My DPhil Application and Interview (biology/pathology)

By Isabel Leitch

12 months ago, I was putting together my applications for PhD's. That time of year has come around again and many of you may be in a position now where you want to start on this journey so I thought I would share my application and interview story in the hope that it may help you or calm any fears you may have.


Firstly, a little background. I am a 21-year-old graduate from the University of Exeter. During my biochemistry undergraduate, I had lab-based internships, so I knew when I was looking for PhD's the topic of research I wanted to study. After hours (read: weeks) of working my way through seemingly endless information online, I found a supervisor and project at Oxford that I wanted to apply for.


The application process actually turned out to be a lot more straightforward than it initially seemed. To apply for my course, I needed an up-to-date CV and my university transcript (the piece of paper that lists all of the modules and coursework you have completed and your grades). They also wanted 3 references and a personal statement. For references, don’t leave this until the week or two before the deadline! Email them well in advance so you don’t risk your application not being processed.


Fast forward to January and I get an email inviting me for interview. I had almost convinced myself at this stage that I wasn't going to get the interview. You know, the classic imposter syndrome mindset that I was struggling with. But regardless, I had been given this opportunity and I wanted to do my best.


My interview day started with a panel interview, which consisted of the supervisor I had applied to and members of the Graduate Studies Committee. I had been asked to prepare a presentation on some of my past research and this was followed by questions. Naively, I had assumed the questions would be like "why do you want to study for a PhD" or "why this project" but in fact the questions were a lot more technical and about the actual science. This caught me off guard and I did struggle but I think they wanted to see my thought process more than me actually getting the correct answers. At the end of the day, when you start a PhD you are still a student and you’re there to learn.


The rest of my interview day was spent talking 1-2-1 with my (potential and now current) supervisor and meeting the other lab members. We were given some time without the supervisor where we grabbed a coffee and had a chat. This time is so important during the interview process. This is your opportunity to ask questions to the group about the supervisor, about their work dynamic and get to know the group a bit. If you're lucky at interview, these are the people you'll be spending the next 3 to 4 years with. Can you see yourself being happy in this environment?