While not all PhD programs require interviews, some do (including many overseas). If you’re invited to interview, take full advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given by preparing effectively—review your research on the department, prepare to talk about your PhD research goals, etc. (a mock interview can be helpful!).
Here’s some advice to help you prepare:
1. Be prepared to discuss why you want to pursue your PhD, what your long term goals are, etc.
2. Why did you choose this program? Review your notes on the department, the research agendas of the faculty you’re interested in working with, etc. What unique opportunities would you have as a student in this department?
3. Be prepared to discuss your research interests—both your broad field and your specific research plans. What are your goals for your PhD? Whom do you want to work with? How will your work make a contribution to your field? What questions are most exciting to you?
4. Be prepared to talk intelligently about the important issues/questions in your field. (If the interviewer mentions a book or article you’re not familiar with, don’t pretend to have read it—acknowledge you haven’t gotten to that article yet, but show that you’re interested in seeing how it relates to your work. If you can, refer to related articles or books that you have read.)
5. Review your CV and SOP. Be prepared to discuss the experiences that have prepared you for doctoral study (especially research work—your master’s thesis, undergrad thesis, any assistantships or significant fieldwork/labwork). If your CV has gaps—especially with regard to the specialized skills that are important in your field—be ready to explain how you have gained those skills (or will gain them prior to starting your degree).
6. If you’re interviewing for a position on a grant-funded project (this is especially pertinent overseas, where you may have applied for a PhD spot as part of a specific project), explain how your research goals relate to the goals of the project.
7. If the program expects PhD students to serve as teaching assistants, be prepared to talk about the teaching/mentoring experiences you’ve had and why you want to be a teacher/scholar).
8. By interviewing you, the department is also trying to get a sense of who you are as a person (and a potential colleague). They might ask general questions about your experiences, your taste in books, your undergrad experience, etc—just to start a conversation. Be yourself.
9. Remember that the interview is a conversation—be ready to ask intelligent questions about the department. Don’t ask about things that you should already know from researching the program, such as basic requirements.
10. If your interview is on campus, visiting is also a great opportunity to meet current students and get a feel for the campus and department community. You’ll be able to get a sense of how happy students seem, how stressed they are, how respected they seem to feel—factors you can’t learn without being there. You can also learn something about day-to-day life for a student in the program: where do people live? What are their schedules like? Does the department seem like an environment you could flourish in for the next several years?
An interview is a great opportunity for the PhD program to learn more about you—and for you to learn more about them. Take advantage of it!
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, has helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to top MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She’s also an expert on grad school funding and scholarships. Want Rebecca to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!