I just finished my first Ph.D. interview, but the one who interviewed me is a fellow student. Next week, another fellow student will also interview me. I am just really confused. Is this a sign that I get a rejection, because normally the professor will be the one to do the interview, not the PhD students? I can't shake the feeling that they use these interviews as practice on their sides. The professor did not even reply to me. He only replied one time and after that, his students contacted me, not him. Is this bad?
Is this a sign that I get a rejection, because normally the professor will be the one to do the interview, not the PhD students?
No. It is not logically possible for the professor to think you should be invited for an interview and yet decide to reject you at the same time, ahead of conducting an interview. A decision to reject someone can be made after the interview, or before deciding whether to interview the person, but not between those two events.
If he had you interviewed by his PhD students, that means this is the process he thinks will work best for his schedule and decision making needs.
I also think it is odd, but not necessarily a negative. Indeed, the professor might be giving their students some workplace experience in this. But they might also be wanting to introduce you to them and conversely.
My best guess is that the professor is very busy and wants all available inputs before interviewing you. It may also be that their small group is very collegial and take one another's ideas very seriously.
There is never a guarantee about how such things turn out, of course, but if you are accepted by this professor I'd guess that it would be a good place to be - but also that you'll be asked to interview others in the future.
Odd? Yes. A clear negative? No.
I don't work in academia - I work in the real world (in software development). I have been a grad student twice in my life though (once, not that long ago)
Interviewing with peers is pretty common in industry (at least in the software business). Your potential peers know and understand what you are expected to know and understand. They also have a feel for what kind of person may succeed in the environment they work in.
By off-loading first (and perhaps subsequent) interviews to "peers", the professor gets to reduce the time he/she needs to spend interviewing folks. It's not that uncommon (in my experience) to bring someone in and find out that the sterling CV upon which you based the interview invitation is riddled with overstatements (and, if you dig a bit, it's often with someone with a family member or a good friend in the field).
As @TaliesinMerlin points out, one of your goals when talking to potential peers is to find out as much as you can about the department, your potential PI, etc. - even campus social life and housing. They see things from a student's perspective and are less likely to oversell the potential of the position. You'll likely get more from them than you will from the PI.
Plan to be a little more humble when you are talking with potential peers than you will be with professors. Selling yourself too hard can turn some folks off.
Consider this an opportunity.
I attended a graduate school where a PhD student conducted at least one formal interview, in addition to other interviews from faculty and opportunities to meet people more informally (lunches, dinners). The PhD student interview was a part of the overall decision of acceptance, because the PhD student could gauge several qualities about the applicant:
- interest in service
- collegiality with relative equals
- fit between personal goals and program strengths
- how interests align with the current cohorts
- overall curiosity and interest in the program
Giving PhD students practice in interviewing was a secondary benefit; the interview was earnest, and applicants who didn't take it seriously risked rejection. They probably have their reasons for asking you to interview with PhD students. This is also true if you are ever a job candidate and they ask you to meet with students in the program. At the very least, they want to know how you interact with students.
Graduate schools are rarely transparent about their exact admissions process, but it's possible to find references to meeting with graduate students in materials online:
Grad school interviews—in which aspiring graduate students meet with prospective advisers, colleagues, and other students—are opportunities to connect, engage in scientific conversations, and get a hands-on feel for the graduate programs and broader communities. (June Gruber and Jay J. Van Bavel, "To ace your Ph.D. program interviews, prepare to answer--and ask-- these key questions." ScienceMag.org.)
A more in-depth interview. This interview is the real interview that might include multiple people, and might involve a trip to campus. You will meet with several people, either individually or as a group. You might even meet with other doctoral students. ("PhD Interviews: What Does an Interview Mean for a PhD Doctorate in Business?" r3ciprocity.)
PRO TIP #6: Talk to grad students! Grad students are going to be the most honest with you about what a program is really like. Faculty members will try to make it seem like their program is the best one in the world, but grad students will tell you the real deal. LISTEN TO THEM! ("PhD Admissions: Interviews!" A First-Gen's Guide to Grad School).
I would not think that this immediately implies a rejection. It is normal that a professors want that new PhD students get along with other PhD students. Hence, they might have some weight in the professor's decision. If it was already clear that you will be rejected, they wouldn't bother for a second interview.
I agree that it is a bit odd that the professor apparently does not do any interview on their own. But regarding the decision, I do not think that it has to be bad.
As a former academic it was my experience academics are often:
- extremely busy
- none of the above
If they are lazy they will get students to do the work for them. If they are overthinkers they might have read research that suggests PhD student interviews are better performed by PhD students. If they are extremely busy sometimes they remember to delegate.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to your question.
Additionally, while your interview is very important to you, chances are it is not to the academic.
It is certainly possible that the professor is not interviewing you because of his lack of interest in hiring you. It's also possible that this is his standard for interviewing potential students. Interviews are a time investment for the interviewer, and they are unlikely to interview candidates without a good reason to do so (usually that they might accept the candidate).
However, and I did not see this answer given, why would the format of the interview affect your preparation or effort for it? There's a good chance that this is a real interview, and if not, how would you know for sure?
In one of my interviews, I was interviewed simultaneously by the professor and one of his students. I think this was both to give the student some experience (perhaps they will be interviewing others by themselves later on- perhaps for more low-key positions like student interns), and also to allow me to ask questions about what it is like to be a PhD student there. Of course, I didn't really have freedom in what to ask here because the professor was present, but I could ask very generic things about the atmosphere in the department etc.
The PhD student was also a pretty cool guy, and I felt like he was trying to convince me to come. Ngl he was pretty good at selling the school- much better than the professor.
This is an opportunity, not a problem.
I'm admittedly not quite as familiar with the standard practice in academia, but I would like to point out that this appears to mirror a common practice in industry. In industry, initial interviews will typically be conducted by a recruiter or other human resources professional, not the hiring manager. They will then pass along candidates that they think might be suitable to the hiring manager.
Also, it's completely normal for potential coworkers (not just the hiring manager) to interview people. A good Manager will want to make sure that existing employees can work effectively with the candidate. This also allows you to see if you can work with the existing team - interviews are, after all, a two-way street.
I strongly suggest that you use this as an opportunity to learn more about what it's like to work for the professor, what the projects are like, and how well you could work with the other students. If you find the other students in the lab hard to work with, you'll find it hard to work in that lab regardless of how much you like the professor or the work.
Finally, it's good practice for interviews once you finish school and try to get a job in academia or industry.
I can't shake the feeling that they use these interviews as practice on their sides.
What's wrong with that? It's good experience for them, and it has a lot of other advantages too.
I can think of several possibilities that shouldn't necessarily discourage you to consider.
There could have been (or still could be) a problem with another student's interaction with the two students you'll interview with, and to put their minds at ease and help ensure there isn't a repeat the professor decided to get impressions from them directly.
Or one of these students is valuable but hard to get along with, and this is a check to see if you are comfortable with them or not.
Another possibility is that the professor knows or has acknowledged that they aren't particularly skilled or intuitive at identifying who will make a good or bad student, or who will or won't work out well in the research group, and so has decided (perhaps wisely) to get input from others.
Don't worry about it, as other answers point out it's an advantage for you to have the opportunity to interview current students. It's pretty normal for students to rely to some extent on each other both for research and in understanding/managing their professor :-) So your impression of them may factor in to your decision if you want to continue or not with the interview process or accept a potential offer.
One step at a time. "Never turn down a job that hasn't been offered to you yet!"