ndising wrote:One of the programs I visited has a number of great potential advisors, a pretty good reputation and a strong history of postdoc placements. The only problem is this - I really don't fit in with the other grad students, both prospective and current. I'm a bit older than most PhD applicants and the department seems to have a drinking/party culture, something which lost is appeal for me many years ago.
My other options aren't so great, so the question is this: how importnat is it to get along with your fellow students? Is it something I can just tough out, or am I better off accepting another offer (or taking a job and re-applying next year)?
I would say that getting along with my fellow students was a part of my decision. That said, it's important to remember that it's really hard to truly gauge what people are like in the few days that you see on a visit weekend. In particular, visit weekends tend to have a bigger party atmosphere because the department generally provides more money for students to do things with prospective students and appear like they are having more fun!
So, in this sense, I would generally be more worried of seeing an extremely quiet/boring department culture than a culture that is "too much party".
I am also not the type of person that would enjoy regularly going out to bars every weekend with my classmates and drinking a lot / partying a lot etc. But basically every single day of the prospective visit was like this and I joined in on most of these events because hey, it only happens once in a while and it's free! So, if you were visiting at my department, you would 1) not really meet the more quiet students that don't go out as much, and 2) get the impression that people go out drinking/partying a lot more than they really do.
Finally, it's really unlikely that everyone in the entire department has the same amount of "ideal" partying. There are people in my department that enjoy going out pretty much every single weekend, sometimes more often. I'm the type of person that prefers to do that maybe once a month, and maybe party a bit harder every semester or so. There's others in the department that generally do quieter things and only come out with us every other time or so.
So, to me, it doesn't sound like your problem is that bad. If it's just that you don't enjoy drinking/partying like the current/new students, then I am pretty sure you can find something else in common for you to do! I mean, most people aren't 1-dimensional and probably have other interests in common with you too
And like I said above, you might have an observational bias during the visit weekend where you don't see as much of these people / this side of some people.
However, if you really think that you can't get allow with anyone that likes to drink/party at all, then you might have a problem. In the get-togethers in my department, there is almost always alcohol of some kind, but not everyone actually drink so there's usually alternatives too so that everyone can drink whatever they like!