This is a popular opener for just about any type of interview. It’s meant to be an easy icebreaker, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a wrong answer. Make sure to your response is relevant to the context of a PhD interview. Talk about your academic background, motivation, and interests. You don’t have to get into the details at this point, just give an overview.

2. Why do you want to do a PhD?

This is another straightforward question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. A PhD is a big undertaking and you’ll have to be driven to see it though. Your answer should address your motivation for doing a PhD in a way that conveys your passion and enthusiasm for the subject.

3. Why are you interested in this program?

What drew you to this program and this school? Does it have a unique feature or take a different approach than other programs? Are there certain professors you are interested in working with? Your answer to this questions shows you have done some research and are ready to engage in the department. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you don’t just want a PhD, you want one from this school.

4. What experience makes you a good candidate?

Yes, the interviewer has read your CV, but this question allows you to draw their attention to specific qualifications or skills that might not be obvious from just your resume. Talk about courses you have taken that have taught you the necessary skills for graduate work or give examples of past research experience from your Bachelor’s or Master’s.

5. How did you develop this proposal?

There are no trick questions here. The interviewer wants to see that you are engaged with the field and spent some time preparing your proposal. Take them through your thought process and discuss the background reading and research you did. What other approaches did you consider before deciding on this one? What will your project contribute to the field?  

6. What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?

No matter how carefully you plan, no project goes off without a hitch. Be honest about where you see potential difficulties, but more importantly discuss how you plan to work through them.

7. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Another classic interview question, and one you definitely don’t want to be answering off the top of your head. Pick a strength that is relevant to this position and then give a few examples of how you have used it well. When it comes to choosing a weakness, be truthful and then (using examples again) talk about how you have been working to overcome it.

8. Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

The next three to six years of your PhD won’t be smooth sailing. You are likely to hit many snags along the way. The interviewer wants to know you are resourceful and can handle these setback. Try to think of an academic challenge you have had to overcome rather than a personal one.

9. What are your future career plans?

This is another way to suss out your motivations for doing a PhD and see if you have given a thought to what comes after your doctorate. How will a PhD help you achieve your future goals? Someone with a clear goal in mind is likely to be more committed to doing a PhD. For many, the goal will be to pursue an academic career, in which case this is an opportunity to show you understand the academic career path.

10. Do you have any questions for us?

Remember that this interview goes both ways. It is important that you have some questions to ask the interviewer 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.

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

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questions to ask for phd

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Top 12 Potential PhD Viva Questions and How to Answer Them

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Breathed a sigh of relief after submitting the PhD thesis you’ve burnt the midnight oil for? Not so soon! While submitting your thesis is a massive achievement, defending it decides whether you will receive the doctoral degree or not. Although every PhD viva examination is different, there are similarities in the types of questions asked at each. In this article, we shall discuss the most common and potential PhD viva questions and how to answer them.

Types of PhD Viva Questions

Generally, examiners prepare a series of questions for you to answer at the PhD viva voce examination. These questions are primarily based on your thesis. However, the questions asked in PhD viva examinations can be broadly grouped under four basic headings:

  • General Questions
  • Research Context and Methods
  • Analysis and Findings
  • Discussions and Conclusion/Implications

Therefore, while preparing for your PhD viva and defending your thesis , you must consider the types of questions you’re likely to be asked. This helps in practicing your answers in advance and not being baffled during the viva. Practicing how you would answer questions based on these four basic categories will take you a long way in your preparations.

Commonly Asked PhD Viva Questions and How to Answer Them

While sticking to answering the most commonly asked questions might sound simple, it is equally important to be prepared for counter questions. Furthermore, it’s easy to go off on a tangent due to nervousness. This leads to opening up other lines of enquiry from the examiners in areas you hadn’t probably expected to be questioned about.

Ideally, you aren’t expected to dictate your thesis as it is. Examiners are interested in knowing your understanding of the research, its methods, analysis and findings, conclusion and implications, etc.

Despite the differences in every PhD viva, you must be prepared to answer these common questions logically. Below are some popular PhD viva questions to prepare:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Introduce yourself and talk about your areas of interest related to research. More importantly, focus on the areas you are extremely positive about. Briefly speak about your past achievements without overwhelming the examiners and sounding boastful. Keep the introduction professional.

2. What is the reason for selecting this research question?

The response to this question is often generalized by saying that you are interested in the topic. However, examiners want to hear the specifications of your interest in the topic. You must plan your answer stating the most interesting aspect of your research and why did you choose the research question over another topic from the same or allied domain. Furthermore, cite certain instances that helped you in selecting the research topic and the particular field for your project.

3. What is the key focus of your research?

Remember that the answer to this question is not about summarizing your research. It involves talking about the area of primary focus of research. Most importantly, in order to demonstrate the viability of your research, it is essential to identify some of the key questions it addresses.

4. Did the research process go as per your plan or were there any unexpected circumstances that you had to deal with?

The purpose of this question is not only to see whether you can work as per your structured plan, but also to understand your readiness with backup plans in case of unforeseen situations. An ideal way to answer this is by clearly stating if the project went as per your predefined plan. Furthermore, be honest in mentioning if you were assisted by others in dealing with it, as it may lead to a new set of questioning from the examiners.

5. After completion of your research, which part of the process did you enjoy the most and why?

Remember that the examiners know about a PhD student’s stressful journey . Therefore, do not elaborate on the hardships that you went through during your research, unless asked otherwise. Emphasize on the aspects of the research project that you enjoyed and looked forward to every time you stepped in your laboratory. Describe how you developed interest in newer approaches to conduct research.

6. As a researcher, what change has this research brought in you?

This question demands a strong, progressive, and positive response. Remember your first day in the research laboratory and compare it to today. Identify the differences in your traits as a researcher. Mention how following, reading, and analyzing other researchers’ works have brought a positive change in you. Furthermore, address how you overcame your shortcomings as a researcher and upskilled yourself.

7. Summarize your thesis.

Be well versed with the entire project. Start by explaining why you selected the topic of your thesis and close your explanation by providing an optimum solution to the problem. You must prepare for 3 types of answers for this question. Prepare a 1-minute, 3-5 minutes, and 10-minute summary and use the correct one based on your audience at the viva.

8. What developments have you witnessed in this field since you began your doctorate? How did these developments change your research context?

Familiarize yourself with the advances in your field throughout your PhD. Mention works of researchers you have referred to while working on your project. Additionally, elaborate on how other researchers’ work influenced your research and directed you to finding results.

9. What original contribution has your thesis made to this field of study?

Answer this question by keeping in mind what was known before in published literature and what you have added as part of being awarded your PhD. Firstly, you must present a major piece of new information during your research project. Secondly, elaborate on how your research expands the existing literature. Thirdly, mention how your work is different from other researchers’ works that you referred. Finally, discuss how you developed a new product or improved an existing one.

10. How well did the study design work?

While answering this question, you must focus on how your planned methods and methodologies were executed. Furthermore, mention how you tackled difficulties in study design and concluded your research.

11. Elaborate on your main findings and how do they relate to literature in your field?

While answering this question, elaborate on how you evaluated the key findings in your research. Mention the key factors involved and the reason for choosing a particular process of evaluation. Furthermore, explain how your findings are related with the literature review of your project. Mention its significant contributions in your field of research. In addition, discuss how your research findings connect with your hypothesis as well as the conclusion of your research.

12. What is the strength and weakness of your research?

While you may want to impress the examiner by emphasizing on the strengths of your research, being aware of the weaknesses and planning a directional move to overcome them is also equally important. Hence, mention the strengths first and elaborate on how they connect with the key findings. Additionally, underline the limitations and the factors that could be transformed into strengths in future research.

How nervous were you while preparing for your PhD viva voce? Did you follow any specific tips to ace your PhD viva voce ? How important is it to prepare for these common PhD viva questions beforehand? Let us know how you prepared for your PhD viva voce in the comments section below! You can also visit our  Q&A forum  for frequently asked questions related to different aspects of research writing and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.

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Really useful in helping me put a plan / script together for my forthcoming viva. Some interesting questions that I hadn’t thought about before reading this article – the proof of the pudding will be how well the viva goes of course, but at least I now have a head start! Many thanks

Thank you, this is super helpful. I have my viva voce in a month and I’ll be using these questions as a guide

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Top 15 PhD interview questions that you must be ready to answer!

Professor dawid hanak.

  • July 14, 2021
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PhD interview is a crucial part of the admission process. To help you prepare, we’ve put together a list of the best PhD interview questions! Check it out!

How do you get admitted to a graduate school? In most cases, there are at least two stages. In the first stage, you need to make an official application to your grad school and answer their questions. Then, in the second step, you may be invited for a PhD interview during which a panel, usually comprising your supervisory team, will be asking you interview questions. 

If you want to become a successful PhD student, you really need to nail these PhD interview questions and use this interview as an opportunity to showcase your motivation and dedication to your academic career. 

I know there is quite a lot of confusion about what PhD interview looks like and what are common PhD interview questions. Are you wondering how to prepare for a PhD interview? Let me share what I look for when I’m interviewing prospective PhD students. 

Table of Contents

Structure of a PhD interview

Before I’ll talk about the most common PhD interview questions, let me briefly outline what you can expect during the interview itself. 

Depending on the graduate school and the preference of the prospective supervisor, the interview can be very formal or quite informal. The structure of the interview may also vary depending on your area of study, as the focus in social sciences will be different than that in environmental science or engineering. 

Regardless of this, there are similar stages that you need to go through before you can be offered a place on the PhD programme. 

In many cases, the PhD interview starts with a short presentation that you give in front of the interview panel. This will likely focus on your background and your PhD proposal. If you apply for a specific project, then the focus of your presentation will likely be on how do your knowledge and skills align with the scope of that specific project. 

Once you are done with your presentation, which by the way is usually between 10 and 20 minutes, then the panel members will start asking you the interview questions. 

These questions aim to help the panel assess your: 

  • understanding of what a PhD degree is about and what’s required to successfully complete a PhD
  • current skills and knowledge and your ability to further develop your academic and technical skills
  • ability to manage projects under uncertainty 
  • understanding of novelty and original research 
  • understanding of what being a PhD student means and how demanding it is
  • ability to deliver the research project within given time scale (and budget)

These are just a few areas that the PhD panel will quiz you about. But remember, this isn’t just about them asking you questions – you can also do so! If you want me the share the best PhD interview questions to ask as a prospective PhD candidate, please do let me know in the comments!.

PHD INTERVIEW QUESTIONS INTERVIEW SUPPORT COACHING

What are the most common PhD interview questions? 

#1 why do you want to do a phd .

Having a clear reason why you want to do a PhD gives the prospective supervisor an indication that you’ve thought this decision through. You are, therefore, less likely to drop off. Regardless of whether you want to do a PhD because of the career path you chose, willingness to solve challenges, being a lecturer in the higher education sector or just for personal ambition, having a clear why makes your performance during the PhD interview much stronger.

#2 What motivates you to do a PhD?

Another benefit of having a clear why is the fact that you will have something to aspire to. This will provide a strong driving force for you to complete your PhD, regardless of the challenges that you may experience. Make sure you list all reasons why you want to do a PhD degree before you apply and keep this list with you in case you need to boost your motivation. This will help you convince the panel that you’re prepared to handle the uncertain circumstances of research. 

#3 What makes you a good PhD candidate?

One of the most common PhD interview questions is asking you to tell the panel why you think you are fit to undertake a PhD research. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is critical. You of course want to emphasise your strengths as much as possible during the interview, but you need to be ready to discuss how you are going to handle any weaknesses you may have, what further training you need during your grad school, and what other development needs you to have to put you on the academic career path. 

how to perform well during phd interview

#4 What do you think PhD is about?

This is one of the first questions I ask every one of my prospective graduate students. Understanding what does PhD entails, in terms of scientific contribution and effort it takes, is critical to succeeding during your PhD interview. You need to know what you’re signing up for and you need to be prepared to work hard and smart to achieve impact with your work. It’s not only about having a good research proposal . PhD is primarily about advancing our knowledge and understanding of the world we live in. It’s challenging, it’s new, it’s uncertain – you need to be able to demonstrate that you’re able to handle this as a graduate student. 

#5 What is one thing that is most important for you to successfully complete your PhD programme?

The panel is aware that research is uncertain and you may need to pivot as you go along with your work. But they may ask you about the most important question you think is necessary to help you successfully complete your PhD project. This PhD interview question is quite tricky because there isn’t a right and wrong answer. We are all different and the panel wants to verify how you’ll build on your strengths to deliver your project and impact.

phd interview coaching phd support interview support for researchers

#6 What experience do you have in this research field?

Although it isn’t always necessary to have direct experience in the field of the PhD you apply for, it will definitely help. The panel wants to verify your CV and how your past experience and education relate to the scope of your PhD. They want to make sure you have the fundamental understanding of the research area as this is crucial to success. So if your background is in social science but apply for PhD in environmental science, you need to be able to demonstrate that you’ve built a sufficient understanding of the PhD research field in another way. 

#7 How your previous experience and skills will help you to deliver this project?

This is one of the interview questions that is rather asked to those who spent some time in their profession, rather than joining a graduate school straight after their Bachelor or Masters degree. This question asks you to demonstrate how you can leverage the hard and soft skills that you’ve already developed during your career to deliver a research project. The panel may also ask about the difference between the delivery of commercial and research projects at this point. 

top phd interview questions you need to be ready

#8 How you can further build your skills to deliver this project?

You decided to join a grad school to further develop your skills. It isn’t only about delivering a breakthrough project, but also about developing you as an independent researcher. Therefore, you need to be able to reflect on your current skills and discuss what skills you need to succeed in graduate school. Also, think about how the faculty and supervisors can help you achieve this via additional training or mentoring. 

#9 What is the novelty of your research project?

The success of your research proposal ultimately depends on the novelty it presents. Therefore, one of the most critical PhD interview questions is about the novelty of your work. Although you’ve already written your proposal, the panel may still ask you questions to further expand on your contribution to the existing body of research. 

what panel asks during phd interview questions

#10 How did you come up with your project proposal?

Building on the previous question, the PhD panel can go one step further and ask you how you actually come up with your project proposal. To answer this question, you need to demonstrate an understanding of the current state-of-the-art, know the main discussions and challenges in your research field. I’m sure you’ve done some sort of literature review when preparing your research proposal.

If you’re still working on your proposal, make sure you check our approach to the literature review and research tools that can support you in the process. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with new research ideas, make sure you check my article and webinar on preparing research proposals .

#11 Why this research project has not been done before?

This is one of my favourite PhD interview questions. It essentially asks why other researchers haven’t done this research yet. It allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the state-of-the-art and show your critical analysis skills. Make sure you know why the research questions weren’t answered yet. Is this because people aren’t aware of these? Or maybe there are limitations in the current approaches and you’re going to change this in your research project?

how to prepare for phd interview

#12 What challenges do you expect to encounter in this project?

This interview question allows you to demonstrate your approach to project and risk management. Understanding what may go wrong will help you prepare better for the delivery of your project. Although you may not predict everything, it demonstrates to the panel that you understand that the PhD research is uncertain by nature. 

#13 How do you deal with uncertainty and challenges?

Building on the question above, the PhD panel may actually ask you how you would handle the challenges and uncertainty in your research project. They don’t expect you to identify all challenges that you’ll experience. Rather they want to understand whether you’re able to realistically plan a research project and don’t overcommit yourself. Of course, having a clear project management plan helps with the project delivery, but it also significantly reduces the stress and anxiety associated with doing the PhD. 

Some time ago I wrote h ow you can handle the uncertainty of research . Make sure you check it out. 

#14 What are your career aspirations?

This question will help the PhD panel understand what career path you’d like to pursue after your PhD, whether that’s a career in higher education or industry. They want to make sure that the PhD will contribute towards building your skillset and knowledge to support your future career. Although you may want to get a PhD degree to satisfy your personal aspirations, in the majority of cases getting a doctorate is dictated by your career aspirations. 

what to wear to phd interview

#15 Do you have any questions for me?

As in any kind of interview, once the panel stopped throwing their questions at you, they’ll ask whether you have any questions. I ALWAYS do this! Why? Although this isn’t a very difficult “question” to answer, it gives us, the panel, a significant amount of information.

If you are inquisitive about the research group, other projects, research environment, development opportunities and so on, this shows that you’re really interested in working with me. It also tells me that you’re willing to explore options and are not worried to ask questions – a skill that is CRUCIAL for all researchers. When you don’t ask any questions, this may leave a rather unfavourable impression. Therefore, make sure that you have a list of several questions that you want the panel to answer. 

An interview is a crucial factor that helps the PhD panel decide whether to admit you onto their PhD degree or not. In addition to preparing a strong research proposal, you will need to demonstrate your skills, knowledge and understanding of PhD process to the panel comprising your prospective supervisor and other members of faculty.

I hope this article will give you an idea of how to prepare for a PhD interview. Here I included a list of the most difficult PhD interview questions so that you can get yourself ready.

But remember, this isn’t just about them asking you questions – you can also do so! If you want me the share the best PhD interview questions to ask as a prospective PhD candidate, please do let me know in the comments!.

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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 certainly 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 able to rise to the challenge and are academically capable of achieving this ultimate goal. And the PhD interview is how they assess your potential for a place on the program when applying for a PhD .

Your PhD interview will consist of questions that will enable 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. 

This interview will also give you the opportunity to ask questions about the program and the university to make sure it’s the place you’d like to study. 

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 beginning your Doctorate journey.

PhD Interview dos and don'ts

PhD interview questions to help you prepare

Your interviewers will ask a range of different questions in order to determine whether you will be let into the PhD program. They will ask different types of questions to get an idea of who you are, what your interests are, and how much of an asset your research will be to the university. 

General PhD Interview Questions

One important aspect of the PhD interview is for the interviewers to get a good idea of who the interviewee is.

They will do this by asking a series of questions that are more general to try and get a sense of your likes and dislikes, and your overall personality. These opening questions could be viewed as ‘warm up questions’ and are likely to also include questions and discussions about your academic history, reasons why you are interested in your particular research topic, and why you’re studying a PhD.

Example questions could include:

  • What is your academic background?
  • Describe your personal qualities?
  • What sets you apart from the candidates?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The PhD interviewer will ask you questions about your motivation to study a PhD which you should find straightforward to answer as you clearly have a keen interest and knowledge in a particular research topic to be considering it at PhD level. Now all you need to do is illustrate to the interviewer why you are the right person for this PhD at their university.

The first way to do this is to go into detail about your personal motivations for studying a PhD. Do you have a historical or family link with this topic? Was it an area you covered in your bachelors degree that you now want to explore further? Are you destined for a career in academia? 

Another thing you should demonstrate in your PhD interview is what experience you’ve had either academically, personally or in the workplace that has strengthened your passions for your research.

It is also important to show that you have researched the university, the supervisor, and your project. If many universities offer this particular PhD course, then why did you choose this specific one? Do they have resources that will be useful? Is there a supervisor you’d like to work with? 

Example questions that you can expect to receive at this stage in your PhD interview could include:

  • Why are you motivated to pursue a PhD and why in this specific field?
  • Why did you choose this university?
  • Why did you choose this program?
  • Tell us about a time you experienced a setback

Relevant experience

Your PhD interviewer will be interested in any relevant experience you have to qualify you to study this PhD. Use your answers to draw attention to your specific qualifications that may not be obvious from your CV or project. Discuss other courses that you’ve taken, past research, etc. Use this time to reassure your prospective supervisor that you have the skills and experience needed to undertake a doctorate.

Consider what is the critical knowledge and skills needed for this project and explain to the interviewer how you meet these.

Don’t just summarise your CV as the interviewer has already seen this. They will want to see your passion and motivation for your research project.

Example questions they may ask at this stage could be:

  • What experience do you have that makes you suitable for this particular PhD and in what ways?’
  • Why should we choose you?

Your PhD project

Interviewers will want to know that students understand their project and the research involved in successfully studying a PhD. 

You should be prepared to discuss your project idea in detail and demonstrate to the interviewer that you are the ideal candidate. For example, you should explain that you understand the current gaps in knowledge around your topic and how you propose to fill these gaps. Show that you know what your aims and objectives are and how your efforts will contribute to the research field.

Here are some example questions to help you discuss your PhD project:

  • How are you planning to deliver your project on time? 
  • What will you do if you do not find the expected results?
  • What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?
  • How did you develop this proposal?

Future ambitions

It’s important for students to know where their work may lead them. Knowing how a PhD will help achieve this, and articulating these aspirations to the interviewer will give them a better picture of the student’s goals. 

If the goal is to have an academic career, use this as an opportunity to show the interviewer that you understand the academic career path

An example question at this stage could be:

  • How will this PhD open the door for future ambitions and aspirations?

Your own questions

As well as being properly prepared to answer questions about your PhD proposal, it is also important to ask your own questions to the interviewer to make sure that this is the university and PhD program that you’re looking for.

Example questions that you could ask a potential supervisor could include:

  • Are you likely to remain at the university for the duration of my PhD program?
  • Are their good links within a specific industry/work field for your post-PhD career?
  • How many PhD students to you supervise at one time?
  • How much contact time am I likely to get?

PhD interview questions: DOs 

PhD Interview dos

  • "Brand" yourself. Show your personality . We must remember you for something 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

PhD Interview don'ts

  • 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 have 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.

Summary of PhD interview questions 

Common PhD Interview Questions

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How To Prepare For A PhD Viva

Are You Ready For A PhD?

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120 Questions to Ask Grad Students

Are you thinking about grad school or just curious about what it’s like? You’re in the right spot. I’ve put together a list of questions that get right to the heart of the grad student experience.

From the nitty-gritty of research woes to how they keep their social life buzzing, these real-talk questions are designed to give you the lowdown straight from the grad students themselves. So, grab a coffee and gear up to get the inside scoop!

Table of Contents

Navigating the Graduate Program

  • How did you choose your graduate program?
  • Can you walk me through your typical day as a grad student?
  • What resources do you wish you had known about when you started?
  • How accessible are faculty and advisors in your program?
  • What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about grad school?
  • How do you manage the workload and academic expectations?
  • What strategies do you use to stay organized and meet deadlines?
  • How does your program incorporate interdisciplinary study?
  • In what ways does the program challenge you intellectually?
  • How do you find research topics or projects to work on?
  • What is the process for thesis or dissertation proposals in your program?
  • Can you describe the comprehensive exam process and how to best prepare for it?
  • What support does the program provide for academic writing and publishing?
  • How has your research benefited from collaborations within your program?
  • Are there opportunities for teaching or assisting in undergraduate courses?

Academic Experience and Research

  • What drew you towards your current research focus?
  • How do you navigate collaborations with other researchers?
  • What has been your biggest academic challenge during your grad studies?
  • How do you go about selecting your courses each term?
  • What research methodologies do you commonly use in your field?
  • How is your academic performance evaluated in your program?
  • How do you balance independent study with structured coursework?
  • How often do you participate in academic conferences, and how do you prepare for them?
  • How does your program support innovative or risky research ideas?
  • What’s the process for applying for research grants or funding?
  • Can you describe a research breakthrough or significant moment you’ve experienced?
  • How do you handle setbacks or challenges in your research?
  • How often do you meet with your thesis or dissertation advisor?
  • In what ways do you contribute to your field beyond just your research?
  • How do traditional research dissemination methods compare to new ones in your field?

Financial Aspects of Graduate School

  • What types of financial aid are available within your program?
  • How do you manage living expenses while attending grad school?
  • What advice would you have for someone applying for scholarships and grants?
  • Are there opportunities for paid research positions or fellowships?
  • How common is taking out loans, and how do students handle repayment concerns?
  • Can you discuss the cost of living in the area relative to the stipend provided?
  • How transparent is the program about the full cost of attendance?
  • What are some unexpected expenses you have encountered?
  • Are there on-campus employment opportunities that align with your academic goals?
  • How do you budget time and money for educational travel, such as conferences?
  • Are there financial literacy resources or workshops offered by the university?
  • How have you balanced seeking financial aid with focusing on your studies?
  • In your opinion, what is the return on investment for your graduate degree?
  • Can you share some money-saving tips for other grad students?
  • How does your program assist students with financial emergencies?

Challenges and Coping Strategies

  • What has been the most difficult aspect of graduate school for you?
  • How do you handle stress and maintain mental wellness?
  • What strategies do you use to overcome procrastination or lack of motivation?
  • Can you share a time you experienced failure and how you dealt with it?
  • How do you stay resilient when faced with academic setbacks?
  • Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome, and if so, how do you combat it?
  • What have you learned about yourself through overcoming grad school challenges?
  • How do you approach seeking help or resources when challenges arise?
  • What is your advice for maintaining a positive attitude in tough times?
  • How do you manage to keep up with your personal commitments while being a grad student?
  • In what ways do peers or mentors support you through challenges?
  • How do you balance long-term projects with immediate deadlines?
  • What’s your approach to developing a consistent study routine?
  • Can you share tips for effective communication with faculty when problems occur?
  • How do you adapt to shifting research landscapes or academic trends?

Career Planning and Professional Development

  • How has your grad program prepared you for your future career goals?
  • What networking opportunities has your program provided?
  • Can you describe the career services or professional development resources offered?
  • How do you stay informed about job market trends in your field?
  • What steps are you taking to build your professional portfolio?
  • How does your program facilitate connections with industry or alumni?
  • What importance does your program place on internships or practical experience?
  • In what ways do you gain leadership experience during your studies?
  • Can you discuss the importance of mentorship in your professional development?
  • How do you plan to transition from academia to your professional field?
  • What role do conferences and workshops play in your professional growth?
  • How does your program encourage entrepreneurship or innovation?
  • What strategies have you employed for job searching or career advancement?
  • How important is teaching experience for your career path?
  • Can you share any successes or challenges in finding post-doc positions?

Social Life and Networking

  • How do you balance social activities with your academic responsibilities?
  • Can you recommend ways to meet new people and make friends in grad school?
  • How do you find the time to maintain relationships outside of grad school?
  • What role do student organizations or clubs play in your life?
  • How important is networking in your graduate experience?
  • Can you suggest effective strategies for building a professional network?
  • How does your program foster a sense of community among grad students?
  • What types of social or networking events have been most beneficial for you?
  • How do you utilize social media for networking purposes?
  • In what ways do you collaborate with students from different departments?
  • How do you stay in touch with peers and collaborators after they graduate?
  • Have you participated in any mentoring programs?
  • How does participating in group projects enhance your grad school experience?
  • Can you discuss the importance of teamwork and interpersonal skills in your field?
  • How do you create opportunities for interdisciplinary networking?

Program Specifics and Department Culture

  • How would you describe the culture within your department?
  • What makes your graduate program unique from others in your field?
  • How does your program’s culture influence your academic experience?
  • Can you explain how diversity and inclusion are addressed within your department?
  • What are the typical outcomes for graduates of your program?
  • How transparent is the program about student success rates and placement?
  • What sort of values and expectations does your program emphasize?
  • Can you discuss any signature events or traditions within your department?
  • How does your department support students in their first year?
  • Are there any unique facilities or resources that set your program apart?
  • How does your program integrate feedback from students?
  • What role does collaboration with other departments or universities play?
  • Can you provide examples of how your department handles conflict resolution?
  • What is the student-to-faculty ratio, and how does it affect your learning?
  • Does your program have a formal system for evaluating and improving the curriculum?

Work and Study Balance Techniques

  • How do you manage time effectively to balance work and study?
  • Can you share some tactics for maintaining focus during intense study periods?
  • How does your day-to-day schedule cater to both academic and personal needs?
  • What strategies do you use to prevent burnout?
  • How do you make time for hobbies or interests outside of grad school?
  • Can you share advice for new grad students on establishing a work-study routine?
  • How flexible is your program with accommodating part-time work?
  • What are your top tips for efficient time management?
  • How do you prioritize when faced with multiple tasks and deadlines?
  • Can you provide guidance on seeking work-study or assistantship roles?
  • How do you negotiate with employers regarding your academic commitments?
  • What role has self-care played in your success as a grad student?
  • Can you describe any valuable tools or apps for organizing your time?
  • How do you keep your energy and motivation levels up throughout the semester?
  • How do you set boundaries between your academic life and personal time?

Frequently Asked Questions

What should i consider when choosing a graduate program.

Research the faculty’s expertise, available resources, the program’s structure, financial aid options, and the department’s culture. Understanding your long-term goals and how a program aligns with them is crucial.

How many years does a graduate program take?

A graduate degree can be earned in many different ways, but it usually takes about two years. There are accelerated programs that can shorten the time to one year or even less, but these are rare. Some fields, such as law or medicine, may take more time.

What are some common traits of successful grad students?

Successful grad students often possess the following traits:

  • Self-motivation : Driven to achieve personal and academic goals.
  • Resilience : Bounces back from setbacks and persists through difficulties.
  • Time management : Balances study, work, and personal life effectively.
  • Passion for research : Deeply interested in their field of study.
  • Communication skills : Articulates ideas and research findings clearly.

What are the biggest challenges of graduate school?

The biggest challenges of graduate school often include:

  • Intense workload : Managing the high volume of reading, complex research, and rigorous academic expectations.
  • Financial strain : Covering tuition and living expenses, often on a limited budget or stipend.
  • Time management : Juggling various commitments such as coursework, research, teaching assignments, and often personal responsibilities.
  • Stress and burnout : Coping with the sustained mental and emotional pressure to perform and produce results.
  • Imposter syndrome : Battling feelings of self-doubt and fear of not being intellectually capable or deserving.
  • Uncertain career prospects : Navigating the competitive job market and anxieties about future employment opportunities after graduation.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking to dive into grad school yourself or just wanna understand what your grad student pals are up to, these questions will give you the scoop you need.

Remember, grad school’s a big world with lots to explore, so use these icebreakers to start some genuine, insightful chats with those who are living the grad life. After all, who better to learn from than those hitting the books and living out their academic adventures every day?

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Robby Salveron

Hanging in the FAFSA waiting room? What to do to prepare as you wait for your turn.

questions to ask for phd

Editor's note: USA TODAY is updating this previously published story with more details on the soft launch of the new FAFSA form for the school year 2024-25.

The long-awaited simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)  form to request financial help for the 2024-25 year is finally here -- though it may not have seemed like it for millions of Americans over the long New Year's holiday weekend.

The Department of Education officially "soft" launched the new FAFSA form on December 30 last weekend, about three months later than its usual Oct. 1 date, but only for 30 minutes, according to a Department of Education spokesperson on Tuesday. The application was also available for another 30 minutes on December 31 and two hours on January 1, the spokesperson said.

It's now open again periodically, with a waiting room to manage site volume and capacity, the spokesperson said.

The soft launch, which means that the form is available periodically, allows the government to "monitor and respond in real time to any potential issues impacting the applicant experience," according to the Federal Student Aid website .

Learn more: Best personal loans

In the two 30-minute windows the application was open on December 30 and 31, "thousands of applications were successfully submitted," the spokesperson said. On January 1 during the two-hour window, "over 30,000 applications were successfully submitted, and over 100,000 applications are in progress," they said, noting "in progress" generally means a user has completed their portion of the form and a contributor will need to complete their portion.

With tens of millions of students expected to complete FAFSA but only tens of thousands so far able to do so -- three months later than usual -- "even by soft-launch standards, this weekend’s rollout was challenging and students, families, and financial aid administrators who have been waiting for this release for months are understandably frustrated," said J ustin Draeger, president of nonprofit National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Still, Federal Student Aid believes everyone will be able to complete the form on time. "You will have plenty of time to complete the FAFSA form," the website reads. "If you do submit your form during the soft launch, your information will be saved, and you won’t need to resubmit your form or any related information. If your form is unavailable when you or your family members try to access it, please try again later."

About 18 million FAFSAs were submitted during the 2020-21 application cycle, according to Federal Student Aid data .

For the  2024-25 school year, FAFSA  will be reduced to just 36 questions from 108, including detailed financial information, and it will be easier to import income data from tax records. Along with the pared-down form, the Department of Education changed its formulas so, among other things , more students would be awarded Pell Grants , which don't have to be repaid. It also will no longer include a sibling discount so families with more than one child in college may get less aid.

The goal of the new FAFSA form is to make it easier for students and families to get money to pay for school. Studies show millions of students who are eligible for financial aid don't complete the application for various reasons and miss out on billions of dollars for school. Part of the solution to get more people to apply was to simplify the process and make more people eligible for grants. But the lateness in getting it out may have complicated things for those who have to complete it this year. Schools won't even receive any information they need to determine aid until the end of January, the Department of Education said .

Since no other deadlines for submission or decisions have been moved back, the entire process has been compressed, making it more important than ever to stay calm, focused, organized and get everything right the first time or risk leaving money on the table.

Here are some of what to expect and tips to help maximize your time and chances to get every penny you can for school:

  • Less time, maybe less support. Due to the shortened timeline, students and families not only have less time to complete FAFSA but may not get as much help as they normally would. So, make sure you know the requirements of schools you’re interested in. “Those states with FAFSA completion as a high school graduation requirement will be operating under immense pressure to support students in a timely manner and ensure all requirements are met," the National College Attainment Network warned in a statemen t in November. 
  • Questions, additions and corrections. If you need to make corrections or additions, answer school questions, or provide more information, you won't be able to until February at the earliest, further delaying financial aid offers, said Shannon Vasconcelos, Bright Horizons college coach, a unit of childcare operator Bright Horizons. So, make sure “to get all your ducks in a row upfront,” she said. “Prepare and send any information upfront if you have special circumstances -- if the tax year 2022 information for the 2024-25 FAFSA is no longer representative of your financial situation. There’s no time for a lot of back and forth." Also, send your information to all the schools you’re even just considering so there’s no delay if you decide to apply. If you don’t, the school just won’t do anything with information and there’s no harm. 
  • State aid. The new FAFSA won’t include links to state aid applications this year. Most states don’t require a separate form for state aid, but applicants in Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont do. You’ll have to find and complete the state application or potentially lose out, Vasconcelos said.  
  • FSA IDs.  This year, “you need it to get started and it could be a three-day processing time to get it confirmed,” Vasconcelos said. The student needs one and at least one parent, depending on whether taxes are filed jointly or separately if the student is a dependent. Email addresses or mobile phone numbers are required.  
  • Scams. Remember, you never have to pay anyone to help you with student loans or to complete FAFSA. Also, check the loan servicing company you're working with is legit and always complete your form at the official Federal Student Aid website . You can find more tips on how to detect fraud and scams at the Federal Student Aid site .

What is a CSS profile? Here's why you should fill out this application for aid as well

New FAFSA: How is the FAFSA going to change? How it'll mean less financial aid for some.

Maybe not so simple: A simpler FAFSA's coming. But it won't necessarily make getting money easier. Here's why.

Late coming: FAFSA won't be available Oct 1. The simpler 2024-25 application will be ready in December.

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at [email protected] and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

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  1. Questions to Ask During Your PhD Interview

    You're asking this to firstly work out how experienced the professor is at supervising students, based purely on the numbers previously supervised. The reason to ask the second question of how many students gained PhDs is to get an idea of the supervisor's track record of successful supervision. The lower the percentage of students that ...

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    Unique interest. And you should be aware that unexpected things can happen. For instance: care leave, illness or simply failed experiments can delay the completion of a PhD programme. Therefore, it is good to test the water and ask about the stance of the PhD programme when it comes to being flexible. You may also like: 9 smart questions to ask ...

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    Interview questions about you Interview questions about your PhD project Interview questions about your choice of university What to ask in a PhD interview Interview questions about you Your qualities as a researcher, team-member and individual are some of the most important factors in a university's decision to accept you for a PhD.

  5. PhD Interview Questions and Answers (13 Questions + Answers)

    PhD Interview Questions and Answers (13 Questions + Answers) Published by: Practical Psychology. on December 5, 2023. 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 ...

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    You've been accepted to a PhD program, and have time to ask questions while visiting - what do you look for and ask? Below are some high level ideas to keep in mind as you start this journey and an exhaustive reference of questions to ask, color coded by who you should probably talk to first. You'll have 30 min - full day with each lab, so ...

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    Common PhD Interview Questions. 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.

  8. Top 10 Common PhD Interview Questions and Answers

    However, all Ph.D. interviews will include questions that concern your academic achievements, field of research, motivation for applying and goals. Here are 10 questions you may encounter in a Ph.D. interview with example answers: 1. Why do you think you are the right candidate for this Ph.D. program?

  9. Questions to Ask A Graduate Program

    Going for a campus visit or preparing for an admissions interview with a graduate program? Bookmark this page (or download it as a PDF) to make sure you ask the right questions that will help you decide if the program is right for you. Graduate Student Support. Is there a diverse group of students, faculty, and administrators?

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    A formal question and answer session in front of a postgraduate recruitment panel. A presentation, based on your research proposal or area of expertise. A one-to-one discussion with your prospective supervisor. An informal lunch with your prospective supervisor, other members of your interview panel and / or current PhD students.

  11. The Best Questions to Ask During a PhD Interview

    5. Will I have the opportunity to teach during my PhD? If you want to be a professor, teaching will be an essential part of your job. It is extremely beneficial to gain teaching experience during your PhD and many North American PhD programs actually require at least one year of teaching. 6.

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    These are my (@andrewkuznet) opinions, formed by being a SCS PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University in the US.This post is meant as a followup to a poster I made in 2019 with the help of many people. Following the trend, this guide was also created collaboratively. Every PhD, advisor, and situation is different, but I've written this question guide to help a diverse set of readers during ...

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    Most PhD interviews end with the panel asking the candidate if they have any questions of their own. It may be tempting to mumble a quick "no, thank you" and get out of the room as quickly as possible, but here are three reasons why you should take the opportunity to ask at least a couple of questions: Fleeing the interview room is never a good ...

  14. Grad School Interview Question & How to Answer Them

    Grad School Interview Question & How to Answer Them. Published on March 29, 2021 by Lauren Thomas.Revised on June 1, 2023. Grad school interviews are the last step of the application process, so congratulations for making it to this stage!Getting this far is a big accomplishment—graduate schools only conduct interviews with those applicants they are seriously considering accepting.

  15. Top 10 PhD Interview Questions

    Here are ten common PhD interview questions. 1. Tell us about yourself. This is a popular opener for just about any type of interview. It's meant to be an easy icebreaker, but that doesn't mean there isn't a wrong answer. Make sure to your response is relevant to the context of a PhD interview. Talk about your academic background ...

  16. Questions to Ask a Potential PhD Advisor: Step 1 in ...

    By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson. One of the big "unspoken" steps in applying successfully to PhD programs is conducting faculty outreach before applying. This step is necessary to find research alignment with a faculty member or members who might serve as your PhD advisor if you are accepted to the program, and necessary to ensure you'll receive adequate support!

  17. phd

    I'm in mathematics, though I don't know if the answers to this will be field-dependent. There have been previous good questions that answer what to ask graduate students here and only somewhat relatedly here (about what to ask students of potential advisors). However, I don't know what good questions are to ask professors themselves.

  18. Top 12 Potential PhD Viva Questions and How to Answer Them

    Examiners are interested in knowing your understanding of the research, its methods, analysis and findings, conclusion and implications, etc. Despite the differences in every PhD viva, you must be prepared to answer these common questions logically. Below are some popular PhD viva questions to prepare: 1. Tell me about yourself.

  19. Top 15 PhD interview questions that you must be ready to answer!

    Here I included a list of the most difficult PhD interview questions so that you can get yourself ready. But remember, this isn't just about them asking you questions - you can also do so! If you want me the share the best PhD interview questions to ask as a prospective PhD candidate, please do let me know in the comments!.

  20. PhD Interview Questions & Answers

    The PhD interviewer will ask you questions about your motivation to study a PhD which you should find straightforward to answer as you clearly have a keen interest and knowledge in a particular research topic to be considering it at PhD level. Now all you need to do is illustrate to the interviewer why you are the right person for this PhD at ...

  21. 120 Questions to Ask Grad Students

    What are the biggest challenges of graduate school? The biggest challenges of graduate school often include: Intense workload: Managing the high volume of reading, complex research, and rigorous academic expectations. Financial strain: Covering tuition and living expenses, often on a limited budget or stipend.

  22. Essential Questions to Ask PhD Programs

    PhD programs offer in-depth exposure to a specific field, so it's important to know the curriculum. Among the questions to ask PhD programs, you should inquire about course requirements, credits, electives, and duration. Apart from the coursework, you should also check if the university has provisions for seminars, workshops, or conferences.

  23. Questions To Ask When Looking For A Lab

    Below are some questions that can guide you to get a better idea of the four things above when considering a lab. I have divided them into questions you can ask the professor (research advisor) and questions you can ask the students. I really hope these questions guide you to make the best decision when picking a lab.

  24. How to Contact a Prospective PhD Advisor

    Second: This email will get you "on the radar" of the faculty. Most PhD programs get hundreds of applicants, and faculty are much more likely to take a close look at your application if you've contacted them in advance. Third: You also might get other useful information. For example, a professor might write back saying something like "I'm not ...

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    You and your contributors should have your tax returns on hand when you fill out the FAFSA form. Even though your tax information will be transferred directly into the FAFSA form, you may still need your tax records to answer certain questions. Make sure you report 2022 income on the 2024-25 FAFSA form. Do not use your 2023 tax information ...