Interview Questions for Early Career Researchers
Selection Criteria and General Questions
For Australian postdoctoral or higher level positions in climate science, most questions will be structured around the selection criteria. Usually, one question will address one criteria.
While the selection criteria will vary depending on the proposed research, the criteria can be generalised to encompass all research projects. Typically, selection criteria for a postdoctoral or senior research position will centre around the following:
- Knowledge on the specific subject (i.e. Have a PhD in Atmospheric modelling, etc.)
- History of research excellence
- Demonstration of skills associated with the research problem
- Demonstration of effective communication skills (written and oral)
- Effective collaboration skills
- Management skills (e.g. time management, organisation, people management if applicable)
So, some typical questions might be:
- Please describe your PhD project and the major findings and implications of that research.
- What makes you a good researcher?
- What skills do you have in this field? Can you give an example of when you used those skills to contribute to your research.
- Using an example from your work, describe your process of writing a paper to communicate your research.
- Do you think you work better in teams or by yourself? (there is no right answer to this question, people just want to know how you work). What, in your opinion, is a successful collaboration?
- You have a deadline for a first-author paper submission looming but the paper is missing key elements because a colleague has been slow in responding to your requests for data/analysis/written sections. How would you deal with this situation in order to bring the project to a timely completion?
Providing concrete examples for each of the selection criteria is by far the best way to interview well for the position.
- NB: Regarding project management, the successful completion of a PhD, especially in the Australian system, is a damn good example of successful project management! So use it!
Comments on specific aspects of employment in climate research
For many of us working in climate science, programming skills are a necessity. Without them, we simply could not achieve the desired research output that is now expected of individuals.
An interview for a post-doctoral or senior research position will probably include a question about your experience using at least one (more likely numerous) programming languages. The ability to use MatLab, R and/or Python to analyse and visualise your data is therefore a highly desirable skill.
However, the range of programming skills that is required for a position might also extend to knowledge of Higher Performance Computing (HPC), such as using super-computers, especially if the project includes running numerical models. These projects will also tend to require experience with low-level programming languages, such as C++ or Fortran, and interview questions will target your experience in these languages.
A popular question in Australia is currently regarding how researchers deal with limited funding. This form of question seeks to determine the resilience of the researcher and their research interests, and/or their creativity in accessing money from other funding bodies.
"Given unlimited funds, what science questions/areas would you invest in? Where would you direct your own research?"
The ability to answer this question well is highly desirable to most interview panels. If possible, drawing from a past instance where good research output was able to be drawn from limited funding would be optimal. Otherwise, point to instances where you have been successful in your application for funding, and suggest that these skills could be used in a case of limited funding.
Any interview for a position that is level B (Lecturer) or above will almost always include a question on leadership.
Personal long-term goals Finally, an interview panel may be interested in the personal goals of the interviewee. Questions like "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?", while a cliche, are certainly still very popular. It would be wise to be prepared for such a question in any interview.
A real set of questions:
- Why are you interested in this position?
- If you were offered this position, what would be your first steps to establish yourself in the research team?
- What do you view as the most pressing scientific challenges in <THIS FIELD> science today?
- Please describe, perhaps with examples, your familiarity with the analysis of data from <PLATFORMS / MODELS>, particularly <SPECIFIC FIELD> data.
- Can you give us examples of your experience with developing, validation or tuning <MODELS / DATA ANALYSIS ROUTINES>?
- Please describe, perhaps with an example, your capacity to set and prioritise research directions, and to design and complete collaborative research programs to achieve scientific goals.
- What would you like to accomplish in this position and where would you like to be in 5 years?
- If we were to ask your referees about your strengths and weaknesses, what would they say?
- If you were to be offered this position, when would you like to start?
- Do you have any questions for us? Any follow-ups from the committee that haven't been addressed?