In preparing for a scientific research grant interview, applicants will practice and rehearse the answers to the possible questions they expect to face:

– about the rationale for their research proposal,

– about the state of the art of their research topic,

– about the originality of what they want to do,

– about their approach to the investigation,

– about their research methodology,

– and about the risk of failure and their back-up plans.

However, what many candidates won’t think of doing, or will find difficult to do, is preparing for that totally unexpected question, the question that may catch them unaware, and leave them faltering – leading to a response that may make them lose the grant.

Two techniques may help in preparing for this situation:

1. Think outside of the box. Expand the range of possible questions. Deliberately work on the answers to questions that you think are highly unusual and highly unlikely.

2. Practice facing totally unexpected questions. Get used to that sense of shock. Learn to think on your feet. In your practice sessions, ask colleagues to deliberately ask you highly unusual questions, and see how you answer them on the spot.

That doesn’t mean you will have rehearsed the answer to that unexpected question – but you will be much better equipped to deal with it, should it happen to you.

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