The Ultimate List of Interview Questions for Graduate Applicants

The Ultimate List of Interview Questions for Graduate Applicants

Here is the complete list of questions I use to help my graduate school applicants ace their interviews. If you would like guidance on how to answer these questions, as well as practice through mock interviews, please reach out to World Awaits directly. I promise, preparation is immensely useful - it will increase your confidence and allow you to connect with your interviewer rather than struggle to find answers.

Motivations

  • What motivated you to apply to grad school?
  • Why do you feel prepared to start graduate school?
  • What areas of research interest you?
  • Why do you want to pursue a PhD in your area of interest?
  • Do you have any reservations/worries about entering a PhD program?
  • What are you looking to gain from your graduate school experience?
  • Why do you need a PhD to achieve your career goal?
  • Where do you see your field going in the next 5-10 years?
  • Where do you see yourself in 15 years?
  • What is unique about you that gives you a competitive edge over other applicants?

The Program/Institution

  • Why are you specifically drawn to this program?
  • Why do you think this program would be a good fit for you?
  • What specific resources does this institution offer to enhance your scientific/research trajectory?
  • How do you think your interests will fit in with the program?
  • What do you think you will contribute to the program?
  • Which faculty members’ work particularly interests you and why?
  • Have you established a relationship with one or more faculty members within the program?
  • What interests you about the city the institution is in?
  • What would make you choose this institution over other programs?

Previous Research

  • Please list the different research experiences you have had.
  • How many total years of research experience do you have?
  • How has your research experience prepared you for graduate school?
  • What questions did your research help answer?
  • What was your role in developing research ideas?
  • How did you manage your research project?
  • What was innovative about your research?
  • What was your favorite technique that you used in your undergraduate research?
  • What was the biggest challenge you encountered in your undergraduate research, and how did you deal with it?
  • How is your work distinct from your supervisor’s/principal investigator’s?
  • What do you think are your most significant research accomplishments?
  • What do you consider to be your best paper/work and why?
  • What has been the impact of your research?
  • Do you expect to publish before starting graduate school?
  • If you were starting your project again today, what would you do differently?

Current/Future Research

  • What are your research interests?
  • What are the big picture questions you want to investigate?
  • What are the biggest challenges/questions in your field of research?
  • How do you plan to approach your questions?
  • How do you see this work impacting the field?
  • How does the work you propose follow on from what you are already doing?
  • What skills do you want to develop at this institution?
  • Do you plan to apply for additional funding?
  • What funding opportunities are you aware of, or what would you like to apply for?
  • How would you convince a funding body that they should fund your research?
  • How would you fit with the existing activities in the department?
  • If we gave you unlimited resources, what would you do with them?
  • Who would you expect to collaborate with in the institution?
  • Why do you want to collaborate with them?
  • What is an interesting paper you have read lately?

If you have a specific project in mind…

  • What is the overall importance of this project?
  • Can you see any of your research proposals failing?
  • What will you do if your hypothesis is proved wrong?
  • What resources will you need?
  • What opportunities for multi-disciplinary work does your research offer?

Potential Advisors

  • What do you want to work on in my lab?
  • What interests you about my research?
  • What do you know about my research?
  • Who are you interested in working with?
  • What techniques have you learned that you could use in my lab?

Teaching

  • Do you have any teaching experience?
  • How do you feel about teaching?
  • How do you feel about mentoring undergraduates?
  • How would you deal with any conflict/disagreement within the research group?
  • Do you have an example of when you have had to deal with a disagreement?

Personal

  • What do you do in your free time (not in the lab)?
  • What motivates you?
  • What drives you as a scientist?
  • Who has influenced you the most?
  • How do you work best – independently, or with a team, at home?
  • How do your interests fit with the strengths and goals of the program?
  • What do you expect to be challenging about graduate school? What are your plans for managing those challenges?
  • Graduate school often involves a combination of intense days, long nights, and high expectations. What strategies will you use to manage this combination of demands?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell us about a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted. How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Tell us about your most successful or interesting research experience in a lab environment. Which of your qualities helped facilitate this success?
  • Describe a time that you encountered a significant personal obstacle? How did you handle it?
  • Is there any information pertinent to your application that you would like to add?
  • In what ways, other than research and teaching could you contribute to this department?

Questions for you to ask current grad students

  • Does the environment feel more collaborative or competitive?
  • What is the funding structure/guarantee for students?
  • Is it an inclusive environment?
  • Where do you (and students in general) live?
  • What is the area around campus like?
  • Do you think the stipend reflects the cost of living?
  • Is the university helpful with finding housing?
  • How easy/difficult was the process of joining a lab?
  • Do most people join their first choice lab?
  • How much time are you expected to spend in the lab?
  • How would you describe your PI's advising style?
  • How do you maintain a successful relationship with your advisor?
  • How regularly/quickly does your advisor publish?
  • What research are you working on?
  • How quickly were you able to start your research?
  • Is the project you're working on what you thought you'd be doing, or has the project you're working on gone in any unexpected directions?
  • Who is on your committee and why?
  • Would you choose this advisor if you were doing it over?
  • Do you get to attend conferences?
  • What do you think of the courses - useful content, well taught, relevant to your research/goals?
  • How easy/hard is it to customize the program?
  • What would you change about the program?
  • What kind of schedule do you work?
  • What do grad students do in their free time?
  • Do most students have a good work/life balance?
  • Do grad students in this program hang out with each other?
  • Do you know many people in grad school who regret starting it?
  • Do you know people who have left the graduate program?
  • What kind of resources does the program offer (e.g. for mental health, career development, learning new skills, etc.)?
  • Is there anything you wish you had taken into consideration when making your decision about where to attend?

Questions for you to to ask potential PIs

  • I read your paper/book X. Can you tell me about your future research goals related to X? What are your current projects?
  • What research projects do you have that would be looking for graduate students?
  • What advice would you give to a student who wants to be successful in your program? Are there any specific pitfalls to be avoided?
  • What are the expectations for a graduate student in your lab?
  • Do students create their own projects or work on something already developed/in progress?
  • How is your lab organized? Do you have a lab manager, or do other members of the lab take on this role?
  • Do you have lab/group meetings, and what is the format of those meetings?
  • How much collaboration is there within the lab?
  • How much do your students publish?
  • How often do you send students to conferences?
  • How long do students in your lab take to complete their PhD?
  • What do students from your lab typically do after graduation?
  • What is the big picture/goal/focus/priority of the department?

Questions for you to ask other interviewers (like program or admissions directors)

  • Will I have the opportunity to teach/present/publish?
  • Is the university or department likely to host any events or associated projects during the time I will be pursuing a PhD?
  • What are the responsibilities of grad students in this program?
  • What are the supervision arrangements for this research project?
  • What kind of training or skills sessions are offered in this PhD program?
  • Do grad students TA? How many terms do students TA?
  • Are students generally collaborative or competitive?
  • Is there likely to be any changes in funding arrangements for this research/project?
  • How big is the program?
  • What's the biggest strength of the program?
  • What professional development services are available?
  • How/when are students paired with advisors?
  • What does the program do if someone doesn't find a lab to join by the deadline?
  • What percentage of students complete the PhD?
  • How would you compare this program to X and Y?
  • Is there funding available for attending things like conferences or summer schools?
  • What are the career outcomes for students in this program?