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Programs Questions asked on an Interview for a Phd position

  1. Jan 15, 2010 #1
    What kind of questions should one expect on an interview for a PhD position (in Europe = starting with research right away)? I guess it will be the usual stuff, as what projects I've been working on, what topic I would be interested in at their institution,etc..., but should I also expect some subject specific questions - like "Could you tell me what that and that equation/principle/theorem implies..." or be given a problem that I have to solve? I.e. does one have to prepare (study) for such a thing?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 15, 2010 #2


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    Sorry it depends on the institution or even individual professor.
    In my experience technical questions aren't useful - students are going to be awarded a degree by some univeristy you trust, so trying to duplicate finals with a couple of questions is pointless.
    What they are looking for is real interest in the PhD area, the ability to manage your own work an general stick-to-it 'ness'

    Some ask about ugrad research experience, I never liked this because ability to do any relies too much on the institue (some have lots of ugrad projects, some don't allow it) and finance - if the student had to work in the vacations.
    I feel the same about ugrad publications, just because some kind prof put your name on the end of a conference paper because you interned in their lab over the summer doesn't really mean much.

    I would ask about any final year research project, how they approached it, what they found difficult.
  4. Jan 15, 2010 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I would not expect a quiz. I would expect probing questions about past scientific work, as they try and figure out what you personally did, how much you learned from it, and what you understand.
  5. Jan 5, 2012 #4

    Thanks very much for this comment. It help me to think about my ideals.

    Tks again and pls keep posting.
  6. Jan 5, 2012 #5
    I think it's highly unlikely that anyone will give you a difficult technical problem to solve. When I had my PhD interview (UK - chemical engineering) I came prepared for the hard technical questions, but I was woefully underprepared for the soft general questions like:

    "Why do you want to do a PhD?"
    "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

    Aside from the soft stuff, the only other things I was quizzed about were my previous experience, and my general understanding of chemical engineering. They are not there to give you a test, they don't have the time or will. That's what university is for! They are there to assess your interest in your subject, your commitment to completing the PhD and whether or not you will 'fit in' with the research group.

    PS: It is extremely likely that your final year project will be discussed at length as it is your only real research experience (unless you have industrial R&D experience). So be warned, and good luck!

  7. Jan 5, 2012 #6


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    the interviewer typically has a resume in front of him as the only source of information about you so they can ask questions ranging from:

    1) why the gap between this and that job position
    2) why the switch of majors
    3) tell me about your disertation

    I've had some undergrads (admittedly very nervous) come in totally unprepared I asked about some project they worked on and they couldn't explain the big picture and had trouble explaining how their piece fit in in a few words.

    Be careful what you say it can lead to more questions. Don't pretend you know something you don't know be honest but be positive by saying well I know this so I could easily pickup that.

    Be prepared to talk about any programming or lab work you did because it may be related to what they have in mind.

    lastly, don't be passive you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you
    ask as many questions as they ask get into a dialog with the interviewer interject your questions dont wait until the end of the interview...
  8. Jan 5, 2012 #7
    That's actually I good point that I forgot to mention. OP, make sure you ask questions, and this is for three reasons:

    1) It shows that you're genuinely interested.
    2) It will be one of your only ways of getting information about the project.
    3) It might be your only opportunity to meet the people that'll you'll be working with for the next 3-4 years and you will have the opportunity to decide whether or not you can stand them!
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