I just finished my master in Geophysics with some help from here ;). Now I applied for several PhD positions in Natural Sciences and just got an invitation for a personal interview for one of them.

The topic of the position is described in the call but over all it seems very general to me (I really have no experience if that is common for PhD positions).
During the interview I’m supposed to give a 10-15 min oral talk about "specific research questions and methodologies" I suggest to focus on and about "results of a first paper".

I have some experience in one of the methods mentioned in the call and could probably come up with a quite elaborated idea for a paper (though I would have no idea if everything or anything would work the way I propose it, never having worked on a paper)

My understanding is hat even older scientists need time and work in a topic to figure out what exactly there paper will be about. So probably I should just kind of suggest a focus topic within the broad framework of the topics covered in the call?

I guess my main question is: How specific should I really be? (because I should obviously try to avoid boring my interviewer by only repeating part oft he call)

I should probably also mention that I have only three days to prepare.

2 Answers 2


The way I interpret the topic you were asked to present on is that they want you to present on some work you have complete such as your first paper (or possibly a masters thesis if you have not published anything).

The idea of this is probably to get an idea of how you think/do research and provide a nice introduction into finding out what your interested in.

From your question it sounds like you think they are asking for something else. Now I could be entirely misunderstanding what is asked for (I just have your question), but if you are unsure I would suggest you send a polite email to clarify what the talk should cover.

For what you should say in the talk I would try and answer these questions:

  • What was the motivation for the research (why is it interesting)?

  • What did you do?

  • What are your results/what do they show?

  • Why are the results significant/interesting?

  • 1
    From the entire mail I got it is clear to me that they want me to focus on how/where I would start working on the PhD. I'm just not sure what the 'convention' is here. How elaborated should my idea about my work be in advance.
    – Lukas
    Jun 26, 2014 at 13:01
  • 1
    For others wit this question. You want to show your ability to think, and at the same time don't give the impression that you are not open to suggestions/changes. Starting PhD students still have a lot to learn, at that time they need to be able to take supervision and direction. Jul 4, 2016 at 14:21

Although it suprises me that you are asked to give a presentation covering the project you apply for without having access to a grant proposal or other detailed project description, in comparable situations I experienced (as a third party) the presenter started broad and went into detail on very specific and single points (or directions), leaving aside other possible directions (but state that you saw them!).

By that, you show that you are able to immerse yourself into an unknown problem and on your own design a possible route to tackle a specific problem. Staying unspecific and broad throughout the whole talk would probably bore them more -because they often already heard of it quite some times- than going into detail.

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