INTERVIEWS FOR SCIENCE JOBS
INCLUDING A PRACTICE INTERVIEW
- What skills do scientists need?
- Practice science interview
- Skills required for a range of science careers
- Questions that have been asked at interview for science jobs
- Technical questions which have been asked
- Questions you could ask at science interviews
- Further Help
Here is a list compiled by one major pharmaceutical company:
- Presentation skills
- Computing Skills
- Time Management/organising skills
- People skills
- Report writing/documentation of experiments
- Laboratory experience
- Problem solving skills
- Ability to work on your own initiative, without constant supervision.
Scientific interviews in a laboratory environment may sometimes be "on the hoof" - informal whilst being shown round the lab. Make sure you have revised your project because questions will come from that.
Employers will be looking to see how you can talk about and demonstrate these skills at your interview. The sort of evidence you could offer includes:
- CO-OPERATING: working together on a field trip.
- WRITING a report from a placement.
- PLANNING a holiday round Europe.
- PRESENTING: delivering experimental results to your seminar group.
- ANALYSING data from a project.
See our Example Science CV for an idea of how to sell these skills to employers.
Before you arrive ...
Before your interview research the company. Revise thoroughly your project and relevant topics covered in your degree. There may be a tour round and the interview may be informal -especially for placement interviews. You may be asked to give a presentation on your project/research. You may get spatial, numeracy and logical reasoning tests - the Careers Service has examples of these see www.kent.ac.uk/careers/psychotests.htm
There follow some of the questions that might be specifically asked of students at interviews for jobs in scientific research, development, analysis and related areas. General interview questions are not asked here, so you might also like to try the general or multiple choice interviews as well for standard interview questions that can be thrown at any candidate. Click on "First Question" to begin. Think carefully about how you would answer, then click on "Show Answer Tips" to get an idea of how you should be answering.
Whilst not comprehensive, the following list of skills may give you an idea of the skill sets interviewers may be looking for, for different science jobs,
- Academic and Industrial Research. Academic, problem solving, analytical, attention to detail, practical skills. Research scientists must be able to ANALYSE the results of experiments and be competent in WRITING reports about the procedures they have used and the results obtained. They usually work in teams and therefore need to CO-OPERATE with other people. On occasions they have to GIVE PRESENTATIONS to groups of people and as they progress within a company, they may have to LEAD a team and PLAN their schedule of work over a given period of time.
- Development. As above + commercial awareness, ability to compromise, liaison skills
- Production. Management skills, able to work under pressure.
- Scientific Support. Attention to detail, analytical, problem solving
- Regulatory Affairs. Liaison, attention to detail, writing, keeping up with legislation
- Patent Work. Writing clearly and unambiguously, attention to detail, languages
- Teaching. Communication, organisation and planning
- Information Science. Organisation skills
- Technical sales, marketing, purchasing. Negotiating, persuading, business awareness, people skills
- Scientific Consultancy. Analytical, problem-solving, attention to detail, commercial awareness, oral and written communication
- Technical Writing and Journalism. Ability to explain complex concepts in simple terms
If you have been to an interview or assessment centre recently please fill in our interview report form to help other students.
- The questions in the first part were quite general: why did you choose those A Levels, why this degree, what part of the degree did you enjoy most, content of some of my courses.
- Why did you choose to study your subject?
- What parts of your course have you found most interesting and why?
- They asked about the content of some of my courses, so it might be an idea to look at the syllabus before your interview.
- Explain what you covered in this part of your course.
- What was the content of your mathematics course?
- What benefits do you expect to obtain from your placement? (if a placement interview)
- How good are your practical laboratory skills?
- What practical techniques have you carried out in University Labs?
- Questions about my lab skills
- What laboratory experience have you gained on your course?
- What techniques are you familiar with?
- What experience do you have of analytical techniques?
- How would you go about solving a problem?
- Can you mend your bike?
- Can you write reports?
- Can you work in a team?/with little supervision? Give an example.
- How do you deal with people?
- Can you work independently?
- Can you work closely with others?
- Have you got any computing skills?
- Give an example of where you have had to communicate effectively?
- How would I deal with customer interaction
- What jobs have you done and what skills have you learned from them.
- What skills and attributes did I have that made you suitable for the job?
- What do you have to offer the trust?
- Do you mind doing non-scientific tasks as well?
- What do you know about our company?
- About their products
- Which other companies have you applied to?
- What do you hope to gain from the job.
- No personal questions were asked
About your projects
- Be prepared for questions on your project: know it inside out.
- Revise thoroughly your project and relevant topics covered in your degree.
- I was asked in great detail about my project as this was directly relevant to the job.
- I was asked about my final year project. This was to relax me and get me talking.
- Make sure you have revised your project because most of the questions will come from that!
- I was asked to talk briefly about my project. I gave a full outline: basically a condensed version of my project.
- How did you choose your project? What did you get out of it? What did you enjoy about it? How did you do it? Justify the results.
- How did you prepare your project? What did you learn from it? What would you do differently next time?
- Final year research project: what did you do? How did you go about it? How did you organise yourself?
- I was asked about my project in great detail and felt that I had to fully justify why I chose it, how I did it and the results.
TECHNICAL QUESTIONS WHICH HAVE BEEN PUT TO KENT STUDENTS
Basically the questions were technical and would start easy then get harder and harder until I couldn't answer them at which stage the interviewer would switch to a different topic. If they ask you a question which you have forgotten the answer to, tell them that you have studied the topic but can't recall it. Make your answers full.
I was worried about this, but it turned out to be not difficult. It took 50 minutes. I was asked a question from the STAR objectives, an exercise in matching organisms to the source and type (e.g. candida - budding yeast - human) and then another analytical problem.
We were the manager at a lab and rising microbial counts had been observed going past acceptable levels in the water supply of the production lab. What would we do to investigate and address this?
- What is the structure and function of an antibody?
- How do you make antibodies?
- What are the disadvantages of an animal-originating antibody?
- How can these be overcome?
(Biochemistry student applying for patent attorney position)
Occasionally problems arise because the interviewer is a technical specialist without much interviewing experience. In this situation they are likely to home in on the parts of your application that they feel most comfortable with - usually projects and work experience.
BIOSCIENCE, CHEMISTRY and PHARMACY
- What is the polymerase chain reaction?
- What do HIV, IgG, PEG2 stand for?
- What structure does NH2-CH2-COOH belong to?
- Suggest a route to synthesise ethylene glycol
- About my final year project (synthesis of dendrivers)
- Technical questions about electron microscopes, ice cores, ice conductivity.
- Give me example of drug-drug interaction and explain with the mechanism of action, what you would do to prevent it. (Pharmacy)
- A question from the STAR objectives, an exercise in matching organisms to the source and type (eg candida - budding yeast - human) and then another analytical problem. We were the manager at a lab (again) and rising microbial counts had been observed going past acceptable levels in the water supply of the production lab. What would we do to investigate and address this? (GSK)
They gave us a HR questionnaire that asked about what we hoped to get out of the placement and why we liked the company. Then I had a tour and an interview where they only asked me about my favourite experiments done at uni and for an example of teamwork. I had to answer two maths questions as well. (MRC technical interview)
- How did your physics background help with this application for an engineering role?
- Gave tests: fault finding, mechanical pulleys and levers, spatial ability - "spot the difference"
- How to calculate an orbit at a given altitude?
- Radiation effects on spacecraft and how to overcome these?
- Which orbits were best for different types of satellite?
- What instruments were found on satellites? How did these work? What were they used for?
- Questions about wave guides and electromagnetic propagation down the wave guides.
- Questions of topics related to my degree: space environment (radiation, heat, magnetic fields), space power (solar cells), space craft orbits (how to calculate orbit time given altitude), solar wind, interactions of charged particles, Van Allen belts, radiation effects on spacecraft and how to overcome these.
- Questions about electromagnetism
- Questions about general properties of plasma
- What is a laser?
- Can you tell me what monochromatic light is?
- How does a spectrometer work and what are its applications?
- What is polarization?
- What is constructive and destructive interference?
MEDICAL PHYSICS (STP Programme)The interview was split into 4 sections, each lasting for exactly 10 minutes:
- A technical interview, which involved a short calculation, knowledge of health risks associated with radiation and brief knowledge of imaging/diagnostic techniques.
- A personal skills interview assessing teamwork and leadership skills, questions involved describing previous situations where skills where used, this could be in a work of social environment.
- A general interview
- A second technical interview Questions did not involve calculations but did cover aspects of nuclear medicine/ diagnostic imaging.
- Why did you want the job?
- Why are you interested in medical physics?
- What attracted you to the role?
- Describe a situation when you had to be tactful.
- Describe a situation when you felt out of my depth and how you overcame this.
- Briefly describe your project. Sketch the experiment. I was caught a bit by surprise by their asking about my project since it wasn’t really relevant to medical physics (on neutron diffraction).
- If you were organising a future national breast screening campaign, what standards/ precautions/ feasibility/ practicality checks would you do on the scheme. Image, quality and diagnostic rates and radiation dose levels and risk?
- Recognise dN/dt = - ^N as a first order differential equation
- Solve for N(t) - N/No = e - ^t
- Sketch e - ^t
- Explain the term ‘half life’ (with reference to graph)
Patent attorney interview
- How do brakes in a car work?
- How does a light bulb work?
- I was then shown 4 items and asked to describe them, identify them and say how they work. They were: turbine blade; socket casing for plasterboard walls; cat’s eye (road type); section of PVC double glazing (also asked how this was made).
- What duties would I be expected to undertake?
- What equipment/facilities would I be using?
- Where would I be based?
- How would my performance be appraised?
- Would I be given any assistance in finding accommodation?
- Can you give me more details of the training I would receive?
- Would I be sent on any training courses?
- Is there any scope for individual initiative?
- Will I be working in a team? If so, what is the make-up of these teams?
- How many graduates are recruited by this company?
- What major products/projects are at present being worked on?
- How would you see this company developing over the next few years?
- How would you describe the atmosphere in this company?
- Are there any negative aspects to the work?
- Don't ask lots of questions about money, holidays, benefits etc!
Presentations. See our page on presentation skills
We were asked to give a 15 minute presentation on the following scenario:
One of our manufacturing sites is being re-structured, and one aspect of the re-structuring is the laboratory testing service. The products tested in this laboratory are aseptic sterile inject-able products, and topical creams and ointments. The number of laboratory people to provide a service is being significantly reduced without impacting on product quality. Your task is to help determine how the testing service can be streamlined, to simplify and rationalise the testing service. How would you go about doing this. We were each presenting to one of the assessors. After the presentation the assessors went through our presentation and told us what they thought was good and bad. (GSK)
Group Exercises See our page on teamworking skills
We were told we were members of a board who had to solve an important issue. A press release for a new drug had received complaints on unprofessionalism from different sources and we had to construct a plan to deal with this and also propose future plans to make sure this didn't happen again. We were given 35 minutes for the meeting, including 10 minutes reading time and note taking. There was no feedback given here at all - and all 3 assessors were present taking notes during the exercise.(GSK)
TIPS FROM INTERVIEWEES
- GSK were fantastic, really very welcoming and friendly! They were all so nice all day. The selection day was held on the 12th floor of their plush headquarters.. leather armchairs and executive hospitality!! There were 3 assessors present: each was a lab manager from one of the placement labs. I felt a large part of the day was more concerned with seeing how we are socially! There seemed much more interested in how we got on as a group, more than our technical ability as microbiologists! It was actually an enjoyable day! and not as difficult as I was expecting! (GSK)
- Don't think of too complicated answers to the questions they ask: keep to basic answers, they're just testing your basic knowledge of physics.
- Bearing in mind that the interviewer may be as nervous as you are can help make such an experience less intimidating!
- Relax: they ask questions to find out what you know, not to catch you out.
- Dress smartly.
- Make your answers full: try to expand them then they can't ask too many questions!
- It is nerve wracking facing 3 people across a large desk, but remember that they were once in the same position.
- I was sure I had done really badly, but a week later I received a conditional job offer.
- The interviewer was very nice and when I did not know the answer to one of the questions gave me hints to find out the answer.
- Read about the company's products as questions will be asked about these.
- They are looking for someone with a good academic record.
- They care less about what you know than about your potential for learning new things.
- The rest of the interview was spent discussing my CV in an informal and relaxed way.
- The interview was the result of a speculative letter and simply due to the fact that my CV contained a summary of my final year project. Send speculative letters with a CV. This has gotten me several interviews for jobs that I wouldn't normally have found out about.
- Example Science CV
- Interviews lots more help with interview skills.
- Postgraduate Applications and Interviews
- Interview Reports A selection of reports completed by students after they have been to interview is on the web. These give details of questions asked, tests administered and tips for candidates.
- Other Practice Interviews Interviews for postgraduate study and other areas as well as general interviews. You will be asked common questions found in these interviews and given tips on how to answer them.
- Recruitment agencies for science jobs
- Science Careers Page