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How to prepare for a PhD interview?

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello everyone!

I recently got an interview request from OSU's Astronomy Ph.D program and was wondering how I should prepare for it.

Thanks
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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Some general tips that might help...
  • Treat the interview as you would a job interview. Dress professional. Arrive early. Etc. Assume that you're competing for a position and that the interview is not just a formality.
  • Do as much research on the program as you can before hand. If you have an opportunity to visit the campus prior to the interview, do it. Talk to current graduate students. Talk to professors in the department.
  • Try to keep in mind all the things that got you exciting about pursuing a PhD in the first place.
  • Prepare answers to questions like:
    - Why do you want to come to THIS school/program?
    - Why should we choose YOU over all of our other applicants?
    - What research being done here most interests you? Why?
    - What do you hope to accomplish over the course of your PhD?
    - How does this program fit into your long term career plans?
    - Which professors are you most interested in working with? Why?
 
  • #3
295
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Some general tips that might help...
  • Treat the interview as you would a job interview. Dress professional. Arrive early. Etc. Assume that you're competing for a position and that the interview is not just a formality.
  • Do as much research on the program as you can before hand. If you have an opportunity to visit the campus prior to the interview, do it. Talk to current graduate students. Talk to professors in the department.
  • Try to keep in mind all the things that got you exciting about pursuing a PhD in the first place.
  • Prepare answers to questions like:
    - Why do you want to come to THIS school/program?
    - Why should we choose YOU over all of our other applicants?
    - What research being done here most interests you? Why?
    - What do you hope to accomplish over the course of your PhD?
    - How does this program fit into your long term career plans?
    - Which professors are you most interested in working with? Why?
Thanks!
What questions should I ask them?
 
  • #4
Choppy
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What questions should I ask them?
  • What are the expectations of a PhD student in this program?
    • Hours in the office/lab?
    • TA commitments?
    • How many papers are typically published over the course of a PhD?
    • At what point will I be expected to produce a research proposal?
    • How much say will I have over the direction of my project?
    • What courses are mandatory?
    • What optional courses can I take?
  • How frequently will I meet with my supervisor? How much independence will I have?
  • How is a supervisory committee put together? How frequent are committee meetings?
  • How are graduate students supported financially?
  • What resources will I have access to?
  • What do the current graduate students do for fun?
  • Who is my primary point of contact for administrative concerns?
  • Where is the department headed in the next 5-10 years?
  • Where are recent graduates from this program ending up?
  • What is the cost of living in this city? On campus/off campus?
  • What are my options if, after a year or so I find that I'd really rather be working on a different project?
Don't be afraid to ask the questions that you really want answers to. Like a job interview you probably don't want to open with "How much does it pay?" but it's fair to ask questions like that at some point.

And some of this stuff, you can look up of course. But you can ask it in a way so as to confirm, or get the people there to expand on what you know. For example rather than an outright "Where do recent graduates end up" you could phrase a question more like... "I notice that a lot of your graduates go on to work in the armed forces. Do they specifically recruit here? Are there other employers actively seeking your graduates? For the group(s) that I'm interested in, what post-doctoral opportunities will there be? Etc."
 
  • #5
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Must a person wear a suit and tie for a PhD interview, or does business casual work?
 
  • #6
DEvens
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Must a person wear a suit and tie for a PhD interview, or does business casual work?
The best thing for deciding that would be to find out how most of the profs there dress. If they are all in suit-and-tie you want to show up in similar. If they are all running around in jeans and t-shirt, ditto. And if it's Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals, maybe you need to think carefully if it's the right school. :woot:
 
  • #7
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And if it's Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals, maybe you need to think carefully if it's the right school. :woot:
What if it's the University of Hawaii at Manoa?
 
  • #8
Dr. Courtney
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Lots of good advice above.

I'll add - be familiar with the different faculty members in the program and their research. Focus on those most closely related to your interests. Dig deeper than their web sites. _Read_ a few of their recent papers that are representative of the research you'd likely have a chance to become involved with.

When you have a chance to ask questions, ask questions about their work that demonstrate you already have a good level of familiarity and have done your homework.
 
  • #9
Choppy
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Must a person wear a suit and tie for a PhD interview, or does business casual work?
In most places business casual is probably okay, but I'd err on the side of being too formal.
 
  • #10
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Thank you all for your help! The questions asked were along the lines of the advice I got here and I think it went very well. :)
 
  • #11
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When you have a chance to ask questions, ask questions about their work that demonstrate you already have a good level of familiarity and have done your homework.
This is something that I guess I did not do so well in my OSU interview since I believe I got this advice either after the interview or only a few hours before. I do, however, have another interview from University of Hawaii and will make sure to follow through with the suggestion. Although, the professor who will be interviewing is not someone whose research interests me, what sorts of questions should I be asking then?
 
  • #12
Dr. Courtney
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This is something that I guess I did not do so well in my OSU interview since I believe I got this advice either after the interview or only a few hours before. I do, however, have another interview from University of Hawaii and will make sure to follow through with the suggestion. Although, the professor who will be interviewing is not someone whose research interests me, what sorts of questions should I be asking then?
Do I have this right? You're going all the way to Hawaii for a grad school interview, and you're not speaking with any faculty members whose research interests you? Or is a rep from U of H coming to you?

If you're going to Hawaii, identify and try and meet with faculty whose research interests you.

If a rep from U of H is coming to you, identify faculty whose research interests you, read some of their papers, and ask the rep you meet with what they know of their colleagues' work and to assess the odds of those faculty remaining at the U of H long enough for you to complete a PhD with them. Their answers may or may not be accurate, but your question shows you've done your homework, and then you might contact these faculty directly about their work (email, skype, etc.) if mutual interest remains.
 
  • #13
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Do I have this right? You're going all the way to Hawaii for a grad school interview, and you're not speaking with any faculty members whose research interests you? Or is a rep from U of H coming to you?

If you're going to Hawaii, identify and try and meet with faculty whose research interests you.

If a rep from U of H is coming to you, identify faculty whose research interests you, read some of their papers, and ask the rep you meet with what they know of their colleagues' work and to assess the odds of those faculty remaining at the U of H long enough for you to complete a PhD with them. Their answers may or may not be accurate, but your question shows you've done your homework, and then you might contact these faculty directly about their work (email, skype, etc.) if mutual interest remains.
Oh no, I apologize if I did not make this clear. The interview is online, I will stay in Texas, the interviewer will be in Hawaii and we will have a zoom conversation.

Because of this, I will ask the following question:
ask the rep you meet with what they know of their colleagues' work and to assess the odds of those faculty remaining at the U of H long enough for you to complete a PhD with them

Since that is the case, where will my reading of the papers of the research that interests me come into play?
 
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  • #14
Dr. Courtney
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Since that is the case, where will my reading of the papers of the research that interests me come into play?
If needed, to demonstrate your knowledge of the research of the faculty that interests you.

Sure, the interviewer may not be familiar with all of their colleagues' work. But what if they ask, "What aspect of Dr. X's work interests you most?" or "How do you think you can contribute to Dr.X's ongoing research?" You need to do your homework.

It's like preparing for a test. You don't know in advance everything you may need to know in the moment.
 
  • #15
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If needed, to demonstrate your knowledge of the research of the faculty that interests you.

Sure, the interviewer may not be familiar with all of their colleagues' work. But what if they ask, "What aspect of Dr. X's work interests you most?" or "How do you think you can contribute to Dr.X's ongoing research?" You need to do your homework.

It's like preparing for a test. You don't know in advance everything you may need to know in the moment.
All right, that makes sense. In addition, I feel like when I was asked the question of "Why OSU", I probably could've expanded on my answer better had I done my homework better. Thank you so much! The interview is in about 24 hours and I will do everything I can to learn more about the research that professors are involved in at the university
 

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