A PhD interview is not only a chance for the department to determine if you’re a good fit for their program, it’s also an opportunity for you to decide if their program is right for you. Coming to the interview prepared with some questions shows the selection committee you’re serious about their program. Stuck on what to ask? Give these questions a go!
1. Are there opportunities for summer funding or travel grants?
Not all programs pay students during the summer months. If this is the case, you should ask if the program provides financial support for students to do research-related activities in the summer like take language classes or do fieldwork. Are there grants available from the department or university for research-related travel? In a similar vein, does the department or graduate school provide travel grants to reimburse PhD students for conference expenses?
2. What are recent alumni doing now?
Getting a PhD is a big investment of time and money so potential students want reassurance that it will pay off in the future. Before you commit to a program, find out where its recent alumni are now working. Do most alumni go on to positions in academia or are most of them working in industry or alt-ac?
3. What sort of special resources does the university have for research in this field?
Some universities have resources above and beyond the norm, such as their own collection of papyri or a world-renowned affiliated hospital, which graduate students can access for their research. This can give one program an edge over another.
4. How long does it take on average for students to earn their degree?
The length of a PhD depends on which country you are studying in, however if one program has a longer-than-average time to degree it’s worth finding out why. Does the program require more coursework or have more exams than other similar programs? It’s also work asking what percentage of students don’t complete the program as a high percentage could be a red flag.
5. Will I have the opportunity to teach during my PhD?
If you want to be a professor, teaching will be an essential part of your job. It is extremely beneficial to gain teaching experience during your PhD and many North American PhD programs actually require at least one year of teaching.
6. Will I have the opportunity to publish during my PhD?
Publishing is an important part of academic life, but the publishing expectations of graduate students will depend on the field. If you are interviewing in STEM and social sciences, it is more relevant to ask how many first author papers most students publish by the time they graduate. In the humanities, where graduate publications are rarer, the better question will be if most students publish while they are in the program. In both cases, you should also ask how the faculty helps students learn to navigate publishing process.
7. What is the funding level of this PhD position?
If the job posting or department website doesn’t go into detail about PhD funding, you can take this opportunity to clarify the funding level and total cost of the program. Depending on your circumstances, you might also want to ask whether the department offers any paid assistantship positions or supports external fellowship/grant applications.
8. What makes this program unique?
The core elements of all PhD programs are the same, so try to ask a question that gets at the differences. What does this program do to differentiate itself from the competition? It can be interesting to hear how multiple faculty members in the same department answer this question.
9. Are there any planned absences in the department in the coming years?
Do any key faculty members (including your supervisor) have sabbaticals planned while you would be doing your PhD?
10. How does the dissertation process work in this program?
It’s helpful to ask questions such as can students choose their own committee members, does the university offer finishing fellowships, and how long on average does it take students in this program to complete their dissertations?