In some subjects, such as the Arts, Humanities and some Social Sciences, pre-defined (and pre-funded) PhD projects are less common.
This isn’t always the case, of course. Arts and Humanities research can involve huge ongoing projects, focussing on the collaborative analysis of vast archives. Many branches of the Social Sciences also undertake long-term data gathering and analysis.
Yet, the majority of PhDs in these areas tend to be original projects, proposed by the student seeking to undertake them.
If this is the case for your project, you will normally apply to a university’s PhD programme, rather than a specific PhD ‘position’.
If accepted, you will have the freedom to do your own independent research. But you’ll benefit from the resources, training and support available within your programme.
Because these projects and their funding aren’t pre-defined, their interviews can be more flexible.
It won’t be necessary to confirm that you have the specific skills needed for a specific project. Or that you are the student most deserving of a designated studentship.
But this doesn’t mean that the interview for a self-proposed PhD is easier than one for an advertised position. If anything, greater scrutiny may be paid to your project proposal and to your suitability for independent research.
The university itself hasn’t identified this research topic. It needs to ensure that the project is viable, that you understand what’s involved in completing it and that you care enough about it to do so.
Interviews for self-proposed PhD projects may be more informal, but this isn’t always the case.
You could still find yourself discussing your application in front of a panel. If so your experience will be like to that outlined for advertised projects, above.
Or, you may simply be invited to chat with your prospective supervisor. This could take place in their office or in an informal setting on campus.
Don’t underestimate the importance of such a meeting. A relaxed interview can seem less serious. Yet the discussion it enables will still play a crucial role in assessing your potential for PhD study.
Your supervisor may not need to assess your suitability for a specific project, but they still need to be sure that you have the knowledge and skills to carry out research in their field.
Equally, there may not be funding available, but your prospective supervisor is still considering investing three years (or more) of their time and effort guiding your project and assisting your development.
Whether you chat with a supervisor or sit before a panel, you can expect to spend some time discussing your research proposal. This may involve formal questions and answers, or it might simply involve ‘talking through’ what you’ve written. Make sure you’re familiar with the contents of that proposal – and ready to expand upon any areas where more detail might be requested.
Other questions may focus on your previous work, on your career goals and your reasons for undertaking a PhD.
Informal interviews are unlikely to include a presentation. However, you may still be invited to talk freely about your academic interests or offer an overview of previous research work.
If there is an opportunity to allocate funding to your project (through a Research Council studentship, or similar) this may be discussed at your interview. In most cases funding is merit-based, so make sure you are prepared to talk up the specific value of your project.