By Dalia Gala
Being invited to a DPhil interview is a huge achievement! I remember the rush I felt, sitting in a genetics lecture in the final year of my undergraduate degree, and seeing this notification show up on my phone. This meant: Oxford is considering me! But as soon as I processed that I’ve been invited, panic started to creep in: what will they ask me about? What if I don’t know the answers? What if my mind goes blank? I went through all of that – and the DPhil interviews, so let me tell you about my experiences!
I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to be invited to three DPhil interviews at Oxford, and I went to two of them, because by the time the third one was supposed to happen, I was already admitted into the program that I liked. For both of the interviews for which I was invited, both in the Department of Biochemistry, I had to prepare a presentation about my research. One allowed a presentation on a computer, and the other one required one page, A4, with printed figures relating to my research, and that was all – I just had to talk around it… Both presentations were to last 10 minutes.
I was advised to prepare really well to answer questions about the research I’m presenting. This is excellent advice – after I presented, the next 5-10 minutes of my interview were spent solely talking about my experiments, what future experiments I would design, why I took a particular experimental approach…Be ready for technical questions, particularly related to your first degree title (e.g. if you did BSci or Master’s in Genetics, they might ask you about identifying a particular piece of DNA, or for Biochemistry, about methods to identify protein-protein interactions). Go over the notes relating to your research – it will really help!
Additionally, you can design your printout or the presentation such that it discusses a selected aspect of your research which you know very well only briefly in the hopes that the panel will want to know more about this. That gives you an advantage, because directed the panel’s curiosity towards something you know a lot about!
The next stage of both interviews consisted of questions regarding my motivation to do a PhD, and whether I am ready for the challenges I might experience during my PhD work. I would advise you to be honest when answering these questions. If they ask about challenges, mention a failed experiment and how you re-designed it, or how you solved why it failed. If they ask about your motivation, do not say: “I want people to call me <<Doctor>>”. Tell them what you love about the discipline you’re pursuing. What makes you excited, which experiment is your favourite and why, why did you get interested in this research in the first place? Honesty and enthusiasm is what they want to see – and I’m sure that if you’re invited to an Oxford interview, you are enthusiastic enough about your discipline – you just need to show it. Good luck!