Not any one PhD experience is the same. I remember when I went for the interview at a certain university. Of course, I had been asked to send my research proposal first, then invited for an interview. Professionals including the potential supervisors were sat around a horseshoe kind of table. I sat in almost the middle and had to defend myself without a solicitor, ha ha. It was a scary moment.
Everything I thought I knew disappeared due to the fear. The whole process took about 6 months. I was asked if I knew the potential supervisors in my area and if I understood how the system works. Questions involved: My reading of their published work, my knowledge of their conference attendance and about their current projects.
I did not have much information on the above, therefore I would suggest you ask if not sure. No question is too big nor small. At least once you have an idea, you know how to prepare yourself.
I also happened to apply for a PhD at a different university from where I did my master’s degree. I wanted to proceed within the same area, kind of extending knowledge. I applied through the department and was asked to produce a proposal, personal statement and a summary of area of interests.
The interview was like a mini viva, put it that way. I was asked to present for 10mins then questions followed. I guess the panel (consisting of potential supervisors whom I did not know) wanted to examine how much knowledge I had in my area. In hindsight, I should have asked after the interview process, but I did not think much about it. It seems like each institution is different. Within the institution, each supervisory team may prefer a different approach. It is indeed a diverse experience of vibrant academic cultures and it is advisable to be prepared all around. Get to know about producing a good proposal. Read around the area you are thinking of venturing in to. Having a passion for what I am doing has been the reason for me not to quit. Passion is like a fuel, it empowers you to keep going.
If I was asked to go back in time, I would have associated more with students involved in PhDs. Peer learning is the greatest tool in achieving your PhD goal. My personality is also in line with my philosophical stance; this provided me with an insight into the type of methodologies I wanted to use within my PhD.
To round-up, it might also help to know when one is ready for a PhD journey. It becomes manageable if the interest begins at master’s level, discussions are had with the teaching faculty about potential research funding available to you, how your area of interest aligns with topical issues in the field, the state of current research and the direction of research in the field and in universities. The direction being shaped by the global context and the key players in that global environment. This helps to focus on issues where you can make CONTRIBUTIONS to research and where you can make an IMPACT.