I recently applied for an advertised PhD project and I've made it to the interview stage. For the interview I have been asked to prepare a 5-minute presentation explaining (1) why I am interested/attracted to the project and (2) what skills and attributes I will bring to the research/project. I will also not be allowed to use PowerPoint, to deliver the presentation. As far as I'm aware, it will be a freeform presentation. I knew that I would have to do some sort of presentation, but honestly I expected them to ask me to present about a recent research project of mine or about this PhD project. And the fact that I can't use PowerPoint threw me off a bit. I have emailed the primary supervisor asking if I would be allowed a presentation/notes off-screen to refer to, but he is yet to respond. Does anyone have any advice for doing a freeform PhD interview presentation?

I'm thinking of just preparing my presentation on PowerPoint so it makes it easier for me to practice. If I'm then allowed to have the presentation on my screen during the interview I'm already sorted. Here's the structure I have planned so far:

Slide 1: Introduce myself, my degree, what I'm currently doing, what do I want to do (For background, I currently research spider behaviour, but I've long been interested in climate change-related research. This PhD focuses on climate change but has components of invertebrate research that allow me to transition. I also feel like mentioning this in my introduction sets up the next section 'why are you interested' pretty well)

Slide 2: Why am I interested in a PhD, why am I interested in this specific project, what are my motivations, how this project aligns with my future goals

Slide 3: What skills will I bring, fieldwork relevant skills such as sampling techniques, research skills, communication skills (written, verbal and interpersonal), self-management skills (ability to work with minimal supervision), organisational and time-management skills

Slide 4: Summary, demonstrate my passion for the project, focus on why it aligns with my ambitions, not just my academic/career path, convey curiosity and determination

I'll use real-life examples for Slides 3 & 4 to evidence my skills and attributes. Aside from my initial question, does anyone think I should add or remove anything?

  • 1
    You have been asked to prepare a 5-minute presentation, without PowerPoint,, why do you insist on preparing presentation on PowerPoint?
    – Nobody
    Dec 8, 2022 at 12:06
  • I should have worded that better. I have been asked to prepare a presentation, but I am expected to deliver it without using PowerPoint. So, I'm only using PP so I can plan and follow my presentation easier for practicing or, if allowed, to have off-screen for reference. Dec 8, 2022 at 12:11
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    From what it sounds like, this is rather a short motivation talk than a "presentation". Talking about why you are interested in the project and what you bring to the table (in 5 minutes!) should not be something to lenghtyly prepare, but should come naturally. It is you and your strenghts and your interests that you are talking about, not something you're unfamiliar with. This feels like several degrees of overthinking and overpreparation.
    – Sursula
    Dec 8, 2022 at 12:31
  • Aw, that does sound a lot less daunting than a presentation. Thank you for that insight :) Dec 8, 2022 at 12:48
  • I just wanted to say that with the pandemic many people are trying to move away from research talks at PhD interviews because a large swath of candidates will have had no oppotunity for lab/field work because of the pandemic disruption. Dec 9, 2022 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


I suggest that you are trying to do too much in such a short presentation. Your four points only give you a bit over a minute each. My guess is that what they are most interested in is getting a quick read on what it would be like to work with you on this project. You are likely to be better off being natural than being over prepared.

A few index cards with ideas you'd like to get across is plenty. There is no need for a backup PP presentation. Focus on the two listed questions. What is it about this project and how do you see yourself as a good fit. Expect to get a question or two, even an interruption.

You primarily want to seem like a good person to work with. Flexible, knowledgable, interested, interesting,,,

  • I think you're right. If they wanted me to go into more detail they would've asked for a 10min presentation. 5mins is really only enough time to, as you said, get a quick read on what it would be like to have me on the team. I already have a personal statement, cover letter, and PhD proposal. So really all I need to do is revise those, focus on the most relevant points that relate to the main questions, and just be myself. Thank you for this advice and perspective. It's helped a lot Dec 8, 2022 at 16:37

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