42 Postdoc Interview Questions (With 6 Sample Answers)

Updated 2 December 2022

After completing their doctoral programmes, many PhD students continue their research training in postdoc positions in universities, organisations, non-profits or government departments. They can gain the necessary skills and experience to qualify for academic careers. By understanding the types of interview questions that the principal investigator or employer is likely to ask, you can practice appropriate responses and increase your chances of receiving a fellowship. In this article, we can review some frequently asked postdoc interview questions and provide sample answers to help you prepare for your upcoming interview.

General postdoc interview questions

You may be able to expect the following general postdoc interview questions at the start of the interview:

  1. What would you like us to know about you?

  2. What would you describe as your biggest strength?

  3. What is your biggest weakness, and what have you done to overcome it?

  4. What do you find the most inspiring about your work?

  5. What do you find the most challenging about your field?

  6. What is your biggest accomplishment so far?

  7. Why do you want to work with us?

  8. Do you have any questions about the position?

  9. What do you do to keep up with your developments in your field?

  10. What do you do to network in your industry?

  11. What do you look for in a job?

  12. What is your ideal work environment?

Related: How To Prepare For A Job Interview

Interview questions about background and experience

After asking general questions to get to know your personality, the interviewer may ask the following questions to learn more about your educational background and work experience:

  1. Can you tell us about your education before your doctoral programme?

  2. Where did you complete your doctoral programme?

  3. Can you tell us about your previous research project?

  4. What did you like the most about your graduate research?

  5. What are some of the skills that helped you succeed in your research project?

  6. Did you ever have a conflict with anyone from your research team? How did you handle it?

  7. What are some of the challenges you faced during your research, and how did you overcome them?

  8. Have you ever been in a leadership or management position during a research project?

  9. What work experience do you have?

  10. Have you published any articles in academic journals?

  11. What do you hope to gain from the postdoctoral experience?

  12. How do you feel about undertaking research outside your area of expertise?

Related: How To Crack A Job Interview

In-depth interview questions for a postdoc position

Once the interviewer has assessed your background and experience, they may ask you the following in-depth question to get a better idea of your research capabilities:

  1. Why did you apply for this research fellowship with us?

  2. How will your research fit in with our work?

  3. Do you expect to continue your career in academia?

  4. Are you willing to find independent funding for your postdoctoral research?

  5. Can you describe the research directions you might take if we offer you this position?

  6. What will be the most challenging part of this research work?

  7. What are some of the technical skills you have used in your research work?

  8. Do you have any experience supervising students and research staff?

  9. What do you do to motivate student interns and research assistants?

  10. Can you mention the top three discoveries from your PhD research?

  11. What is your experience in collaborating with other postdoctoral researchers?

  12. How long do you take to learn new research concepts and techniques?

Related: 8 Types Of Research Jobs (With Duties And Average Salary)

Postdoc interview questions with sample answers

You can refer to the following sample answers for postdoctoral interview questions to prepare your responses for your research fellowship interview:

1. Do you prefer to conduct research on your own or collaborate with a research group?

The interviewer may ask this question to assess how flexible you are willing to be in your research work. While being honest about your preference is important, you may want to consider the requirements of the research fellowship when formulating your response. If the position requires plenty of teamwork with multiple professionals for completing research projects and reports, a willingness to collaborate is essential. Otherwise, the research position may not be the best fit for you.

Example: "I am flexible in doing research and willing to go with what suits the research project. My previous research experience includes solo research and collaboration work with various teams. I researched on my own when I wrote papers for academic journals. When I led a research project in my area of expertise during my PhD, I completed the project in collaboration with several research teams. I am comfortable doing both."

Related: What Is A Research Associate? (And How To Become One)

2. What are some of the research methods you have used in your work?

Interviewers often ask this question to learn about your understanding of and experience with different research methods. Your answer can include a few of the top research methods you have used in your graduate studies. You can provide details of how these processes helped you succeed in your doctoral programme.

Example: "During my PhD research, I used qualitative and quantitative research methods. With qualitative research, I compiled observational data from interviews and focus groups. I used surveys, questionnaires and historical data to gather statistical data for quantitative research."

3. What is your experience with grant writing?

You can expect this interview question if the institution you are applying to for the research fellowship requires grants for funding student research projects. In that case, familiarity with grant writing can increase your chances of getting a research fellowship. In your answer to the question, you can outline the process you use to create a draft for a grant. If you have no experience with you grant writing, you can say so and explain your knowledge of the necessary research and writing steps.

Example: "I have not applied for a grant myself, but I helped my PhD academic adviser apply for one for her research work. I assisted him with searching for an available grant, calculating the research budget and preparing a rough draft of the abstract and needs statement. After completing the final draft, he asked me to review it, check for errors and suggest edits. He then submitted the grant proposal, and it received approval."

4. Can you tell us about your working style?

The main purpose of this question is to assess how you work in the research laboratory. However, the interviewer may also want to know if you understand the specific working requirements of their institution. Your response can show that you have been diligent about reading the details in their job description and researching the institution.

Example: "My working style is simple. I prefer to start early in the day and review the work I need to do. I prioritise the tasks that require immediate attention and leave the less urgent tasks for later. I may conduct experiments at the laboratory until noon. I generally do this by myself, although sometimes I may work with a research team. I do research work in the afternoon and meet with other researchers to exchange information and get their views. I schedule time in the evening to write reports."

5. How do you feel about working from home?

Since many institutions and companies have adopted work-from-home policies, you may likely encounter this question during a postdoc interview. Your answer may influence the interviewer's decision to hire you. If you have any previous experience working from home, you can mention it and explain what you did to stay productive.

Example: "I am okay with working from home if necessary. I have two years of work-from-home experience. I enjoy the flexibility it offers. It is a privilege to do the work I like and spend time with my family.

I find it convenient to set my work hours, and I can stay productive by following a well-structured work routine. I have a separate home office with a workstation and an Internet connection. I can keep in touch with my co-workers as frequently as needed via phone, messages and video conferencing. My family members do not disturb me unless there is an emergency, so there are practically no distractions."

6. How important is it for postdoctoral fellows to have leadership skills?

Interviewers often ask this question when you interview for a fellowship position that requires you to lead a team of researchers or oversee student interns. The interviewer may expect to hear a response that shows you understand how to lead and motivate people. Your answer can also demonstrate your management abilities.

Example: "I think developing leadership skills is beneficial for all postdoctoral fellows. It can help us with academic work, lab work and transitioning into industry work. Leadership skills can help us become better team leaders, project managers, mentors and networkers. When I lead a team, I offer constructive criticism and necessary coaching to the staff as is necessary. I also establish set schedules and communication rules so the work can progress unimpeded."

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