Preparing for a PhD Interview: Advice and Guidance

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Orwell84
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#1
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#1
I have just been offered an interview for the Phd position.

The interview involves a 5 minute presentation and questions at the end from the panel.

Does anyone have any experiences of PhD interviews? especially in regards to giving presentations:

1) How did you structure/present the information
2) What areas did you cover; did you pick key points from your proposal?
3) Any tips on giving presentations?
4) What kind of questions were you asked?

Any feedback is appreciated!
Last edited by Orwell84; 1 month ago
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Cranfield University
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#2
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#2
(Original post by Orwell84)
I have just been offered an interview for the Phd position.

The interview involves a 5 minute presentation and questions at the end from the panel.

Does anyone have any experiences of PhD interviews? especially in regards to giving presentations:

1) How did you structure/present the information
2) What areas did you cover; did you pick key points from your proposal?
3) Any tips on giving presentations?
4) What kind of questions were you asked?

Any feedback is appreciated!
Hi Orwell,

First of all, well done for getting to this stage! There’s a lot of stress involved with the process, but don’t forget to celebrate the little wins- finding a good project for you, a good lab, putting together a CV that’s good enough to be interviewed, these are all achievements you should celebrate!

As for the presentation, some people ask for presentations on a piece of past work that demonstrates your scientific abilities, others ask for a more general presentation on your background, experience, qualifications, etc.
How you present and structure it will depend on which type of presentation, but there are some general presentation tips that I personally like:
- I don’t like text-heavy slides, I prefer to have 1-2 sentences with the main message, and a graph to show the results, and then talk more about the results to give that extra information in the speech part.
- Stick to the time limit like your life depends on it. Especially when they quite likely have a long day full of these presentations, if you run over that can leave a bitter taste as it’s unfair to the next candidate. Also it’s quite a basic instruction, you want to show that you can follow it! Not everyone minds too much, but as you probably don’t know the people on the panel, best to be on the safe side.
- It’s better to give less information and invite questions at the end than to speak too quickly or have confusing, over-filled slides. Data and information communication is an integral skill for all PhD students, and one you can demonstrate in this part of the interview.
- Have accessible slides. A huge number of people are colour blind, dyslexic, etc. Having slides that someone on the panel can’t understand because there’s both red and green dots, and they’re red-green colourblind will just be off putting for them, and also shows you haven’t really thought about your audience (important for the data communication point above).

As for the questions I was asked in interviews, they varied a lot. One interview I spent most of the time discussing where I thought the field was going and why I had an interest in it, what recent work and advances really excited me, the techniques I had used to achieve my previous work and how I found them, etc.
Another interview included more classic business-style questions, like ‘greatest skills and weaknesses’ type, it was a mix of the science and the business.

A really great piece of advice I was given before was to go through my CV and for each point (either job, course, hobby, etc) list:
- One thing I liked about it (usually I tried to link a skill to this)
- One thing I didn’t like about it (or found personally very challenging)
- One thing I learned from it (often linked to the thing I didn’t like)
You won’t have time to list all of these things for every point, but they are also really useful for giving concrete examples of skills you’ll claim to have (e.g. teamwork could be demonstrated through team sports, responsibility and time management through part-time jobs wile studying, etc).

I hope this helps a bit, and best of luck!
Ciara
2nd year Agrifood PhD student
Cranfield Student Ambassador
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Orwell84
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#3
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#3
(Original post by Cranfield University)
Hi Orwell,

First of all, well done for getting to this stage! There’s a lot of stHress involved with the process, but don’t forget to celebrate the little wins- finding a good project for you, a good lab, putting together a CV that’s good enough to be interviewed, these are all achievements you should celebrate!

As for the presentation, some people ask for presentations on a piece of past work that demonstrates your scientific abilities, others ask for a more general presentation on your background, experience, qualifications, etc.
How you present and structure it will depend on which type of presentation, but there are some general presentation tips that I personally like:
- I don’t like text-heavy slides, I prefer to have 1-2 sentences with the main message, and a graph to show the results, and then talk more about the results to give that extra information in the speech part.
- Stick to the time limit like your life depends on it. Especially when they quite likely have a long day full of these presentations, if you run over that can leave a bitter taste as it’s unfair to the next candidate. Also it’s quite a basic instruction, you want to show that you can follow it! Not everyone minds too much, but as you probably don’t know the people on the panel, best to be on the safe side.
- It’s better to give less information and invite questions at the end than to speak too quickly or have confusing, over-filled slides. Data and information communication is an integral skill for all PhD students, and one you can demonstrate in this part of the interview.
- Have accessible slides. A huge number of people are colour blind, dyslexic, etc. Having slides that someone on the panel can’t understand because there’s both red and green dots, and they’re red-green colourblind will just be off putting for them, and also shows you haven’t really thought about your audience (important for the data communication point above).

As for the questions I was asked in interviews, they varied a lot. One interview I spent most of the time discussing where I thought the field was going and why I had an interest in it, what recent work and advances really excited me, the techniques I had used to achieve my previous work and how I found them, etc.
Another interview included more classic business-style questions, like ‘greatest skills and weaknesses’ type, it was a mix of the science and the business.

A really great piece of advice I was given before was to go through my CV and for each point (either job, course, hobby, etc) list:
- One thing I liked about it (usually I tried to link a skill to this)
- One thing I didn’t like about it (or found personally very challenging)
- One thing I learned from it (often linked to the thing I didn’t like)
You won’t have time to list all of these things for every point, but they are also really useful for giving concrete examples of skills you’ll claim to have (e.g. teamwork could be demonstrated through team sports, responsibility and time management through part-time jobs wile studying, etc).

I hope this helps a bit, and best of luck!
Ciara
2nd year Agrifood PhD student
Cranfield Student Ambassador
Hello, Ciara,

This has helped tremendously!, thank you for taking the time to offer advice.
Really like the tip on presentation layout; I often use this when teaching too!

I hope your PhD is going well.
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Keele Postgraduate
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#4
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#4
(Original post by Orwell84)
I have just been offered an interview for the Phd position.

The interview involves a 5 minute presentation and questions at the end from the panel.

Does anyone have any experiences of PhD interviews? especially in regards to giving presentations:

1) How did you structure/present the information
2) What areas did you cover; did you pick key points from your proposal?
3) Any tips on giving presentations?
4) What kind of questions were you asked?

Any feedback is appreciated!
Hi Orwell84,

Cranfield University has given some fantastic tips and advice so I've only got a couple of things I can add.

Firstly, five minutes will go by in the blink of an eye. There's really only time to get across one or two key points in that period so avoid trying to pack too much in and keep your presentation focused. Personally I would stick to answering two key questions: what is your intended PhD going to do (i.e., what question(s) are you answering) and what research gap will your PhD fill (i.e., why is it important that this PhD gets completed and why are you the right person to complete it?)?

Secondly, passion and enthusiasm count for a lot - although it is easy to forget this when you've worrying about what to say, what you might be asked etc. Demonstrate your passion for, and interest in, your project: why do you want to do this particular project at this particular university and with this particular supervisory team?

Finally, don't forget that an interview is a two-way process. It's okay to ask your interviewers how they can support you in achieving your research aims and goals, and to ask them any questions you might have about the university and PhD process more widely.

Hope that helps and good luck with your interview!

Amy Louise
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