7 Incredible Tips, PhD Candidate Approved and Tested, for Interviewing for Graduate School

a woman interviewing a man

Graduate school interviews can be a daunting process. These interviews may be conducted in person or virtually depending on the program. However, preparing for interviews can help you succeed, and have great interactions with potential faculty and colleagues. During graduate school interviews, you may meet with primary investigators or PIs whose lab you are interested in, other faculty, and current students. Making a positive and lasting impression during your interview can increase your chances of getting an offer into a masters or PhD program. 

Here are some general interview tips to help you succeed:

  • Review your CV/resume as well as other materials you submitted. Be prepared to talk about any experience that you listed. Remember that this is the only information the interviewer received and all they know about you. Also, don’t be afraid to go into more detail and talk about how your experience makes you an ideal candidate. 
  • Be ready to pitch yourself. You will most likely be asked about your background and why you are a good fit for the position. Be prepared to spend a small amount of time talking about yourself, your background, and your accomplishments. 
  • Make a good first impression. Dressing up a bit for the interview, being on time, and being prepared can help make a great first impression with your interviewer. 
  • Don’t be afraid to do a mock interview. Practicing answering interview questions can help you feel more comfortable and prepared for interviews. 

Here are some graduate school specific interview tips:

  • Look up the people you will be interviewing with. Knowing a bit about the research and projects your interviewers are working on can help conversation flow. It also shows your interest and commitment. Looking up their research articles, lab websites, or faculty profiles can help you get a better idea of who you will be interviewing with. 
  • Show your interest in the college/university. Knowing a bit about the place you could potentially spend the next 4-7 years of your life is important. Talking about how you would be a good fit at that specific university or department can help demonstrate your fit for the program. 
  • Ask questions. An interview is a two-way street! You also need to make sure that the program is what you want and that you can see yourself being a graduate student there. Don’t be afraid to ask pertinent questions about the research, funding, classes, graduate student life, and anything else you think is important. 

It can also be helpful to talk to current graduate students who have been through the interview process. If you do not have the chance to consult a current or former grad student, don’t fret. Below is some advice from two current grad students on conducting interviews:

“-I strongly suggest being familiar with the work of the PI who is interviewing you, so that you can better engage when they discuss their research and ask more specific questions.

-Have an answer to potential career plans and how getting a PhD is going to help in that pursuit.

-Come prepared with questions about the program, their lab, how they mentor, etc. Even if you end up asking the same questions to multiple PIs, you tend to get varied answers so you can form a full picture of the program. It also shows your interest.

-Remember that while they are the ones interviewing you, you are also there to determine whether the program will fit your wants/needs. Don’t be afraid to ask about the specifics of the program that matter most to you.

-Interview days are very long and can be exhausting, make sure to prepare in advance and get rest the day before.”

            – Natalie Sandlin, 5th year Biology PhD student at Boston College 

“How did you prepare

  • I most often used the faculty directory on a school’s website, which I had soon come to find out was VERY outdated in a lot of cases. I would recommend using a search engine like PubMed or Google Scholar to and reading the abstract or even methods section on some of the PI’s most recent last author publications for the most up to date research!

What kind of questions did you get

  • I think the most common one I got was to talk about the research I did.  Definitely prepare a good elevator pitch to introduce what you did, how you did it, and why they (or anyone!) should care, briefly of course. This would be a good spot to link to our elevator pitch materials.

What kind of advice would you give incoming students

  • Don’t be afraid to sell yourself. This does require some research on your part to figure out how you could contribute to the school or an individual PI’s lab, but I can almost assure you that work will pay off in the long run!”
  • Rachel Gilmore, 4th year Biomedical Science PhD student at UConn Health
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