Preparing for Grad School Visit Weekends

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Congratulations! You got into grad school, and now the school you got into wants to pay to fly you out and show you around. This is your one opportunity to gather information on a decision that will define the next 4-7 years of your life. This page will help you ask smart questions and get the most out of your grad school visits.

Questions For Faculty[edit]

Before anything else: How many openings in your lab do you expect to have next year? How might an external fellowship (NSF, DoD, Hertz, etc) influence project availability?

Note: Thinking about what you want to achieve during or take away from your graduate school experience will also help direct your questions. Having lots of information won’t be too useful if you haven’t decided on what you are looking for yet. For instance, future plans to go into academia vs. industry may affect whether or not you want to take on an extremely “high risk, high reward” project.

Group Expectations & Outcomes[edit]

  • How long have students taken to graduate from your lab?
  • What have students done after graduating from your lab? (push for specific examples!)
  • How long does it typically take your students to publish after joining your lab?
  • How many publications do your students typically have upon graduation?
  • Do you have any philosophies on required numbers of publications for graduation?

Group Composition[edit]

  • How large is your research group?
  • How many graduate students? postdocs? research associates?
  • Is there undergraduate involvement in the lab’s research? To what extent?

Group Administration[edit]

  • Do you have lab manager or other support staff? How is procurement handled?
  • How is lab maintenance handled? Do students have ‘community jobs’ to assist with upkeep?
  • Chemicals, equipment, workspace: more ‘assigned and individual’ or more ‘communal’?
  • What are your typical funding sources? Have you ever worked with or received funding from industry?
  • What is the start-up process like upon joining your lab?
  • Are there any formal trainings, courses, etc that you require/recommend?
  • Information technology: how are data/reports/literature stored/shared?
  • What are the primary resources for a graduate student getting started in your lab (older graduate students? post-docs? lab manager?)

Group Culture[edit]

  • To what extent do you allow students to choose their own research projects?
  • Do you collaborate with other professors in the department and/or at other universities?
  • What is your philosophy on mentorship and your role as an advisor to your students?
  • How often do you normally meet with students? frequency/duration/composition?
  • What are the typical formats of your group meetings? frequency/duration/composition?
  • Does your group have any annual retreat? Does your group ever go out for dinner?
  • Research projects: more individual or more team? (Would you say you are ‘working with someone’?)
  • What conferences does your group attend? Does everyone go, or only people presenting?


Questions For Students[edit]

The Region[edit]

How expensive is housing? Is the stipend sufficient to live comfortable in this region? How are the neighborhoods around the University in terms of pricing/livability/safety? Do you feel safe?

  • What is the transportation situation?
  • Is the mass transit decent? Do you get a discount or a free pass for being a student?
  • Is a car useful or required? How many students bring one? Is there parking? How is the traffic?
  • Is the area bikeable? How about in winter/summer/monsoon season?
  • Are most things ‘walkable’?
  • Where do students hang out downtown?
  • Are there bars/clubs/restaurants/cafes nearby, or is it necessary to ‘go into the city’?
  • Are there local nature areas or is it necessary to leave the city?
  • How are the locals?
  • How is the weather? Any exciting natural disasters? What is your building’s earthquake rating?

The Students[edit]

  • How much community is there among the grad students? How often do you all hang out together?
  • Are people in your lab more sociable or focused during the work day?
  • Describe some fun things you’ve done with other people in your class in the past month
  • Do students exchange ideas about their research outside of the lab or do people tend to play their cards close to the chest?
  • Are students generally more collaborative or competitive?
  • How are the undergrads?

The Job[edit]

  • Faculty horror stories? Labs to avoid?
  • How many hours per week is typical in this lab?

do people work evenings? weekends? is there a ‘mandatory 9-to-5’ (or 8-to-6, or...) expectation? Describe your typical work week.

  • What is the process to advance to candidacy?

Preliminary examinations? Qualifying Examinations? A doctoral defense?

  • How many students typically leave with an MS degree, and why do they leave?
  • How many courses are you required to take? How are the required ‘core courses’, if applicable?
  • Is teaching required? How much or how little could you potentially teach? Personal experience?


Web Resources[edit]

Climate data: http://www.gaisma.com/en/dir/us-country.html

Median incomes, by census tract: http://www.richblockspoorblocks.com/

Try not to get mugged on your visit weekends. This isn't a major risk in most college towns, but knowledge is power!

Maps of recent crimes: