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Graduate admissions

Be prepared, and plan enough time for admissions interviews

Some graduate programs at McGill have admission interviews for applicants, and some supervisors choose to conduct their own interviews for potential supervisees. In preparing for this kind of interview, supervisors and students should review the criteria and ranking scale for the appropriate program as well as any criteria specific to the research group or proposed project. Ensure that enough time is allotted for the interview in order for meaningful discussions and for personalities to emerge.


First contact between supervisor and potential supervisee

Approximately 70% of student-supervisor matches at McGill are arranged during the application process. This indicates that supervisors are likely to be the most important contacts for McGill’s prospective graduate students. The initial contact between supervisor and student is an early component of the process of determining if McGill is the right place for the student and if the student and supervisor are a good match based on interests, academic preparation, and fit. It also sets the tone for a potentially long-term supervisory relationship, therefore prompt, informative and professional responses are important.

The Future Graduate Students website is a great resource for prospective students, and includes a page on how to connect with potential supervisors as well as questions to discuss during this initial contact.


The Interview Process


Before the interview


Both supervisors and students should:

  • review the criteria of the program as well as any specific requirements needed for the research (e.g., technical skills)


Supervisors should:

  • determine a ranking scale
  • create interview questions that address the criteria
    • Tip: Scenarios commonly experienced by graduate students can elicit telling responses and facilitate easier comparison across candidates


Students should:

  • think of questions they would like to ask their potential supervisor to help clarify expectations and determine if they are a good match
  • prepare any documents (e.g., CV, transcripts) as well as responses to expected questions


The interview


As with the initial contact, the interview helps set the tone for the potential supervisory relationship. Honesty about requirements, qualifications, supervisory/ work styles, personality, and expectations during the interview can help prevent later conflicts.

The supervisor should ensure that there is sufficient time for the interview, as well as time between interviews of different candidates.


After the interview


Both supervisors and students should:

  • allow sufficient time after the interview to review their notes


Supervisors should:

  • make independent judgements in relation to the criteria and ranking scale
  • agree on consensus rating to ensure that the reasons for acceptance or rejection are supported
  • communicate decisions in a professional and timely manner

How much time is needed for an interview to be revealing?

What would happen if supervisors and colleagues split up and conducted very short sequential interviews each focusing on a different topic? What if "the interview" were, in effect, a series of interviews that, in total, could provide an accurate assessment of a candidate?


An interesting approach to admissions interviews is the “multiple mini-interview” in which there are a series of “stations.” In each, one interviewer and the applicant address only one aspect of the interview in a very short period with the applicant then moving on to another station. Research suggests that it is valuable to collect ratings from multiple people spread over multiple interviews rather than by increasing the number of raters in one interview (Eva, Reiter, Wasi, Rosenfeld, & Norman, 2009). This method has been found to be reliable, reduce the effect of chance and interviewer bias, and be more cost- and time-effective than traditional interview panels (Eva, Rosenfeld, Reiter, & Norman, 2004; Cox 2014; Oliver 2014; Campagna-Vaillancourt 2014; Knorr 2014).

Having current or former supervisees act as interviewers in such a design can help them gain interviewing skills, and can also provide the interviewee with the opportunity to interact with potential future peers.

The following paper provides a review of research on multiple mini-interviews:

Knorr, M., & Hissbach, J. (2014). Multiple mini-interviews: Same concept, different approaches. Medical Education, 48, 1157–1175.

Admissions interviews broaden the scope of assessment beyond application documents

Interviews provide a view of the prospective student's personal traits and qualities, which application documents usually cannot provide. It can also help assess the fit of the student with the supervisor and program.


Research suggests that interviews enable the assessment of criteria not easily accessed from other sources (Cox, McLaughlin, Singer, Lewis, & Dinkins, 2015; Oliver 2014; Knorr & Hissbach, 2014; Salvatori 2001; Albanese, Snow, Skochelak, Huggett, Farrell, 2003; Patrick, Altmaier, Kuperman, Ugolini, 2001). In particular, interviewing highlights characteristics such as interpersonal and communication skills, critical thinking, self-appraisal, integrity, and potential as a future colleague. In this manner, the interview broadens the scope of assessment beyond academic achievement as measured in transcripts and standardized tests, and written accounts of experience from CVs or letters of reference. It has been suggested that setting clear criteria, developing a structured interview protocol, and training interviewers enhances reliability (Salvatori 2001).

In addition to a more complete assessment of the candidate, the benefits of interviews also include helping both parties determine the fit of the supervisor-student match as well as clarifying expectations and requirements. Some factors associated with lack of progress or attrition of doctoral students, such as lack of understanding of the requirements of doctoral work or poor fit of the student with the supervisor or program, can be reduced with more comprehensive admissions processes (CAGS, 2013). To this aim, here are some ideas for supervisors to consider when deciding whether to supervise a student.

  • Do candidate knowledge and skills match the program and project requirements?

  • Do their research interests match your area of expertise? Are you able to support them in their career goals?

  • What is the candidate’s motivation for pursuing the degree?

  • Does the candidate understand how doctoral work differs from their previous education?

  • Has the candidate demonstrated personal traits, such as independent working, analytic thinking and handling uncertainty, that are necessary for successful doctoral work?

Adapted from CAGS (2013)



Albanese, M., Snow, M., Skochelak, S., Huggett, K., & Farrell, P. (2003). Assessing personal qualities in medical school admissions. Academic Medicine, 78(3), 313-321.

Campagna-Vaillancourt, M., Manoukian, J., Razack, S., & Nguyen, L. H. P. (2014). Acceptability and reliability of multiple mini interviews for admission to otolaryngology residency. The Laryngoscope, 124, 91–96.

Canadian Association of Graduate Studies [CAGS] (2013). Evidence based strategies for supervisors. Retrieved from http://www.cags.ca/documents/publications/3rdparty/Evidence-based%20peda...

Cox, W. C., McLaughlin, J. E., Singer, D., Lewis, M., & Dinkins, M. M. (2015). Development and Assessment of the Multiple Mini-Interview in a School of Pharmacy Admissions Model. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 79 4), Article 53.

Eva, K., Reiter, H., Wasi, P., Rosenfeld, J., & Norman, G. (2009). Predictive validity of the multiple mini-interview for selecting medical trainees. Medical Education, 43(8), 767-775.

Eva, K., Rosenfeld, J., Reiter, H., & Norman, G. (2004). An admissions OSCE: The multiple mini-interview. Medical Education, 38(3), 314-326.

Knorr, M., & Hissbach, J. (2014). Multiple mini-interviews: Same concept, different approaches. Medical Education, 48, 1157–1175.

Oliver, T., Hecker, K., Hausdorf, P. A., & Conlon, P. (2014). Validating MMI scores: Are we measuring multiple attributes? Advances in Health Sciences Education, August, 19(3), 379-392.

Patrick, L., Altmaier, E., Kuperman, S., & Ugolini, K. (2001). A structured interview for medical school admission, phase 1: Initial procedures and results. Academic Medicine, 76(1), 66-71.

Salvatori, P. (2001). Reliability and validity of admissions tools used to select students for the health professions. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 6(2), 159-175.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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