I just received a 15 minute Ph.D. interview invitation from USC. In the email, they said that they are interviewing to better understand my background and experiences. I was notified just two days before the schedule. The interview will be on Zoom. Hence, currently, I am working on my answers. My question is since they haven't asked anything, I don't need to create a PowerPoint presentation for them right? I have heard that some universities specifically ask for that. They don't expect that if they haven't asked, right? My slot is just 15 minutes, therefore I don't think there's time for this, and I would rather focus on preparing my answers right now. This is my very first interview and I have no idea how the process works in the USA. On top of that, I'm super nervous. Any tips are welcomed.

  • Would you be entering with a bachelors only or a masters?
    – Buffy
    Jan 23, 2022 at 16:05
  • Also, see this:academia.stackexchange.com/q/176908/75368
    – Buffy
    Jan 23, 2022 at 17:26
  • I am entering with a master's and have worked on 3 research projects. Jan 23, 2022 at 17:29
  • What discipline is this? Jan 23, 2022 at 20:24
  • 3
    I'm astonished that nobody has suggested the obvious: You can simply ask them if you should prepare a few slides! The best timing would be when you confirm your attendance but doing it later is just fine. If instructions are unclear it is professional to ask for clarification. Asking them also signals that you are eager for this position.
    – user9482
    Jan 25, 2022 at 6:51

3 Answers 3


Interviews can vary, but I'd be prepared to articulate two things --

  • Your interest in the program. What attracted you to this program, out of the hundreds of graduate programs out there?

  • Your background. They might ask about coursework. Don't just say "We used Book X and got through the first seven chapters"; be ready to give an account of what you actually learned. If you've done research, then be prepared to talk about that. On the one hand, it's good to have a short "spiel" which you've prepared in advance; on the other, be ready for the possibility that the interviewer might steer the conversation in a direction other than what you anticipated.

The interviewer is likely to have read your personal statement, so I'd be ready to talk about anything there. I wouldn't prepare a slide presentation unless they ask for one. You might give a copy of your personal statement to a friend and ask them to give you a "mock interview" for practice. And try to get some exercise and enough sleep the day before.

Good luck!

  • Only one sentence in this answer is relevant: "I wouldn't prepare a slide presentation unless they ask for one." Please edit accordingly. Jan 23, 2022 at 20:25

I don't think you need to prepare a presentation unless they asked for one. I attended a PhD interview (20 minutes) two weeks ago and experienced similar anxiety. I am an undergraduate research assistant at my current university. The interviewer (a professor) started the conversation by asking me about my research. I feel like the conversation is more like a discussion about my project. He followed up with some questions after I explained the central concept.

So my suggestion is if you have research experience and you've included that on your cv/ps, definitely go over what you've written, and be prepared to explain your project and the part you are involved in. Also they might ask you which kind of project you want to do as a PhD student, and give you an opportunity to ask questions about their program.

Best of luck!


They won't expect what they haven't asked for so I wouldn't feel the need to make any presentation.

Their main interest is in getting a feel for your readiness to do research, your desired subfield (Perhaps that is already in your SoP.) and who you might want to work with if you have an idea. Your comment suggest you are probably good on the "readiness" issue. If you have a problem to suggest that you'd like to explore that would be a plus, but not essential.

Their secondary interest might be in your flexibility if some of your desires can't be accommodated. And third, just a general, quick assessment of your personality and perhaps language skills (the latter as an international student).

My advice is to relax and be natural. And also, be honest in answering questions. You aren't expected to already know everything there is to know.

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