Careers Service


Interviews for Postgraduate study

Generally an interview for postgraduate study whether Masters or PhD will cover much of the information in your application, but in more detail:

  • Consider any specific questions you were asked to answer on the application.
  • Reasons for applying to that institution, what do you think of the town or city and the University.
  • Why do you want to study x?
  • Why did you choose your final year project?
  • Technical questions or in depth subject knowledge around the course you intend to study
  • Career plans after the course
  • Funding
  • Transferable and academic skills
  • Strengths and weaknesses

PhD Interviews

There are a number of different interview formats for PhD interviews these are just some examples:

  • An informal chat with supervisor(s)
  • Interviews with potential supervisor(s) and with the postgraduate tutor
  • An interview day including talks, tours and activities
  • A panel interview

In addition to the questions above

  • Research the supervisor and academics in the school to understand their research interests.
  • Read relevant research papers ( especially theirs) and be able to discuss them.
  • Consider how you will cope with potential isolation and managing your own work.
  • What makes a good PhD student?
  • How can your final year product be upscaled to a PhD?

PhD interview for CDT

An increasing number of Research Council funded PhDs now take place in CDTs (Centres for Doctoral Training – often multidisciplinary and multi-university groups of researchers).

In many of these, particularly in science & engineering, students apply for a funded 4 year PhD but don’t commit to a specific project or supervisor. Their first 6-12 months include courses and taster research projects (a bit like a Masters), after which they choose their PhD topic.

What they’re looking for at interview

  • An understanding and interest in the framework and aim of the CDT.
    The CDT would normally have an overarching theme, links with industry and a multi-disciplinary ethos.
  • Understanding the added value that a CDT would offer a candidate, eg the wider perspective, a more holistic view of the problems and possible solutions in that area of research, whilst still allowing you to do specialist novel research in a particular area.
  • The quality of what you have done so far.
    They’re looking for an excellent track record, and are particularly interested if you have done a 4 year programme or Masters; ability to talk about your research projects to date.
  • It’s fine (but not essential) to have an idea of the PhD project you might like to do, but important to be open to modifying those ideas as you encounter new topics over the first few months.

To illustrate your real interest in research, you could say something like...

“At this stage, my interest is centred around X. For example, I’m excited by the work of Dr A and Prof B” (or the topics the CDT has given as possible example PhDs)

You should then be able to talk about that research. It might also be helpful to acknowledge and enthuse about the innovative work being done in the sponsoring companies. This would show you are taking an holistic view, even if your project ends up being purely lab based.

Other than that, the usual PhD interview advice applies – be able to talk about your research projects, understanding why you’ve chosen to use certain techniques, what you’ve learnt, problems overcome etc, showing you’ve got the curiosity, initiative, self-motivation and resilience to tackle a PhD, plus in the case of a CDT, the ability to work with and learn from others in a multi-disciplinary environment.

Top Tip

Talking to people is an important tactic in interview preparation:

  • Talk to current masters or PhD students. What were their interviews like? How did they prepare for them? What would they do differently?
  • Talk to academic staff who are involved in interviewing postgraduates, e.g., academic advisors, dissertation supervisor, etc.
    What do they look for in a successful candidate? Talk through your application with them & reflect on evidence you could use in the interview or how to approach any areas of potential weakness.