Questions to Expect During Recruitment Weekend

Photo:  iStock

Photo: iStock


If you've been admitted to a PhD program, there are few questions that you should definitely ask during your recruiting visit. But there are also a few questions that you should expect to answer. Here's a list of questions you should prepare for. 


"What do you study?"

Another way to ask this is, "Tell me about your research." Since you'll be answering this question A LOT during recruitment weekend, you should boil your research down to a 3-4 sentence "elevator pitch." Think about it. If you were on an elevator with a professor, and had to tell them about your (potential) dissertation project before you reached your desired floor, what would you say? You'd probably get right to the point. That's how you should approach this question during recruitment weekend.

There's a really good formula for talking about your research in the book The Craft of Research:

  1. Topic: I am studying ___

  2. Question: because I want to find out what/why/how ___

  3. Significance: in order to help my reader understand ___.

But like I said, this is just a formula. You should play with the wording until you can figure out how to best describe your research project.

Either way, you should respond to this question with your elevator pitch. And if people want to know more, let them ask you follow-up questions.


"What research would you like to do here?"

This is related the first question—"What do you study?" But you might answer them differently. The first question could be a way for you to discuss what your college or Master's thesis was about, whereas this one is a way for you to explicitly say what you would like to do in a PhD program. In answering this question, be sure to point to the different resources at that particular institution and say how you think they'll help you carry out the work that you want to do.


"What impact do you think Your research will Have?"

Or, "What are the implications of your work?" This might be tough to answer, because might not know yet. But you should still prepare a response to this question. It shows that you've spent serious time thinking about your potential contribution to the field and society, which is important.


"Who do you want to work with?"

When people ask you this, they want to know  who your advisor would be and/or who might be on your dissertation committee (if you accept admission to their program). Faculty might already know who you want to work with from your personal statement. But you should still expect to answer this question.

Make sure that you're thinking about who would be a good "fit" for you and your work.


"Have you thought about...?"

Sometimes, professors ask you questions that aren't really questions. Rather, they're suggestions. They might be trying to push you to think about a concept or a problem differently. Who knows. But if you've actually spent time thinking about the particular "question," you should respond with your thoughts. Here's my go-to answer: "Oh, no I haven't. Thanks for the question; I'll have to consider that moving forward. Do you know any books that might be helpful for thinking about that?"


"What kind of research experience do you have?"

List the things that you've done, but talk about each research experience in at least three parts:

  1. Explain what the research project was about, and how you went about it (methodology).

  2. Say why you were motivated to pursue that research.

  3. Describe the things that you've learned (personally, intellectually, professionally) from doing that research.


"Did you run into any problems while conducting your previous research?"

You should almost always respond "Yes" to this question. When professors ask this, they're trying to see if you understand that the research process is just that, a process. It's rare that everything goes just how you've intended. While responding to this question, it might even be a good idea to talk about how your ideas changed over the course of your research.


"Do you have any questions for me?"

Professors typically close interviews with this question. Don't say "No." Instead, go back to your notes and ask a few of the questions you've prepared beforehand.


About the Author

Bennie is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University, where he is studying African American Studies. He created Just Tryna' Graduate to help Black students get to & through graduate school. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.