I've reached out to a few professors and received responses. I'm pretty used to going to interviews for industry jobs but this is new and I feel like I have no idea what I should talk about. I'm a second year cs student.

So far, i've read 2 or 3 of their most recent research works and have a good idea of what they want to do in the future. I also have a pretty general understanding of their fields although some areas do seem to be out of my league.

What are good questions to ask a professor about their research? Are there common mistakes students make when approaching an interview such as this one? How do these interviews typically go?

  • 1
    This is too broad. They will ask questions - it is good practise to give honest answers. What those questions will be will come down to what is, or is not, on your cv - they may want to check detail or your motivation. As for what you should ask - well what do you want to find out...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 5:33

2 Answers 2


From my experience, the academic setting is more relaxed on the interview. The interview I had for my GRA position had very few knowledge based questions. They want to see that you are highly enthusiastic about your domain of research, and that you're eager to learn.

If you have industry experience that is a huge plus! It shows you can actually work. I think one of the biggest fears of the lab director is a GRA/RA that is not able to accomplish much, i.e. losses motivation. Your industry interview will be more nit-picky about experience in a specific domain.

Being a GRA/RA is not like a course where you are told what to learn and when to learn it. You will be challenged to motivate yourself to solve research problems on your own time. It can be harder than industry in some ways, because you are given more conceptual work with no 9:00am to 5:00pm schedule to keep you active and focused.

I would focus more on touting your academic accomplishments. This assures them that you can handle a full course-load and research concurrently. I told them that I could not see myself working anywhere else, and that this line of research is the most meaningful thing I could be doing with my life. I didn't have to prepare that, because I meant it.

If you really what to know what the interview is like you can: (1) look online on Glassdoor or Reddit, (2) ask someone who is already in the lab what the interview is like.


This answer may be too late for you personally, but I hope others might benefit. Let me focus on the questions you might ask.

First: What would I learn from this experience? (What am I most likely to learn?). This places you as a student.

Second: What do you think I can contribute to this project? This assumes they have read your CV.

Third: What skills and background would be most useful in this project? Then be willing to honestly say whether you have those skills, and if not, how willing you are to get them.

You are a student, not a professional. That should be recognized. You aren't (or shouldn't be) expected to know everything. The process is still an educational one.

Don't oversell yourself, especially with bs.

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