Top Tips for PhD interviews…

…by Phoebe / from the United Kingdom / PhD Tissue Repair 2013-2017

I have done some reflecting and realise that it has been about 2 years since I went for my Tissue Repair PhD interview. I thought therefore that I should share my experience of the interview and intersperse some tips on the process to help put your own minds at ease (for anyone who is gearing up for one!)

Now although this was a very nervous day for me I found the interview panel to be very welcoming and put me at ease from the get go, making it quite an enjoyable experience. After all they are there to assess your suitability as a candidate for their PhD programme, not to scare and torment you so the more you can relax, show and tell them about yourself, your interests, your enthusiasm and your love of science the better you will come across in terms of capability, interest and ultimately the best person for the PhD!

So a couple of pointers now:

  • If you are asked to prepare a presentation make sure you have visually interesting and easy-to-understand slides but most importantly make sure you explain everything on the slides to make sure you tell a coherent story and retain the attention of your audience. A brief outline for the presentation includes an introduction which sets your work in the background literature, your overarching aims and hypotheses, descriptive methods, the results gained and possible conclusions for these with an additional section on further work that would be required to confirm these, and future directions of the work and why it is important. At this stage I think it is best to focus on the technical details of the methods you have learned to really show your lab experience and the techniques you are familiar with and even new ones you would be interesting in trying to further your own work.
  • It will be important for you to know a bit about the City, Institute and Centre you are applying to in terms of contribution to science, research facilities available, extra curricular activities available and why this particular place would be the best for the PhD being offered. So keep that in mind.
  • Another worthwhile exercise is to look into the research interests of your interview panel (if you know who they are) as this may help you anticipate they was they will see your work and question you and similarly having that knowledge will make you feel more comfortable with them, easing the flow of communication.
  • In terms of questions this will include questions on the work presented, testing your basic biological knowledge and understanding of the project and how it contributes to what is known by the scientific community, as well as questions on alternative techniques you could have used to explore the results in more depth, alternative interpretations of the results and testing how well you understand the methods you used to reach your endpoint. Following this there are more general questions such as:
    • Why did you choose this PhD in particular?
    • Why this City/Institute/Centre?
    • What is it about a PhD that makes you keen to undertake one?
    • What are your main research interests?
    • What skills are important for a PhD student?
    • What would you say are your major strengths and weaknesses?
    • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
    • When you finish your PhD what will there be still to learn?
    • What do you like to do in your spare time?
    • What other educational experiences have you taken part in?
  • If you genuinely don’t know the answer to a question be honest and admit it but also say something along the lines of ‘ that’s a fascinating question, one that I have not yet considered but certainly something I will look into for the future’. Your honesty and enthusiasm to learn will be noticed and remember no one knows everything, we are all constantly learning and I guarantee that they will have learnt something from you during the interview so keep that in mind and be confident in the knowledge you do have!
  • Make sure you wear a smart and appropriate outfit for the occasion. There is a lot to be said for someone who takes the experience seriously and conveys this through their personal presentation and your interviewers will appreciate the effort you have made once again enhancing your chances of success!
  • And finally THANK the interviewers for inviting you to the interview as it is a privilege and opportunity and good manners go a long way!

And now let me tell you how mine ended. Basically I told them that I had bought a 4 pack of chocolate chip muffins to congratulate myself on surviving the interview, they laughed and thanked me for coming then I left to catch a bus. My bus was to arrive in 27 mins so I thought I would enjoy some muffins while I waited in the hospital foyer. Unfortunately there were no spare seats so I thought its fine I will just sit on the ground and make a little table out of the packet and scoff my muffins… 10 minutes into my little hobo show and two and a half muffins down, my interview panel walk past, stop, look at me and say ‘are you ok there Phoebe?’ with smiles on their faces! Of course  my cheeks went instantly red and I could hardly say ‘yes fine’ as my mouth was stuffed full, so I just nodded and pray that I didn’t look in too much of a state! As embarrassing as it was a little bit of me likes to think that the humour I gave them at that moment helped me get my PhD!

So I hope this has helped and I really do wish you the best of luck in your PhD interviews, it really is such a worthwhile experience full of ups and downs but also a lot of fun 😀

GOOD LUCK and THANK YOU for reading!

 

XXX


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