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Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre

Interviews for postgraduate study

Interviews of this nature are very different to employer interviews in that there is no standard structure in terms of length, content and number of interviewers. Approaches will vary between institutions, departments even, and type of postgraduate course. An interview for a taught Masters course, for example, is likely to be much less involved than a PhD. Often, but not always, they are more informal in structure than job interviews but that is not to say that you will not be severely challenged in respect of your subject knowledge. Preparation for postgraduate interviews is, however, absolutely no different to the manner in which you would prepare for any other interview. It is imperative to thoroughly research the course that you have applied for and the institution at which you hope to study. As with employers, academics are keen to establish your suitability for the opportunity.

What are they looking for?

As you might expect the key element being assessed at interview is your interest in, and knowledge of, the subject applied for. The question ‘Why have you applied to study…’ is an obvious one but that does mean that it is easy to answer effectively. It is your challenge to provide a structured answer demonstrating your appreciation of the subject matter, core and optional modules, key features such as placements and the quality of the department and its research. An academic is likely to explore the relevance of your undergraduate study and, if appropriate, relevant work experience. Consider your motivation for undertaking postgraduate study. If it is primarily academic, relate effectively to relevant modules in your previous study, dissertation and relevant extra-curricular activities (e.g. seminars, presentations, conferences etc); for those for whom career is a key motivating factor, be prepared to explore your occupational interests, including their relevance to the course, and draw upon your relevant research and experience. 

In addition to exploring your understanding of the programme, your reasons for choosing that institution, the relevance of your study/work experience to date and your motivation for wanting to study at this level, it is also likely that they may discuss broader skills, competencies and extra-curricular activities. The purpose of this may be to establish your strength in specific areas (e.g. project and time management skills, ability to work independently and problem solving skills) but also to assess the contribution that you might make to the department and institution in a much broader sense.

PhD Interviews

In respect of PhD applications, everything that has already been said applies absolutely. The difference will lie in the depth of exploration concerning your chosen area of research. It is critical that you are familiar with your proposal and prepared to be challenged and probed in respect of it. Familiarity with staff within the department, particularly in the context of relevant research and publications is essential. Evidencing your experience in conducting research, applying methodologies, managing and interpreting data and communicating concepts is also important. 

What are you looking for?

It is important to remember that this process is also your opportunity to make an informed decision about your suitability for the course, the department and institution and the area in which you will be spending the next 1-4 years! Consider carefully the questions that you want to ask them: does the course meet your needs; is it appropriate to your career plans; what have previous students gone on to do; what are the supervisory/tutorial arrangements; is financial support available through industry.

Top tips

  • Research the subject matter thoroughly
  • Familiarity with the department, staff and research
  • Structured reasons for applying for the course
  • Structured reasons in respect of your suitability
  • Familiarity with your application form, particularly personal statement/thesis proposal
  • Familiarity with your study to date, particularly dissertation or similar research
  • Consider your broader skills/strengths in the context of employment, work experience and extra-curricular activities as well as academic study