Postdoctoral Interview Questions and Answers

Postdoctoral Interview Questions and Answers

This article is for all the future researchers and professors out there. We will discuss Postdoctoral Interview Questions here. You deserve some respect if you’ve landed a postdoctoral interview. Or even if you haven’t and are just planning to get into postdoctoral research, good for you. We fully understand that it can be quite stressful if you have to go for an interview for a postdoctoral position, which is why we came up with some likely questions that will help you prepare. Some of them are quite common, while others may vary based on your subject. However, some solid preparation in key areas can help you ace that interview and come out with flying colors.

Before applying for a postdoctoral fellowship, it is important to understand what one wishes to gain. Many Ph.D. graduates apply for postdoctoral positions thinking that it shall help them advance in their academic careers and maybe even bag a faculty position at a reputed institution. But more often than not, an academic with a postdoctoral degree ends up with a non-academic position where their postdoctoral degree doesn’t add much significance. Therefore, it is paramount that a candidate knows that they really want it before going for it. After that, one should research the research group, lab, mentor and project, and most importantly, the principal investigator. Writing a personalized letter to the PI is an integral part of the application process, and to do that, one must have proper knowledge regarding the PI’s own work. Then, the last step is to send in an academic CV. If the candidate is selected after that, they will face an interview.

Top Postdoctoral Interview Questions

A postdoctoral interview is usually a one-on-one session between the candidate and the PI, and a lot depends on the PI’s personal tastes and preferences. This is why one must understand what PI wants before or during an interview by asking them the right questions. Apart from that, here are some probable questions that can be asked in the interview:

  • Tell us about yourself.

This is a very commonly asked question in a postdoctoral interview, and it is usually asked at the beginning. It serves both as an easy opener and an opportunity for the candidate to introduce themselves and highlight their relevant attributes in the context of the interview. A candidate would do well to outline their area of research and their possible applications and simultaneously point out the similarities, if any, between their Ph.D. research and the postdoctoral position they have applied to, which interests them. It is unnecessary to go into too many details or talk in heavy jargon. The PI would like to know the candidate at this point.

  • What areas of our research do you find most interesting and why.

This question is asked to test the candidate’s seriousness about the position they want. The PI wants to see if the candidate has researched the research work they want to be a part of and how much they know about the research group and the lab. Now would be a good time for the candidate to talk about all the things they have read regarding this topic. A well-researched answer will impress the PI. It is advisable to practice this answer beforehand, as this is a common question, and any PI will want to ask it to know more about a candidate.

  • How can you contribute to this project?

This is the corporate equivalent of ‘Why should we hire you?’. this is the opportunity for the candidate to make their case. A PI would have already gone through the candidate’s CV and cover letter by now, so it can be superfluous to talk about them. Simply referencing their achievements and strengths as listed in their CV should suffice. A candidate should draw attention to skills and experience that may not be obvious from their CV. Talking about the methods used and protocol followed during the last project of the candidate and how the same can be applied to the postdoctoral one will help the PI understand how much the candidate knows about the project at hand and whether they can actually make a difference at the job.

  • How would you seek funding for your work?

Securing funding for research is essential. The PI would like to see how the candidate sells their work. Even if a position is fully funded, postdoctoral fellows often chase external grants and fellowships, which add a lot of weight to their CV, reduce their cost burden to the lab and act as stepping stones to getting even heavier grants in the future. An ideal answer to this question should show that the candidate is aware of all the major funding bodies in their field of research. Also, any prior experience with securing grants should be mentioned by the candidate.

  • What are some of the challenges you can expect to face during this project, and how can you handle them?

This is a multi-layered question, as the PI wishes to know how well the candidate understands the project and its possible pitfalls and if they can overcome any such setbacks. An honest answer regarding what the candidate sees as real difficulties in the project and solutions to them that highlight the candidate’s resourcefulness would be appreciated. The candidate should solidly back up any arguments they put forward in favor of their proposed solutions. Also, the candidate should mention any experience of dealing with problems during research and highlight their role in solving them. Seeing that a candidate is not afraid of setbacks and can tackle them with a cool head will go a long way to impress the PI.

This is similar to asking where the candidate sees themselves in a few years or their plans. Understanding a candidate’s motivations and their level of dedication to the work is very important to the PI as they will invest a lot of time and effort in the candidate, mentoring them during the research, and they would like to know how they wish to use that experience in their future career.  A clear and focused candidate about their future goals is likely to be more dedicated to the project, something the PI would like to see. Talking about how the skills one will acquire during the project will help them in the next stages of their career is advised.

  • How good are you at supervising postgraduate students?

A postdoctoral fellow is supposed to be in a senior position to guide junior researchers and students from time to time. One doesn’t need to be a fantastic teacher. In this case, just providing some helpful tips to a confused student can be good enough. Any prior experience in guiding juniors, even if it be a small piece of help when the senior guide or scientist was away, will show the PI that the candidate can handle this aspect of the job and has decent leadership skills. Also, a good guide and supervisor means a confident researcher, which is something every PI values.

  • List some of your strengths and weaknesses.

This sort of question is very common during a postdoctoral interview, so it is better to be prepared for it. The PI wants to know what kind of person the candidate is, as they will be working with the PI if selected for the job. It is important to be honest, while answering this question. While one should definitely list some of their strengths enthusiastically, weaknesses must be put forth, and measures that have been taken to deal with them should be mentioned as well. A candidate who projects an image of integrity with the willingness to learn will have a good shot at bagging the job.

  • Describe your working style.

While the primary purpose of this question is to ascertain how the candidate goes about their work in the lab, how they answer this question can also bring out how much they know about the role they have applied for. Simple things, such as preferring to work alone or as part of a team and wanting to start early in the day, can convey a lot about the candidate. Furthermore, the specific research fellowship may require a particular working style, and this is an opportunity for the PI to test whether the candidate has actually read the job description or not. Giving a satisfactory answer will mean that the candidate has done their homework and is generally diligent.

  • Do you have any questions about the job?

An interview for a research fellowship works both ways. A proper scholar should be well-versed with their subject and be curious. The type of questions they ask will show how much they know and how well they can apply their knowledge in practical research. Also, asking questions about the lab and prospects will show that a candidate is genuinely interested in the job. However, too many insipid questions can annoy the PI, so it is good to prepare a few clever queries beforehand in anticipation of this question so that the PI gets the right idea about the candidate.


It is possible to prepare for a postdoctoral interview. While technical points are taken for granted and every candidate should know about them, a lot of times, specific knowledge about the PI and their work can result in an impressive interview. Sometimes, the interview questions are provided before the interview itself, making for no excuse to be unprepared. Ultimately, a PI looks for diligence, honesty, profound technical knowledge, focus, and the willingness to learn in their postdoctoral research fellows. A candidate who can project all these in an interview without overdoing the part will be remembered easily.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I dress for a postdoctoral interview? Dress professionally and neatly conveys the message that you are serious about the job. The PI would like to see someone who takes the role seriously.
  • How do I know if I actually need a postdoctoral degree? That depends on what your plans are. A postdoctoral degree is super-specialization and is needed mostly in specialized research. Ask your seniors to get a good idea if what you are aiming for requires a postdoctoral or not.

Also read What is a research associate? – Definition of Research Associate

Postdoctoral Interview Questions and Answers

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