What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

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cryingsun
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What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby cryingsun » Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:51 pm

Many of us will have a lot of traveling to open houses in March and April, so I want to start a thread collecting your ideas on what information is important to collect during open houses. Hopefully I can compile a useful checklist here soon. I will put in what I can think of for now (some of the answers may be available on websites):

1) Difficulty of the qualifying exam and its pass rate;


2) Average time to obtain a PhD degree (and for specific research group interested in);


3) Whether there is an Masters degree offered after two years (in the unlikely case of a burn-out);


4) Geographical factors such as weather and hiking/skiing sites nearby;


5) Living environment (city life, transportation) and cost compared to the financial package;


6) Freedom in taking classes in other departments;


7) Freedom in taking advisers from other related departments;


Eight) Graduate students' working environment (I won't like six students sharing a small shabby office);


9) Who are the good/bad advisors (by negru)


10) How soon you get to choose an advisor and the way this usually works (by negru)


11) What kind of job positions the grad students usually get (by negru)


12) How available/helpful the adviser will be (tenure/marriage/age etc) (by SSM)


13) What is the department's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) policy for students who end up spending lots of time at remote labs? (by Dreaded Anomaly)


14) What is the workload for TAing?
Last edited by cryingsun on Sun Feb 27, 2011 3:27 pm, edited 5 times in total.

negru
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby negru » Tue Feb 22, 2011 9:04 pm

9) who are the good/bad advisors. (pro tip: ask this one in private so others won't steal them. then misinform the others visiting)
9.5) who are the people you should try to avoid in general
10)how soon you get to choose an advisor and the way this usually works
11)what kind of postdoc offers the grad students usually get

SSM
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby SSM » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:01 pm

Kind of on a related note--

Some things that I heard you definitely want to find in your future adviser from someone I work with (so things you might want to look for/possibly ask about if you're not too shy) are:


1.) Is your adviser of choice married? - Usually, but not always, single professors have a lot more time to dedicate to their work, so they will expect the same type of thing from you.

2.) Does your adviser of choice have tenure or will definitely get tenure? -You don't want to join a group where the professor leaves or runs out of funding in the middle of your project, obviously.

3.) Is you adviser of choice too old to be your adviser? - Usually, the younger the adviser the better as long as conditions 1 and 2 are met.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:03 pm

1) Is there any chance that "negru" will attend this school?

-Riley

negru
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby negru » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:08 pm

yeah and all the schools will be like "sigh....we wish.... :("

negru
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby negru » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:12 pm

Also about advisors ask how much they actually work alongside their students. I've met a fair share of students complaining that their advisors usually just watch. Unless you're unusually smart, this will most likely equal to a career suicide.

vesperlynd
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby vesperlynd » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:45 pm

..
Last edited by vesperlynd on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

negru
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby negru » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:53 pm

Nah that was only a free tip for you guys

Kites
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby Kites » Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:30 pm

9001) Is it the legendary school that is home to the one and only "Twistor" of physicsgre.com ?

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grae313
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby grae313 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:27 am

negru wrote:Also about advisors ask how much they actually work alongside their students. I've met a fair share of students complaining that their advisors usually just watch. Unless you're unusually smart, this will most likely equal to a career suicide.


I'm sorry to break the news to you, but at least in CME, a professor's job is not to perform research. It is to obtain funding and manage/direct the research group. Typically only young professors who are still getting their lab started actually do work in the lab.

Dreaded Anomaly
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby Dreaded Anomaly » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:03 am

#) What is the department's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) policy for students who end up spending lots of time at remote labs?

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Wed Feb 23, 2011 2:17 am

grae313 wrote:I'm sorry to break the news to you, but at least in CME, a professor's job is not to perform research. It is to obtain funding and manage/direct the research group. Typically only young professors who are still getting their lab started actually do work in the lab.


In general, even though I do not think it is the professor's job to perform research on a daily basis, I still think it is important that he communicates well with the students. I really enjoyed one of the research professors I had because even if he was working on other things, he was always in the lab.

-Riley

bfollinprm
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Feb 23, 2011 7:10 am

Here's my list of questions I'm finding answers to at every school. Though many of these you don't obviously have to ask, since Google will tell you the answer.

General
* What percentage of graduate students pass qualifiers?
* summer term flexibility (other universities, etc)?
* Coursework?
* Culture of the department?
* Details regarding future plans: percentage of postdocs/industry/academia, who hires graduate alumni?
* Average number of publications a graduate student leaves with?
* Size of the incoming class?
* How many faculty hold dual appointments?
* How are the student offices/workplaces? Lots of room? New? Fridge/coffee/etc? Light?

Research (Faculty Member)
* Any currently open RA positions?
* How free am I to choose a project?
* Expected funding sources?
* What is the size of the group?
* Collaborators? What institutions? Summer appointments there? (Important for Postdocs, i think)
* How free are we to pursue research in related departments?
* How much is the summer RA stipend?
* Is the PI found about the lab?

City
* Approximate cost of living (rent, food)
* Places to eat around campus?
* Where do most graduate students live?
* Where are a few good neighborhoods around campus? Groceries? Restaurants? Pharmacies? Bars?
* Transportation?

Social Life
* Is the department known as a close-knit community?
* Extra-curricular activities?
* Time to relax and hang-out?
* Weekend activities?
* Gender division within the department?
* Campus events?
* How much communication is there between undergraduates and graduate students?

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grae313
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby grae313 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:20 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
grae313 wrote:I'm sorry to break the news to you, but at least in CME, a professor's job is not to perform research. It is to obtain funding and manage/direct the research group. Typically only young professors who are still getting their lab started actually do work in the lab.


In general, even though I do not think it is the professor's job to perform research on a daily basis, I still think it is important that he communicates well with the students. I really enjoyed one of the research professors I had because even if he was working on other things, he was always in the lab.

-Riley


I don't think anyone would argue that a good adviser should communicate well with their students and be available to help if they run into a problem. This is especially important in smaller labs where there are not senior lab members or post docs to help you. In a large and well-established group run by a tenured faculty member, an attentive adviser will stop by maybe once or twice a day, but they aren't going to be there working along side you, and believe me, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

If your adviser is a big name in their field, expect them to be away at conferences and giving talks for several months out of the year, teaching one semester a year or every other year, and busy writing grant proposals the rest of the time.

I'm sure there are exceptions, but I think this is pretty accurate as a general rule. It's your research and your research project. Your adviser's job is to provide your funds and support network, to guide you in the right direction, offer experience and advice when you get stuck, and help you interpret results and publish papers. Full professors rarely do research at R1 universities.

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twistor
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby twistor » Fri Feb 25, 2011 2:55 pm

Kites wrote:9001) Is it the legendary school that is home to the one and only "Twistor" of physicsgre.com ?


I always find myself popping up where I least expect it.

negru
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby negru » Fri Feb 25, 2011 3:14 pm

grae313 wrote: offer experience and advice when you get suck, and help you interpret results and publish papers. Full professors rarely do research at R1 universities.

oh boy can't wait to go to grad school and get suck!

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grae313
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 25, 2011 7:59 pm

negru wrote:
grae313 wrote: offer experience and advice when you get suck, and help you interpret results and publish papers. Full professors rarely do research at R1 universities.

oh boy can't wait to go to grad school and get suck!


one of the many "perks" of graduate school?

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twistor
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby twistor » Sat Feb 26, 2011 12:29 am

grae313 wrote:
negru wrote:
grae313 wrote: offer experience and advice when you get suck, and help you interpret results and publish papers. Full professors rarely do research at R1 universities.

oh boy can't wait to go to grad school and get suck!


one of the many "perks" of graduate school?


one "of" the "many perks" of "graduate" "school"

my hobby: abusing scare quotes

rims
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby rims » Sat Feb 26, 2011 4:29 pm

Hi, I hope someone can answer some questions I have about open house visits. Sorry if these are silly questions, but being an international student, I'm still struggling to get clear picture about open houses.

1. How many people (as a rough estimate) usually attend open houses? How many are international students (with non-US degree)?
2. How are the meetings with individual faculty like? Are they one-to-one conversations in their offices, or are they more like a group meeting with all the people interested in their specific research? What sort of questions would you recommend to ask in these meetings?

Thanks.

vttd
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby vttd » Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:23 pm

rims wrote:Hi, I hope someone can answer some questions I have about open house visits. Sorry if these are silly questions, but being an international student, I'm still struggling to get clear picture about open houses.

1. How many people (as a rough estimate) usually attend open houses? How many are international students (with non-US degree)?
2. How are the meetings with individual faculty like? Are they one-to-one conversations in their offices, or are they more like a group meeting with all the people interested in their specific research? What sort of questions would you recommend to ask in these meetings?

Thanks.


At least from my visits there were 10-20 prospectives. I didn't meet any internationals. The meetings with the faculty are one on one and you can ask them questions about their department and research. The questions listed in this thread are probably the most important questions to get the answers to. But that's just been my experience, it could be different for physics opposed to astronomy, but I would think they're pretty similar formats.

frlz23
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby frlz23 » Wed Mar 02, 2011 8:08 am

What kind of questions should I be prepared to ANSWER while attending the open house? I would feel very uncomfortable if they ask me about my other choices or where else did I apply to. Also if someone tries to recruit me to their research team, I will have to tell them one way or another that I am planning to focus on my coursework for the first year or so, and only then make my decision. Did any of you have to answer awkward questions like that, or is it customary that in the open house we do the questioning and they answer?

How do people usually dress for the open house?

bfollinprm
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:15 am

frlz23 wrote: I would feel very uncomfortable if they ask me about my other choices or where else did I apply to.


Just say "I'm keeping all my options on the table at this point" if you don't want to answer the question. Though I don't see why not; they're asking the question so (1) they can make a reasoned pitch as to why they're better than your other choices, and (2) much more importantly, to see whether they have a chance with you. One of the things that grad schools want to do after the open house is get a consensus on how many spots they've filled.

You're already in at that point; you don't have anything to lose (unless you break some academic honesty convention or commit a felony somehow during the open house weekend).

t2kburl
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby t2kburl » Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:35 am

frlz23 wrote: Also if someone tries to recruit me to their research team, I will have to tell them one way or another that I am planning to focus on my coursework for the first year or so, and only then make my decision.

If your funding is going to be for RA work, you might show some interest in the work they are asking you to do. If you think you will hate it and this RA is the only funding they'll give you, then its time to consider somewhere else. I think this is one of the most important reasons to visit.
Remember that they are now recruiting you. It is as if you are interviewing them for your job. They brought you there because they want you. Now they want you to accept their offer. We had our turn to sell ourselves to them, in our applications. Now its their turn to sell us their program. Don't be an arrogant a$$ about it, but consider yourself the buyer in this market.

skcush
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Re: What to ask/pay attention to when visiting schools?

Postby skcush » Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:42 am

These two sources may be useful, though there is significant overlap with the points already raised in this thread:

http://www.aas.org/cswa/status/2005/JAN ... chool.html

http://spider.ipac.caltech.edu/staff/re ... tions.html

A link to the second article is also found in the first, which is how I stumbled upon it.




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