Choosing a group for PhD

In this post, I collected questions that might help students choose a group for their PhD project. The list of questions can be used during the interview process. Not every item is relevant for everyone. Please let me know if I missed something; I’ll keep extending this list.

Questions for both the prospective supervisor and students already working in the corresponding group

1. What are supervisor’s expectations from a PhD student?

  • publications (how many?)
  • going to conferences (how many?)
  • taking classes
  • teaching
  • helping supervisor with proposal writing
  • helping people in the group with other projects not related to own project (how much time should be spent on it?)
  • group infrastructure support (hardware, instruments etc)

2. How long does a PhD take?

  • Is there a specific deadline?
  • What happens if it takes longer?
  • How long does it usually take to finish PhD studies in the group?

3. How are collaborations organized?

  • Do students work together or is everyone working by themselves?
  • Do students work with people from other organizations/groups?
  • Question only for students in the group: Who decides about collaborators, supervisor or students themselves?

4. Finances

  • Participation in how many conferences can a student get covered?
  • What equipment can a student get covered?

5. Resources

  • How is access to common resources (e.g. experimental equipment) organized?
  • How often can a student access the required resources?

6. Supervision time

How much time does the supervisor have for each student? (this question is for larger groups with more than 5 students) How many meetings per month approximately?

7. Flexibility

Does everyone have to be on site every day? Is it possible to work from home/other locations sometimes?

8. Additional training

Are there opportunities to take classes focusing on soft skills (e.g. presenting or academic writing) or programming?

9. Vision

Does the group have a shared vision/larger goal? If yes, how would you describe it?

10. Diversity and inclusion

  • How would you describe the situation with diversity and inclusion in the group? Is there an issue with gender, race or other balance? If yes, has it being addressed?
  • Question only for other students: Is there gender, race or other inequality? Is everyone being equally supported? Does everyone feels comfortable speaking, for example, during group meetings?

Questions only for other students already working in the group

1. Most of the PhD students experience difficulties during their studies. What was your biggest frustration/struggle so far (without many details)? Has it been resolved and how?

2. How are conflicts in the group being resolved?

3. How controlling is the supervisor? How much decision making can a student do themselves? Is the supervisor open to changes suggested by the student? (change of project, change of collaborators etc)

4. How supportive is the supervisor in case a student experiences problems?

5. Does the group socialize regularly? (coffee, having lunch together, retreats, other events)


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