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Admissions PhD interview hints and tips?

  1. Jan 23, 2017 #1
    Anyone willing to offer any advice? I have a PhD interview soon and wanted to know what I should ask/do in it? I have a reasonable comprehension of what the project is about - I have some relevant work experience in the area. I would usually wear a suit but I've never seen a lecturer in one so I'll go with chinos and a shirt.

    What are they likely to ask me? And what would be good for me to ask them?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2017 #2


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    US, Europe or elsewhere? What kind of interview?
    I'll assume it is physics.

    If you did research before, expect questions about that. What did you do, can you put your research topic in a larger context? What is related work done there? A presentation of your work is common.

    Ask questions about the PhD position, unless it is something you can look up (you should do that first). What exactly will be the research topic? If applicable: Does the institute have a setup already, or do you start from scratch? Who is/was doing something similar at the same institute? If relevant, what about collaborations with other institutes? Travel?
    If it is an experimental position, you'll probably get a lab tour, that is a good opportunity to ask questions as well.

    Financial stuff: Often the universities have fixed rules, if you can't find them on their websites ask about it. How much do you earn, how much do you have to pay?
    If you have relevant travel costs for the interview, check in advance if the university covers that. Probably yes, but I don't know if it is like that everywhere.

    If you find some time to talk to PhD students or similar: How is the work environment? How long do PhD students typically need?

    Not PhD specific, but it will come up anyway: "Why did you apply here? Why did you choose this research field, why our group?"
  4. Jan 23, 2017 #3
    Europe actually UK. I've sent loads of emails and have even had a couple of phone interviews. They are discussing starting dates and funding so I guess that's positive. I get the feeling they are more desperate to not lose the funding rather than them being blown away by my intellectual promise.

    It's physics related but comes under the banner of engineering.

    I don't think they will pay for my petrol and wouldn't dream of asking them if I'm honest. I'm older than most people doing a PhD and have had an adult job. I have interviewed people in my field and I'd be horrified if they asked me to cover their travel expenses for interview. Maybe it's a different world - but I couldn't bring myself to doing that. Admittedly these were for jobs paying a significant salary so it's different I suppose.

    Financially they pay a stipend. But they are doing it in partnership with a company. Would it be unreasonable to ask how much above the stipend I'd get? They say on it's on top depending on experience. They are giving me a tour and taking me for lunch. They are also giving me a chance to sit down with postdocs who have recently finished. So that will be useful. I can survive on the stipend but it would mean I'd give up all my hobbies - even running my car to drive to see my fiance at weekends would be difficult. So extra cash would be a bonus - but in my work we don't discuss money until an offer is made and then it's a negotiation. Clearly that's not the case with a phd.

    One big question - I'm engaged and I will be moving several hours away from my fiancee if I take this up. She works in a hospital so can't just pack up and leave - she has to wait for a job in another hospital to come up. Which isn't that easy given she's in quite a specialised field. So I wanted to take her and show her the area. Obviously I wouldn't take her into the actual interview. But I see it as a joint decision as it will impact her as well. So would it be unreasonable to take her and show her the university and potentially the labs?

    And generally is smart casual okay? Or is it a full suit job? I really have no idea and don't want to make a fool of myself. Thanks
  5. Jan 23, 2017 #4


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    I think it's fine to bring your fiancée along to see the campus and labs. You might want to email and ask if its okay if she joins you for lunch though.

    It's reasonable to ask about the specifics of financial support. In my experience this is spelled out in the letter of offer, but that's in the Canadian system.

    A full suit probably isn't necessary, but you don't want to show up underdressed either. Most academics don't get too picky over that kind of thing, but there are a few who would look down on you if you didn't wear a tie.
  6. Jan 23, 2017 #5


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    My experience is more Germany-based, but UK should not be that different:

    It is okay to ask about the financial situation. "on top depending on experience" could mean they don't know it yet. In that case you won't get a useful answer - they don't want to give you a number that might be wrong. You can ask the postdocs when you are there to get an idea.
    Petrol costs within the UK are probably not worth asking, if you would travel to a different country it is more interesting. Usually the universities/institutes offer that they cover the costs and you just have to accept it.
    Show the university: That doesn't matter for the university.
    Show the labs: I think I would avoid that. The lab tour is part of the interview.
    Lunch: Interesting case. Obviously she has to eat as well. I would ask, and I guess no one will object.

    PhD candidates fresh from university can look overdressed in a full suit. Yes, that is possible. I have seen it once, and it made a very odd impression. You said you are older, so a suit shouldn't be wrong, but "smart casual" is perfectly fine.
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