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GuidesResearch methods12 research interview questions (with examples and answers)

12 research interview questions (with examples and answers)

Last updated

4 July 2024

Author

Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Hugh Good

Prepping for an upcoming interview for a job in research?

Dazzle the interviewing team and land the job of your dreams by coming prepared to answer the most commonly asked research interview questions.

Read our article (which includes example answers to get your brain juices flowing) to ensure you put your best foot forward for your next research interview.

What are research interview questions?

If you have set your sights on working in research, you will have to answer research interview questions during the hiring process.

Whether you are interested in working as a research assistant or want to land an academic or industry research position in your chosen field, confidently answering research interview questions is the best way to showcase your skills and land the job.

Designed to be open-ended, research interview questions give your interviewer a chance to:

  • Get a better understanding of your research experience

  • Explore your areas of research expertise

  • Determine if you and your research are a good fit for their needs

  • Assess if they have the required resources for you to conduct your research effectively

12 research interview questions (with answers)

If you want to crush an upcoming interview for a research position, practicing your answers to commonly asked questions is a great place to start.

Read our list of research interview questions and answers to help get into the pre-interview zone (and, hopefully, ensure you land that position!)

General research questions

General research questions are typically asked at the start of the interview to give the interviewer a sense of your work, personality, experience, and career goals. 

They offer a great opportunity to introduce yourself and your skills before you deep-dive into your specific area of expertise.

What is your area of research expertise?

Interviewers will ask this common kickoff question to learn more about you and your interests and experience. Besides providing the needed information, you can use this question to highlight your unique skills at the beginning of your interview to set the tone.

Example answer

“My research focuses on the interaction between social media use and teenager mental well-being. I’ve conducted [X number] studies which have been published in [X publications]. I love studying this topic because not only is it a pressing modern issue, it also serves a commonly overlooked population that requires and deserves additional attention and support.”

Why are you interested in [X research topic]?

Another icebreaker, this question allows you to provide some context and backstory into your passion for research.

Example answer

“After completing my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, I had the opportunity to work with my current mentor on their research project. After we conducted the first experiment, I had a million other questions I wanted to explore—and I was hooked. From there, I was fortunate enough to be taken on as an assistant by my mentor, and they have helped me home in on my specific research topic over the past [X years].”

What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of research?

Playing off the classic “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” interview question, this research-specific option often appears in these types of interviews.

This can be a tricky question to answer well. The best way to approach this type of question is to be honest but constructive. This is your opportunity to come across as genuine as you talk about aspects of research that challenge you—because no one wants to hear you like everything about your work!

Example answer

“My favorite part of research is speaking directly to people in our target demographic to hear about their stories and experiences. My least favorite part is the struggle to secure grants to support my work—though now I have done that process a few times, it is less daunting than when I started.”

In-depth interview questions about your research

Once the interviewer has a basic understanding of you, they will transition into asking more in-depth questions about your work.

Regardless of your level of experience, this is the portion of the interview where you can dazzle your potential employer with your knowledge of your industry and research topic to highlight your value as a potential employee.

Where has your work been published?

As this is a straightforward question, make sure you have to hand every place your work has been published. If your work is yet to be published, mention potential future publications and any other academic writing you have worked on throughout your career.

Example answer

“My research has been published in [X number of publications]. If you want to read my published work, I am happy to share the publication links or print you a copy.”

Tell us about your research process

Getting into the meat and potatoes of your work, this question is the perfect opportunity to share your working process while setting clear expectations for the support you will need.

Research is a collaborative process between team members and your employer, so being clear about how you prefer to work (while acknowledging you will need to make compromises to adjust to existing processes) will help you stand out from other candidates.

Example answer

“Historically, I have worked alongside a team of researchers to devise and conduct my research projects. Once we determine the topic and gather the needed resources, I strive to be collaborative and open as we design the study parameters and negotiate the flow of our work. I enjoy analyzing data, so in most cases, I take the lead on that portion of the project, but I am happy to jump in and support the team with other aspects of the project as well.”

What sources do you use to collect your research data?

Depending on the type of research you conduct, this question allows you to deep-dive into the specifics of your data-collection process. Use this question to explain how you ensure you are collecting the right data, including selecting study participants, filtering peer-reviewed papers to analyze, etc.

Example answer

“Because my research involves collecting qualitative data from volunteers, I use strict criteria to ensure the people I interview are within our target demographic. During the interview, which I like doing virtually for convenience, I use [X software] to create transcripts and pool data to make the analysis process less time-consuming.”

Leadership research questions

Many research positions require employees to take on leadership responsibilities as they progress throughout their careers.

If this is the case for your job position, have strong answers prepared to the following questions to showcase your leadership and conflict-management skills.

Are you interested in becoming a research leader or manager?

Many research positions are looking for people with leadership potential to take on more responsibility as they grow throughout their careers. If you are interested in pursuing research leadership, use this question to highlight your leadership qualities.

Example answer

“While I currently do not have much research leadership experience, I have worked with so many lovely mentors, and I would love the opportunity to fulfill that role for the next generation of academics. Because I am quite organized and attuned to the challenges of research, I would love the opportunity to take on leadership responsibilities over time.”

How do you handle workplace conflicts within a research team?

Workplace conflict is always present when working with a team, so it is a common topic for research interview questions.

Despite being tricky to navigate, this type of question allows you to show you are a team player and that you know how to handle periods of interpersonal stress. 

Example answer

“When I'm directly involved in a disagreement with my team members, I do my best to voice my opinion while remaining respectful. I am trained in de-escalation techniques, so I use those skills to prevent the argument from getting too heated. If I am a bystander to an argument, I try to help other team members feel heard and valued while disengaging any big emotions from the conversation.”

How would you support and motivate a struggling researcher on your team?

Research is a team effort. Employers are looking for people who can work well in teams as a priority when hiring. Describing your ability to support and encourage your team members is essential for crushing your research interview.

Example answer

“Working in research is hard—so I have had my fair share of offering and receiving support. When I have noticed someone is struggling, I do my best to offset their workload (provided I have the space to assist). Also, because I pride myself on being a friendly and approachable person, I do my best to provide a safe, open space for my team members if they want to talk or vent about any issues.”

Future-oriented research questions

As the interview comes to a close, your interviewer may ask you about your aspirations in academia and research.

To seal the deal and leave a positive impression, these types of questions are the perfect opportunity to remind your interviewer about your skills, knowledge base, and passion for your work and future in research.

What other areas of research are you interested in exploring?

Many hiring research positions may require their researchers to be open to exploring alternative research topics. If this applies to your position, coming prepared with adjacent topics to your current studies can help you stand out.

Example answer

“While my primary interests are with my area of study, I also am interested in exploring [X additional topics] related to my current work.”

Where do you see your research in 5, 10, or 20 years?

Your employer wants to see you are interested in and invested in growing your research career with them. To scope out your aspirations (and to show you are a good match for their needs), they may ask you to detail your future career goals.

Example answer

“In five years, I would love to have at least two more published projects, particularly in [X publication]. Past that, as I mature in my research career, I hope to take on more leadership roles in the next 10 to 20 years, including running my own lab or being invited to speak at conferences in my chosen field.”

In an ideal world, what would your perfect research job look like?

As a fun hypothetical question, the “ideal world” inquiry allows you to get creative and specific about your wishes and aspirations. If you get asked this question, do your best not to limit yourself. Be specific about what you want; you never know, some of your wishes may already be possible to fulfill!

Example answer

“In an ideal world, I would love to be the lead of my own research team. We would have our own working space, access to [X specific research tool] to conduct our research, and would be able to attend conferences within our field as keynote speakers.”

Get ready to ace your next research interview

Now you’re ready to dazzle your interviewers and land the research job of your dreams. Prepare strong and competent answers after reading this article on the most common research interview questions.

Arriving prepared for your interview is a great way to reduce stress, but remember: Showcasing yourself and your passion for your research is the number one way to stand out from the other applicants and get the job.

Best of luck. You’ve got this!

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