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Interviewing for a Doctoral Fellowship

Interviewing for a Doctoral Fellowship

If you’re planning ahead, here are some tips on preparing for a Doctoral Fellowship interview. If you’re reading this and you’ve been invited to interview then many congratulations and best of luck!

Before the interview

Usually there is only 1-2 weeks between invitation to interview and the interview itself. Ideally book annual leave during this time or try to arrange for a less-intense rota. Allow plenty of time for mock interviews and preparatory reading.

Find out the format of the interview. This varies: some funders require you to give a formal presentation at the start of the interview, whereas others may ask for a short verbal summary of the research project or may not ask for a presentation at all. This information may be in your invitation letter/email or on the funder’s website. If not, contact the funder to find out.

If you’re asked to give a presentation, find out the time and slide limits and what you are expected to cover. Succinctly remind the interview panel:

  • about the project
  • why it is novel
  • what the anticipated clinical impact will be
  • the training aspect of the Fellowship

If you have any updates for the panel, include these e.g. if, since submitting the application, you have passed an exam, received ethical approval or there has been a recent relevant publication.

Practise the presentation so that you are confident you can deliver it within time.

Check who will be on the interview panel:

  • check for conflicts of interest
  • look up their areas of research interest as this may give you a clue to the type of questions they may ask

Remind yourself of the funder’s remit.

Ask your supervisor to arrange mock interviews, ideally with Professors who you do not know from a range of different specialties. Email your application to them in advance. Be prepared for the mock interviews to be challenging – do not be disheartened. Write down the questions that you find difficult and the feedback that you receive.

Address the feedback and difficult questions by:

  • Speaking to relevant people and asking for help e.g. statisticians, collaborators, supervisors etc. Most people will be willing to spare some time to answer your questions.
  • Reading around the subject. Write notes on flashcards so you can use them to refresh your memory immediately before the interview. Make notes on the following:

    • your application and CV
    • the references that you cited
    • any landmark papers which have been published since submitting the application
    • the fundamentals of the various methodologies that you will use
  • Being realistic. Recognise that no project is perfect (hence the ‘study limitations’ section of papers); you may not have solutions to all of the problems raised in the mock interviews. Also recognise that you cannot be an expert at this early stage and that training and learning will be an important component of the Fellowship.

At the interview

Arrive in good time. The interview format will usually be explained to you e.g. there may be one person asking questions for the first half of the interview, one person asking questions for the second half of the interview with the final few minutes open to the entire interview panel. When answering, try to address all members of the interview panel – as those who are not asking questions may still be marking you.

Answer questions clearly and succinctly. Acknowledge if you don’t know an answer or one of the interviewers makes a helpful suggestion regarding the project. Defend ideas you feel are valid, but don’t be argumentative or hostile.

After the interview

Note down the questions that you were asked (do this immediately before you forget). These may improve your project and prove useful if you need to submit another application or attend another interview.

Thank the people who helped you to prepare the application and for the interview.

If you’re unsuccessful:

  • Be resilient – being invited to interview is an achievement in itself and should motivate you to keep trying. Few people are successful at the first attempt.
  • Request feedback from the funder: use this to improve your project.
  • Find out when and how many times you can re-apply to the same funder.
  • Consider applying to other funders.

If you’re successful:

Congratulations! Find out what you need to do before starting the Fellowship