I will be applying for a research assistant position under a professor at my college (master's program). I have an interview with her on phone (competition will be stiff, many students have applied). What should I be talking about? How do I put forward to her that I can manage my time well between studying responsibilities and research? More importantly, how do I show my eagerness for working under her and towards the research work at hand?

This will be my first time - giving an interview for a research position and I don't know what I will be questioned about or how do I impress my interviewer.


I've been interviewing students recently and there are three questions I ask myself after talking to the student:

  • Motivation. Is this person independent and able to solve problems on their own?
  • Overlapping research interests. Is this person genuinely interested in the type of work that I'm doing?
  • Technical ability. Is this person going to be able to complete tasks without being hindered by a technical limitation?

It is difficult for me to accurately answer these questions from a short interview, but you can learn a lot from just talking to someone. My advice for you would be to figure out how you can honestly answer those three questions for the professor. Some things for you to brainstorm about: Have you read some of their papers? Have you worked on any class projects or side projects that may be relevant? What do you want out of the position? Do you have an interest in publishing or going on to a PhD?

Of course, there are other factors at play. Can the student communicate well? Will our personalities clash? But those are mostly out of your control.

  • Thank you for your perspective, Austin! The course has just started and the professor in question is someone I don't know that well (goes both ways) because her course hasn't started yet. I believe it would be quite difficult for me to get my interest and motivation across, particularly on a call, hence, I'm a little worried. Should I speak about my interest in working for her even if she doesn't ask something like that in particular or will that look too trite?
    – user585380
    Sep 12 '18 at 18:23
  • @user585380 Not knowing the professor is to be expected, but being unfamiliar with their work would be a major red flag for me. Look at their website and search for their papers on Google Scholar! You can certainly guide the conversation to your prepared talking points ("Your research about X really interested me because Y... I think my experience in Z could help with that.") Sep 12 '18 at 18:27
  • @user585380 I'd add that some level of interest is quite important for a research assistant position - if you don't know what this professor researches why are you so interested in the position besides needing a job? I promise at least some of the other applicants will be interested in the particular position. It'll be important for you to have some answer to those questions in mind, even if they aren't explicitly asked.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 12 '18 at 19:00
  • @BryanKrause it won't be a job - no payment, nothing. I'm only doing it for my own interest in research. I know what the professor researches - in fact, I do know what I will be working on if I get the position. By saying that I don't know her, I meant I don't know her personally - never spoken to each other at length.
    – user585380
    Sep 12 '18 at 19:03
  • @user585380 Ah okay, where I am from research assistant implies a paid position. I'd be hesitant to take on unpaid research work especially as a graduate student, but that may depend on field. It sounds like you have the interests part covered though. Best of luck to you.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 12 '18 at 19:05

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