I have a Skype interview for a physics PhD in Austria, and was wondering what level the questions are likely pitched at. While I have a Master's degree, it is from the UK and I am aware that students from mainland Europe tend to have done longer degrees with a heavier research component. For example, I skimmed a few of the Master's dissertations from students in the department I am applying to, and they all seem much more advanced and longer than my dissertation project.

Does anyone here know how the central-Europe PhD recruitment process works, ideally in physics (but also related fields)?

  • For example, are they more likely to focus on "soft questions" (why this group, why this university, etc) or are they likely to ask technical questions which require having read several papers by the prospective supervisor?

  • Does the format tend to be informal, with lots of questions and answers and chat, or is it the norm for applicants to prepare a verbal presentation on their thesis topic?

  • How much should I expect to be asked about my Master's dissertation, versus the project I'm applying to? My dissertation was in the same field as the PhD, but a very different project topic.

  • Are there any other "academic etiquette" things I should be aware of for such an interview? For example, would it be considered rude to ask about other opportunities for collaboration outside the department?

Thanks for any help.

  • Is this for acceptance to a particular research program or more general? Is there a known PI, for example?
    – Buffy
    Feb 17, 2020 at 21:15
  • This is for a specific position I am applying to, but I was thinking/hoping that there would be widely-accepted norms of what is expected in terms of research experience from candidates, which are more general. In my experience in the UK, this seems to be the case.
    – user366202
    Feb 17, 2020 at 21:28

1 Answer 1


For a specific position, their interest will be in making a determination about your "fit" for that position. I doubt that they would reasonably expect you to be already "custom made" (bespoke) for the position, but want an idea about how quickly you will come up to speed with their main project(s). Few people are productive immediately, but it is an advantage to get someone who quickly groks the main line of inquiry.

So, I wouldn't expect something like a final exam or a tricky gotcha question romp. But more along the lines of your intellectual curiosity and the dedication you can bring to academic pursuits.

Your masters research is probably a plus if it gives you the background to move quickly to a new project.

But it would be a big mistake to use this to ask about other opportunities. It wouldn't be rude, but you would be harming your own case.

Their needs are pretty specific and I would guess they will be focused on that.

However, note that I'm not an Austrian academic and certainly not one of the people interviewing you. So take this as general, not specific, advice. In particular, I have no way of knowing how formal it is. But use proper titles of address, I suspect.

  • Thanks, that's helpful. When I said "ask about opportunities for collaboration", this is because I am aware that the PI of the group I am applying to is involved in a collaboration that is very close to my interests, but I can see this might come across badly.
    – user366202
    Feb 17, 2020 at 21:49

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