Questions To Ask In A PhD Interview: PhD Interview Questions

Going into a PhD interview? it can be daunting. However, arming yourself with insightful questions is key. This article compiles some of the best questions to ask for prospective PhD students to pose to their interview panel.

From probing about the research project, supervisor’s expectations to discussing the academic environment, our list aims to help you demonstrate your engagement and ensure a good fit with the PhD programme. 

Use this opportunity to clarify aspects of the PhD position and align your academic career path with the prospective supervisor’s vision.

Questions To Ask In A PhD Interview

Expectations– Align with PhD goals
– Understand milestones, pace, intensity
– See past students’ achievements
Funding– Clarify financial standing
– Discuss stipends/grants
– Explore additional funding opportunities
Career Paths– Envision post-grad future
– Explore career development support
Research Focus & Projects– Align interests with supervisor
– Explore opportunities to contribute
– Understand research fit
Collaborations– Explore interdisciplinary work
– Look for opportunities to collaborate
– Explore support for external exploration
Advising Style– Understand advising style of supervisor
– Assess mentorship fit
– Explore ways to work together
Research Group
Dynamics & Culture
– Assess group dynamic and culture
– Ensure personal growth and support
– Prevent potential conflicts

Why Should You Ask Questions During a PhD Interview?

Asking questions during a PhD interview is more than a formality; it’s a strategic move. It’s your chance to delve into the specifics of the PhD project you might be working on.

For instance, inquiring about the research group’s dynamics can reveal how collaborative or independent your future work environment will be.

Questions about the supervisor’s advising style can provide insights into the guidance and support you can expect. This is crucial because a strong mentor-mentee relationship is often the backbone of a successful PhD journey.

Asking about the expected career paths of graduates can give you a glimpse into your own future, post-PhD. These inquiries show you’re not just interested in being a PhD student but are actively considering how this program fits into your broader academic career path.

Expectations On PhD Students

In the heat of a PhD interview, asking about the university’s expectations is not just encouraged; it’s strategic. It shows you’re invested in aligning your academic career with the goals of the PhD program.

This question opens a dialogue about what the PhD position entails and how you can contribute to the research group.

Diving into specifics, you might ask, “Could you outline the key milestones you expect a PhD student to achieve within this project?” This direct approach can shed light on the supervisor’s vision for the research project and your role in it.

It’s an insider tip that can reveal the pace and intensity of the work ahead, something that’s often glossed over in standard phd interview questions and answers.

Also, consider inquiring, “What does a successful PhD graduate from your program typically accomplish?” This question can unearth the achievements of past students, giving you a benchmark for success.

It’s like getting a peek into the academic CVs of those who’ve navigated the path you’re about to undertake.

Asking these types of questions can alleviate the imposter syndrome many graduate students face by making your expectations and the university’s transparent.


Discussing funding and stipends during a PhD interview is crucial. It gives you clarity on your financial standing throughout your academic journey.

Asking about this not only shows you’re thorough but also practical. You might start with, “Can you detail the funding package for this PhD position?” This straightforward question can lead to specifics about:

  • stipends,
  • grants,
  • paid work,
  • and any teaching responsibilities attached to the funding.

Delving deeper, inquire, “Are there opportunities for additional funding for conferences or research materials?” This shows your eagerness to engage fully with your research project and academic community.

It’s a question many prospective PhD students overlook, but it can reveal insider details about the resources available to support your work.

Another good angle is to ask about the duration of the funding. “How long is the funding guaranteed for, and what happens if my research extends beyond this period?” This question can uncover the financial stability the program offers and the expectations for completing your PhD project.

Remember, your goal is to get a complete picture of your potential financial situation. This will help you prepare for the years ahead and ensure you can focus on your research without undue financial stress.

It also demonstrates to the interview panel that you’re not just academically prepared but also pragmatically planning for a successful PhD tenure.

By bringing up these questions, you also signal to the phd interview panel that you are considering the practical aspects of undertaking a PhD. It shows foresight and a level of professionalism that can set you apart from other candidates.

Career Paths And Potential Academic Career

Asking about career paths during a PhD interview can be a game-changer. It’s not just about securing a position; it’s about envisioning your future post-graduation.

When you pose questions on this topic, it indicates foresight and a strategic approach to your academic and professional journey.

Take the opportunity to ask questions like, “What career paths have graduates from this PhD program pursued?” This can uncover the range of opportunities past students have found, providing a realistic snapshot of your potential future, and what you can add into your CV.

You might also probe into the support system the program offers for career development. Asking, “How does the program assist students in preparing for their career post-PhD?” can reveal the resources and guidance available to you.

It’s an insider query that shows you’re thinking beyond the research project and PhD tenure.

Inquiring about the integration of professional skills training within the PhD program is another smart move. “Are there opportunities for professional development and skill acquisition outside my research field?”

This question highlights your ambition to be a well-rounded professional, ready for various career paths in or outside academia.

These questions do more than just gather information; they show the interview panel that you’re a candidate who is already planning for success beyond the PhD program.

It also gives you a clearer picture of whether the program aligns with your long-term career goals, helping you decide if it’s the right fit for your academic and professional aspirations.

Remember, the PhD journey is as much about building a foundation for your future career as it is about your research project. By asking about career paths during the interview, you take a crucial step in ensuring that the program you choose can support your future career ambitions.

Research Focus & PhD Projects

Inquiring about the research focus and projects during a PhD interview is essential for aligning your academic interests with the potential supervisor’s work.  

A savvy question to ask might be, “Can you describe the current research projects within your group and how a new PhD student might contribute?” This not only shows your eagerness to contribute but also helps you gauge the scope and direction of ongoing work.

You could also delve deeper by asking, “How does the research group’s work align with the broader goals of the department or institution?” This question reveals the larger academic context of your potential project, offering insights into its significance and impact.

These discussions during the interview can illuminate the path you’re about to embark on, ensuring it’s a good fit for both your academic career path and personal growth.

They also demonstrate to the interviewer your proactive approach and genuine interest in their research, which can set you apart as a candidate.

Opportunities For Collaboration 

Exploring opportunities for interdisciplinary work during a PhD interview is a strategic move for any prospective PhD student. It opens doors to a broader academic landscape, allowing you to weave various disciplines into your research.

Asking about this not only demonstrates your innovative thinking but also your willingness to push traditional boundaries.

You might ask, “Can you share examples of interdisciplinary projects within the department and how a PhD student can get involved?” This question digs into the practical aspects of interdisciplinary collaboration, showcasing the department’s openness to cross-disciplinary research.

Another insightful query could be, “How does the program support students in exploring interdisciplinary work outside their primary research field?” This shows your proactive approach to learning and your desire to enrich your academic career with diverse perspectives.

These questions help you gauge the flexibility of the PhD program and the potential to tailor your research to include multiple disciplines.

They also signal to the interviewer your ambition to contribute to the research field in innovative ways.

Interdisciplinary opportunities can significantly enhance your PhD experience, providing a rich tapestry of knowledge and skills relevant to various career paths.

By asking about these opportunities, you’re not just planning your PhD project; you’re laying the groundwork for a versatile academic career.

Advising Style

Understanding the advising style of a prospective supervisor during a PhD interview is crucial. It can significantly impact your research journey and overall experience in the program.

You ask questions such as, “How would you describe your approach to mentoring PhD students?” This question opens up a conversation about their: 

  • expectations,
  • feedback style, and
  • level of involvement in your research project.

Getting into specifics, you could inquire, “Can you provide an example of how you’ve navigated challenges with PhD students in the past?” This gives you a glimpse into how they handle difficulties, offering insight into their problem-solving methods and support mechanisms.

Knowing the advising style helps you assess if it matches your preferred way of working and learning.

It’s about finding a good fit that fosters a productive and positive academic relationship, which may be important when writing research proposal, papers, and thesis.

This understanding can also alleviate imposter syndrome, as you’ll have a clearer idea of the support you can expect when facing challenges.

Asking about advising style shows the interview panel that you’re proactive in ensuring your success in the program. It demonstrates that you value the mentor-mentee relationship and are looking for an environment where you can thrive.

Research Group Dynamics And Culture

Inquiring about group dynamic and culture during a PhD interview is a wise move. The vibe of the research group you’ll be joining can significantly affect your day-to-day life and overall success in the program.

A thoughtful question to pose could be, “Could you describe the culture within the research group and how members typically collaborate?”

This not only helps you get a feel for the working environment but also indicates the level of teamwork and support you can expect.

Digging deeper, you might ask, “How does the group handle challenges and setbacks in research?” The answer can provide valuable insights into the group’s resilience and problem-solving approaches, key factors that contribute to a healthy and productive research environment.

Understanding the group’s dynamic is crucial for assessing whether you’ll fit in and thrive. It’s about more than just the research; it’s about feeling valued and supported.

This aspect of the PhD experience is often overshadowed by the focus on academic achievements, yet it’s equally important.

Asking about the group culture shows that you’re looking for a place where you can not only contribute academically but also grow personally.

It signals to the interviewer that you’re considering all facets of the PhD experience, from the research project to the interpersonal relationships you’ll be building.

So, take this opportunity to delve into the social and collaborative aspects of the group you may join. It’s an investment in your future happiness and success in the program, ensuring that you’re not just a good academic fit but also a good cultural fit.

Common PhD Interview Questions And Answers

Asking the right questions during your PhD interview is a powerful tool to assess the fit with your prospective supervisor and research group.

It demonstrates your commitment to your academic career and the specific PhD programme. This dialogue is your chance to explore the research field, understand the expectations of the PhD project, and envision your future career path.

Remember, the interview is as much for you to evaluate them as it is for them to evaluate you. Use this opportunity to ensure the program supports your aspirations and aligns with your academic journey.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.