One of the feedback I received after my PhD interview failure was that " there is not enough evidence of ability to operationalize the research". So how can I clarify my capability of carrying out a research for my next interview. During my failed interview, I was ask to talk about my prior research, therefore I mentioned my master thesis used SPSS. However it seems that my response was not compelling enough.


Mentioning your skills with SPSS is great but statistical analysis is just a part of research. (And if we speak about this part, I would be more interested in which statistical methods you used and why (who selected these methods, you or your supervisor?, did you consider other methods?, etc.) to see how well you understand statistical analyses.)

More relevant would be your research question, design and contribution to the whole process (Did you come up with these on your own or was it given to you? What was your contribution in designing the study? Did you collect the data? Did you apply for ethical permission (if applicable) on your own? Do you plan to publish your thesis?)

If you are asked a similar question at the next interview, try to give a brief summary of your thesis (topic, design, methods, results, your contribution).

Also: please do not be discouraged that you have not been selected this time! Being invited for an interview means that you are a good candidate. It is just that there are many good candidates out there and limited number of places. Learn from this experience, do not give up and good luck with the next interview!

  • Thank you for your enlightening answer. I found out I haven't covered all the aspects of your suggestion. During my previous interview, I figured out I was too overwrought to even being stuttering when answer such question. Furthermore, I want to ask, if I have multiple research projects, which one should I pick to exhibit my research ability?
    – Lizzie
    Jul 12 '21 at 7:58
  • You are very welcome. I was also nervous during my first interviews so I can relate to that. Later ones were easier because you learn what to expect and how to respond. I would very briefly mention each project but focus on one. Something like: "I have worked on projects A, B and C but C was my main project." and then tell about C. Choose the project you know best and/or the one that shows your abilities best.
    – Aolon
    Jul 12 '21 at 8:04
  • It is very valuable advice. Yeah it was my first interview also, so I was super on edge the whole time. When the interview was over, I found out I answered the questions not as I practiced. As I don't have any publication yet, I wonder whether it would be one of major deficiency of my research skill? My master thesis was done in 2015 therefore the regression was straightforward however I encounter some problems of data issues that I eventually overcome. Should I mention it?
    – Lizzie
    Jul 12 '21 at 8:56
  • This could be different in some countries/institutions but usually publication experience is not a requirement. It can be a big advantage, though. From my understanding, your experience could be given as an example of "overcoming difficulties" if you get such a question. However, I would advise against going into defensive mode with regard to your master project or your lack of publication. Try to emphasise your strengths and achievements.
    – Aolon
    Jul 12 '21 at 12:45

One of the best ways to demonstrate skills and ability to carry out a research project is to ask intelligent and relevant questions about the project as part of your interview. When I interview students, that is one of the ways I find out about their ability to understand and put new information in context.

So for instance, a student who will be running experiments might ask about current protocols related to lab work during COVID and then discuss how they might make sure to get the work done under those conditions. Someone doing data analysis might ask about the structure of the data to be analyzed and the packages or libraries used most by the group. They might then comment on how they would approach the analysis or other packages they have found helpful for similar data.

When you treat the interview as a collaborative conversation you can most easily demonstrate your ability to carry out the work successfully.

  • Thank you for your constructive comment to my query. During my first interview, they only asked me about my prior research experience without adding further questions in relation to them. Therefore, should I be more proactive when answering such question in order to convey my research skill?
    – Lizzie
    Jul 12 '21 at 7:51
  • Did they ask you, usually at the end of the interview, if you had any questions for them? You can proactively ask questions earlier, but if you have not had the opportunity, then this is the place to begin such questions/ discussions.
    – Dawn
    Jul 12 '21 at 14:39
  • Yeah, they asked me do I have any questions for them. At first, I stuttered giving my questions and probably it was my first interview, I was too edgy to recall what I needed to do, even for the sake of clarifying my proposal or asked them why they didn't ask me much about the methodology even though it was a funded project.
    – Lizzie
    Jul 14 '21 at 3:58

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