9

I have been advised that it is a good idea to read papers written by a potential supervisor before having an interview with them for a PhD position.

I can make sense of the summaries and introductions, but that is all.

  • Do supervisors ask applicants about whether they have read their papers?
  • Do I attempt to summarise vaguely what the paper is about?
  • What sort of questions may be asked about papers?
  • Can you just say something along the lines of ' I find it very interesting that you did a recent article in ????' for flattery?
  • 1
    If your supervisor has (recently) published a review paper that's a really good place to start. At least in the fields I'm used to, these tend to be more likely to be actually written by the academic (as opposed to a PhD student or postdoc), and they'll be a much better route into the topic than a paper on a minor technical point. My supervisor actually recommended some papers from his group when we first informally discussed a PhD -- but I already knew him a little. – Chris H Mar 15 '17 at 9:14
  • 1
    I'm confused how you became interested in this potential supervisor. Was there anything that intrigued you or drew you to this person? – aparente001 Mar 16 '17 at 10:02
18

I would, in fact, ask the opposite question: Why would you want to work with someone if you are not interested in their work? Of course, I wouldn't hold an oral exam or something with a prospective PhD student, but I would hope to be able to have a substantive discussion about my field with the student.

Thus: I wouldn't ask "Have you read my work?" because to me, it would be obvious that the student has read some of my work. Out of interest, not because I asked for it.

BTW: I wouldn't recomment you to say something along the lines of 'I find it very interesting that you did a recent article in...'. Say something substantive, challenge me, tell me why you are not convinced by that article, ask me about it -- yes! But don't try to flatter me in a blunt manner.

Good luck with your applications!

  • 1
    +1 for being much more clear than my answer in terms of being able to challenge and have a substantive conversation - I think I may have unintentionally suggested flattery when that wasn't my intent. The whole point really is that this should be the fun part of your PhD interviews. This isn't where you have to deflect questions about why your GPA suffered that one semester or why only your quantitative GPA scores were good - this is research, this is the fun of doing a PhD, and if you aren't interested in someones work why are you interviewing with them/even doing a PhD. – Bryan Krause Mar 14 '17 at 22:34
7

I would not expect a direct "Have you read my papers? Please summarize them in 5 minutes or less."

However, potential supervisors will likely want to tell you about their research and it will be obvious whether you are lost or following along. Try to understand their published work at least well enough to ask some informed questions. Be prepared to have a conversation. You don't have to be an expert yet on their research but you should be knowledgeable enough to follow along.

If you are wanting to spend something like 5 years in their lab hopefully something they are doing is interesting to you - you should be prepared to ask about that as well: "I saw you did some work on laziness in physicists, are you still working on that? If so, what became of the project? I thought it was really remarkable how much the laziness was anticorrelated with time spent on StackExchange, I would have expected the lazier physicists to spend more time there."

5

The above answers are both great. I will add my two cents, since it seems this point is not apparent from the -nevertheless- great answers.

You should read the papers of your potential PhD supervisor not because you find somewhere advice to do so, but because you are interested in her/his research and you want to pursue similar line of research. Any other reason is the wrong reason.

  • More than likely you will co-author papers with your supervisor. So you need some common ground in order to work together effectively. During your meeting you should get a feel for how well you could work together over a period of 3-5 years. No matter how much you think you know, over time you will discover that you over-estimated your knowledge. – CyberFonic Mar 15 '17 at 0:38
  • The prevalence of co-authorship varies by field. So I don't think the answer needs to be amended. – Dawn Mar 15 '17 at 2:29
  • What does this add over the other, existing answers? You outright state that this is just a rewording of other answers! Is it needed? – user2390246 Mar 16 '17 at 8:52
  • @user2390246 I meant that they are great answers. I did not mean that my answer a rephrasing of their answer. I added something that I see is missing from the above, great nevertheless, answers. I do not think it deserves a downvote. – PsySp Mar 16 '17 at 9:00
  • 1
    Sorry, I felt that the other answers already made the point about needing to be interested in your supervisor's research for its own sake. Maybe you can edit the answer to bring out what gives it a different perspective? – user2390246 Mar 16 '17 at 9:08
1

I can make sense of the summaries and introductions, but that is all.

That is a problem. If you are so unfamiliar with the field that you cannot understand anything about the methods, how can you know if this is what you want to do for the next 5-6 years? A certain amount of training is expected to happen during a PhD but graduate school is not like undergrad. There are no TAs. Great majority of PIs do not have the time to hold your hand and teach you everything. You need to seriously consider if you have the necessary background to do a PhD in this field.

Do supervisors ask applicants about whether they have read their papers?

They will ask why you want to join their lab. If the plan is to say "I haven't seen your work but XYZ", XYZ better be good!

Do I attempt to summarise vaguely what the paper is about?

You could try asking a question about the paper. You probably should admit straight away that you don't understand the methodology very well. Perhaps the PI will be willing to explain it to you! (This actually happened to me several times, most scientists are very eager to talk about their research)

What sort of questions may be asked about papers?

Future directions, next experiments to do, etc are popular questions since that is exactly what you would be doing if you joined the lab.

Can you just say something along the lines of ' I find it very interesting that you did a recent article in ????' for flattery?

You can but you will likely be asked what you like about the article.

NOTE: I am a biomedical researcher, not a physicist.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.