School of Life Sciences

SoCoBio DTP Interviews

Congratulations for making it into the SoCoBio DTP shortlist for interviews.

Below you will find useful guidance and resources on preparing for an interview. We will also be holding an interactive online Q&A session to answer questions regarding the interview preparation and skills. This session will be held on 8th February 2021 at 15:30 (UK time) and details on how to attend the meeting will be sent via email.

Preparing for your interview - top tips

You can’t predict exactly what questions will come up at a PhD interview, but you can research and prepare for the type of questions that are likely to be asked, and to demonstrate your suitability for the programme.

Preparation

If you do the research, you’ll be able to answer most questions that you’re asked.

  • Background research:
  • Know the programme, what makes it special, who you might work with etc.
  • Know the projects on offer and be clear about which ones you are most interested in and why. For those you are interested in, do background reading so you can expand on your interest.
  • Understand the key challenges involved in doing a PhD and the projects you’re interested in and how you would deal with them.
Know yourself
  • Remember your application (re-read it!) and be able to expand on what you wrote about yourself, particularly any relevant experience. 
  • Know what skills make a good researcher and think about how you can demonstrate them.
  • Be clear about the skills, personal qualities and experience that make you a good candidate and have examples to demonstrate them. It can be helpful to discuss these with a friend, teacher or careers advisor.
  • Know your key strengths and weaknesses – think of 3 or 4 strengths and 1 or 2 weaknesses. For weaknesses, it’s best to choose things you’re working on so you can demonstrate that you’re learning and moving forwards.
  • Be clear about your aspirations and where you want this to take you.
Prepare questions for the interviewer

Have two or three questions prepared for the interviewers. Ask about the programme, the projects (eg. technical aspects), what they think are the biggest challenges, opportunities to publish during your PhD.

Answering questions: articulating examples from your own experiences

It’s important to be able to articulate examples from your own experiences (university, research projects, work roles, work experience, hobbies/interests etc) that demonstrate how you’ve gained relevant skills, strengths and qualities. For example:

  • a methodical approach to analysing and processing data
  • problem-solving skills when carrying out experiments
  • good time management and organisational skills
  • the ability to work independently as well as collaboratively in a team
  • strong communication skills for writing papers, reports and for giving presentations
  • tenacity and patience, to see experiments through from design to completion

An excellent structure to help describe how you’ve gained key skills is: STAR = situation, task, action, result. (See below).

STAR

An excellent structure to help describe how you’ve gained key skills is: STAR = Situation, Task, Action, Result:

Situation: Explain the situation that you were in. This should be a short description, it could be: ‘during my degree’ or ‘whilst working in a bar’.

Task: You need to briefly explain what you did and the criteria required to demonstate success. If you were working in a group, explain the overall group task but focus on your role and how you contributed to the group effort/goals.

Action: This is the most substantial part (around 50-70%) of any example and you need to include:

  • What you did.
  • Why you did it.
  • How you did it.
  • Which skills you used.

Result: There is little point in explaining the situation, task and action if the employer or course provider is left wondering whether what you did made any difference. So be prepared to explain:

  • What happened as a result of the actions you took?
  • What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently or improve?
  • What impact did the result have on the team task?

Example:

Collaborating in a team.

Situation: at university during my bachelor’s degree we often worked in groups to research and present information to academics and our peers.

Task: for one project, five us had to work together to review research into XXXX and then present key findings to our course including 50 students and two academics.

Action: we decided to start by each doing some introductory research and then meeting to identify the aspects we each wanted to cover. We negotiated so that each of us was able to focus on an area that interested us, even if it wasn’t our top choice, and we then agreed to research individually and come back with five key points from each area at the next meeting. At the meeting, we brought the information together and discussed the key messages that we wanted to present and how we would present it. This involved a lot of discussion as there wasn’t time to present all the points we’d each put forward, but we were able to collaboratively agree on the most important. We also felt it was important that we each got a chance to present an aspect of the project and so divided the presentation up too.

Result: the project ran smoothly on the whole. One person got a little behind in their contribution due to unexpected problems at their workplace, but we helped them catch up, each taking on a little extra bit of research. We got a high grade for this assessed project (1st) and were commended on the collaborative approach taken in our presentation.

Click here for a wider range of examples of using STAR.

Dealing with PhD interview nerves
  • Do the research and preparation, it will help you feel more confident before you go in.
  • For online interviews, make sure your tech set up is working ok the day before. Also make sure that you are in a space that will not be disturbed for the duration of the interview. Here’s some tips on how to set up your room on YouTube.
  • Some nerves are normal in this situation – think about the positive effects of the extra adrenaline you’re experiencing. For instance, it relaxes your lung muscles so should make your breathing easier, and helps you be more engaged, focused and able to handle cognitive tasks.
  • Reframe any negative thoughts. Remember, you are being interviewed because you have the potential and attributes for the PhD project and would not have been shortlisted otherwise.
  • Dress smartly to help put yourself in a professional frame of mind.
  • If you don’t feel confident, act like you’re confident. Think about how a confident person appears – smile, make eye contact, speak calmly. If you practice this it really helps actually build up your confidence.
  •  Do things to maximise your wellbeing in the days running up to the interview – eat well, make sure you get some good sleep.
  • Before the interview begins, take two or three deep breaths, stretch and wiggle your toes to help you focus and have a clear mind.

For more tips on dealing with pre-interview nerves, visit this jobs.ac.uk webpage.

PhD Interview Preparation and Tips video:

Click here to download the slides from this video.

Jack's PhD and career:

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