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Everything posted by TakeruK

  1. Oh okay, I misunderstood what you meant by "normative time to degree". I had thought you meant this is the typical time towards your degree that your dept will allow without requiring special permission (or with full funding), i.e. a "degree milestone clock". So I thought that if your dept's normative time to degree was 6 years, when you said you won't "get to add a year to the normative time", I thought you meant taking the 2nd year away means you might fall a year behind in progress but still be expected to defend and graduate after 6 years! As for the pay statement, I meant that if the 2nd year abroad doesn't help your job prospects (i.e. a tangential side project) and if it would take longer to finish degree with the 2nd year abroad, then you basically have two options (example numbers): 1. Finish degree in 6 years without doing the side project. 2. Take 7 years to finish degree because of the side project. Option 1 means you could do the side project (or something else) later, when you're paid as a postdoc or other research position. Option 2 means you spend another year at grad student level pay without long term career benefits. Anyways, with the new information: If I were to make this choice for myself, I would have to choose whether I value the marginal increase in career benefit of doing the 2nd year abroad vs. the personal costs. Being away from your department for a 2nd year isn't likely to really hurt much academically (or it seems like the extra benefit from the year abroad would outweigh that). So, my advice (I'm in a different field so take it with a grain of salt!) would be to make the decision that you think is personally best for you, based on what your life priorities/values are.
  2. Will the research you do on these grants be part of your dissertation? If so, then I don't think you need to worry about not getting an extra year, right? Since you'll be progressing towards your degree whether or not you are here or abroad. If this research is not going to count towards your dissertation, then does this mean you will have less time to complete your dissertation? In this case, it's up to you to decide whether this side project is worth the time you spend on it. Basically, by doing a side project as a grad student, you are extending the time you're being underpaid**. So if I had the similar choice, I would ask myself: Does this project help me get a good postdoc (or whatever my next career goal is)? If so, then it might be worth it. If not, then I wouldn't do it---you can try to do it later while paid as an actual researcher. (**By "underpaid", I know that some might argue that while our salaries are low, the value we get from our degree is still worth it. Even if you accept that reasoning, if this side project is not helping you towards your degree, but you are still being paid as a grad student, then the work is still underpaid work!)
  3. Glad to hear that things are not in the worst possible case for you!
  4. I agree with fuzzylogician that you need to find out more information at this meeting. Typically, the only reason to not renew someone's assistantship is unsatisfactory performance (as almost every grad assistantship is only renewable subject to satisfactory performance). In my opinion, "satisfactory performance" should mean "minimum required to advance to the next year of graduate school" because I think it's not ethical to keep students on without funding. So, you should be prepared for to consider that they might also ask you to leave at this upcoming meeting. Alternatively, they might say that you are on "probation" so they will give you another chance but without funding. I'm not saying that this will happen at the meeting, but since it sucks to have the news broken to you by the profs completely out of the blue, it might help to be prepared for this scenario. You ask whether you could appeal and that will depend on the reason they give for non-renewal at this meeting. If it's something like "sorry, we're out of money" or "sorry we changed our mind" then you need to find as much written proof of the 2-year promise as you can and appeal through that channel. If it's because of performance, then you should ask about an appeals process for that evaluation. You should collect as much evidence for performance, both from your students but also in your own graduate coursework. Look up the degree requirements and show that you have met the ones that needed to be met by this year and that you are on track for finishing all requirements before the end of your program. Finally, my advice would be that you might want to look up all of these things for these two potential cases, but it might be better to not argue/appeal the decision right then and there. Instead, at the meeting, you should say that you do not agree with their evaluation and that you would like to appeal the decision and ask how to do that. This will go better as both you and the professors will have time to prepare and reach a fair conclusion.
  5. I think I might have said something about this to you at another time. But to answer your question the way you phrase it: no, generally it doesn't directly affect your ability to get into a good PhD program if you don't have the CGS-M or something like that. The reason why I might say yes to the second part of your question is that highly competitive positions like tenure-tracked professors only go to the top few percent of applicants. There are dozens more PhDs created than there are tenure-track position openings. Generally, prestigious awards at the doctoral and post-doctoral level goes to the top 10% or the top 15% or so. So, to me, not winning a prestigious award like this at the postdoc level tells you that you are likely not in the top tier of applicants. So it's not that a lack of these awards will hurt you in the professor job competition, but it is a signal that there are many others that will rank above you. I wouldn't worry about it at your stage now though. First, these awards are a little random. Not getting one could mean that you were in the top 15% but just somehow missed the cutoffs or based on how the evaluator was feeling (or it could mean you were in the bottom half---hard to tell). Also, at this early stage, not winning it once is not a big deal. I think though, continually missing out on all the top tier awards every single year is one sign you can use to determine whether or not you think you are a top tier candidate. Secondly, even if you are not a top tier candidate now, at the Masters level, it doesn't mean much because people still change and grow a lot as scholars during grad school. So, don't treat award decisions like they are sealing your fate.
  6. I know so many people affected The H1-B premium processing being suspended really sucks and will really hurt everyone! When that decision was announced, my school contacted everyone who might be eligible for H1-B and urged them to work with the school's international office to submit the H1-B application ASAP. I hope it works out for you!
  7. Basically, a American PhD is a 5-6 year program you enter after finishing a BS degree. It is generally fully funded. Courses usually take place in years 1-2 and you have a qualifying exam at the end of the 1st year or sometime in the 2nd year. You have a candidacy exam usually after year 3 or 4. You defend your thesis at the end. In Canada, you do a 2 year Masters (MSc) with some courses (usually 4 semester courses plus thesis; but there are some coursework-only degrees that are 8 semester courses, no thesis). If you want to continue onto a PhD, you should pick the thesis option (usually the default in most fields). You also have re-apply to a PhD program, even if you want to go to the same school. You do this in the 2nd year of your Masters degree. To get your thesis-based Masters degree, you have to defend your thesis. Your Masters thesis does not have to be original research (unlike your PhD thesis) and it is more a demonstration of your ability to do good research. However, it's best for you to do some original work, most fields will produce 1 paper out of your thesis. A PhD typically takes 3-4 years and also has some coursework as well as a PhD thesis. Partway through, you will complete a candidacy exam which evaluates your coursework as well as your ability to do research: both within your thesis topic and broadly in your field in general. At the end of your PhD, you defend your thesis work as well. The structure is different, but in the end, you basically do the same amount of work. Courses in Canada are more spread out and you start research right away (with your assigned advisor from admission, usually). There usually isn't a qualifying exam for PhDs in Canada because your Masters thesis defense is the equivalent. The candidacy exams are similar in both countries. And the final defense is also similar. Finally, for funding, as a citizen, you are eligible for NSERC CGS-M funding. Look that up and apply for it. You might also qualify for funding from the Ontario Graduate Scholarship. Look that up too. Those are the two main external funding sources. Everything else is internal and you generally don't have to do anything for it unless they ask for it.
  8. I would say that yes, it is certainly more risky to submit a creative statement instead of a "traditional format". But it's not impossible. One of my friends submitted a photo essay and that didn't seem to stop them from getting in to top ranking programs. They applied to a scientific field too, nothing to do with photography. To me, that is too much of a big risk when I can go with the boring, sure thing. I didn't think a narrative structure would be "not traditional". I actually thought a narrative is the typical way people write these statements! To be clear, by "narrative", I don't mean telling a creative story but just telling my life story. As in, "First I did A and I learned B and achieved C. Then I chose to do Project D because of Reason E and I achieved F and learned G. etc. Finally, I want to study H at your University so that I can learn I and work in J." To me, this is a narrative because I'm telling the reader about what I did in undergrad and why I made the decisions that I had made. To avoid cliches, I would recommend avoid embellishments and irrelevant details. Think of this as a piece of academic writing and just state the facts. Generally, you don't want to use adjectives and adverbs unless they are required to specify what you are talking about. So, you would use adjectives like "mass spectrometer" or "10-m telescope" but I wouldn't write things like "exciting project". If you find your text too dry after finishing it, then you could go back and add adjectives if you'd like. I think this is a better approach if you are worried that you will be too cliche/have too many descriptors. That said, it is okay if your statement is boring and dry, in my opinion. Profs are going to read this one after another, and they are going to scan it to look for key details. Don't spend too much time trying to create the most perfect analogy or metaphor because they are likely going to miss it. Make it easy for them to find your key qualifications by just stating them upfront. One month is a good amount of time to work on it. I think you can actually do all of the writing you need to do in just a few days. However, the longer timeline is helpful to get feedback from other people.
  9. Oh okay, I had suspected you might be talking about the Fulbright, because that was the only example in my head where I thought asking for this information would be okay (see below). In 2011, I had also applied for the same Fulbright program so I remember reading about this. From 2014-2016 though (approx. years), this program was cancelled so I'm glad to see it's back for this year I made it through several cuts but did not get one in the end. I think their request is okay because it says, "Grantees must demonstrate sound physical and mental health. Finalists are required to submit a Medical History and Examination Report before their grants can be completed." To me, this reads as if they won't even ask for or consider your medical history when deciding who should get the grant. Like in my post above, this is the request at the final stage, similar to how some schools won't ask for the official transcript or GRE scores until they are ready to make that final offer. The reason that the Fulbright needs to know this is because if you get the Fulbright, you will be on J-1 (exchange visitor) instead of the standard F-1 (foreign student) status. To be on J-1, you must demonstrate sound health because you cannot get a J visa/status if US Customs and Immigration and US Department of State believe that you are just entering the US for medical treatment (lol). Also, you must be on certain types of insurance as a J-1 and in the past (before Obamacare/ACA), insurance companies can deny you insurance if you have pre-existing conditions. This happened to us!! Fortunately, as of yesterday, the plan to get rid of Obamacare/ACA in the US has been withdrawn, but who knows what will happen in the future. So to be clear, the health requirement is actually not a Fulbright requirement but a requirement by the US Customs and Immigration (which determines who gets to go in the country) and US Department of State (which administers the J visitor program). Fortunately, this is rarely a requirement for University-based funding because most schools will also offer health insurance and insurance offered by the school in this way generally does not preclude people with pre-existing conditions. This is also not a requirement for the standard F-1 student status.
  10. I replied to your other post earlier and didn't realise you were an international student (since you asked about being over 26 and not being able to use your parents' plan, so I had assumed your parents were in the US and had a plan). Sorry for the wrong assumption. To be honest, most US insurance companies suck. Their motivation and goal is to make money, not to help people. My school has used Aetna and UnitedHealthCare. They are both okay. Some people have great experiences and some have very bad experiences. I am one of the student representatives on my campus to advocate for student health care so I hear all of the complaints from our students. My spouse has also had experience with Anthem. I think any of the big names like the above would be fine. The most important thing is for you to be able to understand your plan very well and to advocate for yourself/fight for fair treatment. You will have to fight for it, since they won't just give it to you. For example, most of these plans are going to require you to use a provider that is in their "network" (meaning that they have some prior agreement with these doctors). You can find out who is in the network by looking on the insurance company's website. However, sometimes the website is out of date---doctors might decide to leave the network but the website doesn't show it. So, when you get your bill, you are charged a much higher "out of network" rate! Another example is just someone coded in the procedure wrong and the wrong rate was applied. When this happened to us, we had to fight the insurance company and argue that it was their fault that their website was not up to date. They refunded us the money after a lot of argument. Years later, there are several class action lawsuits against insurance companies for the same thing and now they are being legally ordered to repay people. We didn't get any additional money since we already got all of the wrong fees refunded. But that's just an example of what you would have to do to get what you paid for.
  11. My spouse and I are international students. I am covered on my school's plan. For awhile, my spouse was not covered on the school's plan (they don't subsidize spouses so it was really expensive for some time). So, my spouse, who would be in a similar situation as you, purchased a plan through the ACA Marketplace in California ("CoveredCalifornia"). They got the "Silver" Plan, which costs about $250 per month and means you pay for about 30% (I think, on average) of all the costs. It was fine to use. Their total health insurance costs per year was around $4000 per year. I think this is a good amount to budget for if you are someone over 26 and have regular medical needs (i.e. see a doctor about 4 times per year, see a specialist 2-3 times per year, have regular medications). If you are really healthy and would only go for your free annual checkup, then you would likely only ever pay the premiums, so that would be around $3000 per year. These numbers are for California which is probably one of the more expensive states. Also, as international students, we aren't eligible for most of the government subsidy programs. As a graduate student (and American, it sounds like?), your grad student income might qualify you for benefits that can reduce this cost by a lot! Check out your state's programs.
  12. Wow! This sounds like a super fishy / sketchy thing to ask for in a scholarship application. Some scholarships from private donors can basically ask for whatever they want though. But to me, asking for something like this is a sign of a bad organization! The only legitimate reason to ask is to ensure the applicant can actually attend the program in question, since sometimes having medical issues can prevent you from getting the travel visas necessary to enter another country. To be legitimate, the organization better be very clear that this information will be separated from the evaluation criteria and only considered when it's time to make an offer. But better yet, they should just only ask this information if the applicant chooses to accept the award.
  13. Yikes, that is indeed a stressful and frustrating situation I guess both B1 and B2 know that you have another offer with a deadline of April 15 right? If not, then my answer to your earlier question of "should I ask them to expedite my application", is yes, especially for B2. Sorry if I keep asking the same Q, but did you ask School A (the CGS school that already accepted you) for an extension beyond April 15? It seems like if you ask for May 3 or something, that will give you at least a day or so after School B2 releases their decision in order to decide between A or B1/B2. Like I said above, if School A says no now, you could consider asking again closer to the deadline because maybe by then, they would have received enough decisions from candidates that they wouldn't care if you said yes or no so they won't mind waiting until May. Otherwise, you have the tough choice of a sure thing that's not your top choice vs. a chance at your top choice. It's up to you if you want to take the risk of potentially burning a bridge at School A. Or, perhaps School A won't promise you a spot after April 15, but they might say that you might still have one even if you accept in May as long as the spot is still available. So you could ask School A what happens if you can't decide by April 15---does the offer expire or is it simply that the spot is no longer a sure thing? If it helps to know, this is a common problem in both academic and non-academic workplaces. It's really tough to make decisions when you have deadlines that don't line up, but we'll have to make these decisions.
  14. As far as I know, the CGS does not punish students. That resolution is an agreement between the graduate programs. It does not involve you so you should be okay. The CGS cannot unilaterally decide that you are bound to these rules etc. However, you are right that you need to consider the future when you apply to PhD programs. In the School A/School B example, if you accept School A now and then find out School B makes you an offer and renege on your commitment to School A, what could happen is that School A will remember that you did this when it's time to apply to PhD programs. So, this could hurt you when you apply to programs at School A in the future. But, it's not like there is some CGS-wide "blacklist" of students who change their mind. You will also see many posts on these forums of schools on the CGS agreement that do not even follow it themselves. The CGS has no actual power to do anything about schools that don't follow the agreement or students that change their mind (also again, the CGS resolution applies to schools, not students). That said, professors at different schools might talk to each other and these networks might be stronger in your field than in mine. Technically, your application information is confidential so professors should not be telling other schools about your decisions, but that's not going to stop some people. So, it's best to stay above board as much as possible. So, for your situation, since all the schools are CGS schools, they should all have April 15 deadlines. This means you should not make a decision on School A yet, since you have until April 15. I think that yes, you should talk to school B, the one that waitlisted you, and ask whether or not they expect to have a decision ready before April 15. If it's true**, then tell them that you are most interested in their program and that you have another offer with an April 15 deadline so if they plan to tell you about waitlist decisions after April 15, you would appreciate it if they would let you know so that you can ask for an extension. Check back with School B on April 10 or so. If School B says that they will get back to you before April 15, then you just have to wait. If School B says they will likely not move anyone off the waitlist before April 15, then you will have to ask if School A is willing to extend their deadline for you. If they say no now, ask again on April 10. If they still refuse to do so, then you have to make a decision. If I was in this position, I would choose to accept School A's offer at the last minute (well, not literally the last minute, but at the end of the day) on April 15. If School B makes me an offer on April 20 or something, I would probably renege on School A and take the School B offer. But this means that I am willing to risk a burnt bridge with School A in the future instead of gambling that School B will take me off their waitlist (since if they don't, then I don't have any offers). I think School A has to understand that they are also taking a risk that their candidate might renege if their candidate has asked for an extension and they refused. But if they choose to hold it against me, then so be it. (** Note: If this is not true, then you should just accept School A's offer!)
  15. Unless you signed some sort of contract, there is nothing binding about anything about admissions. No one will force you to go to a particular school. Think of it this way: If after one month of school, you decide you hate it, you can always just quit. So, there's no real difference between quitting a school in a few weeks (before it begins) vs. quitting in say, November. So, yes, of course you are allowed to change your mind. However, it is bad practice to lie about your intentions. Also, if the schools are part of the CGS April 15 convention, the school that took you off their waitlist might want to see that your previous school "released" you before they allow you to accept their offer. But I won't get into this unless the schools are actually part of the convention. (Note: this is just a formal agreement, but there is nothing binding about the agreement). If you have an offer from a school (let's call it School A) and you are waitlisted at another school that you would prefer more (let's call this School B), then what you should do is to wait until School B releases its decision before accepting School A's offer. If School A gives you a deadline of April 15, then there's no rush to get back to them with a decision right now...it's still 3 weeks away. It might be a good idea to get in touch with School B and find out about their decision timeline. If School A has a much shorter deadline (let's say it's tomorrow) and they refuse your request to extend the deadline because you are waiting on School B, then I would advise you to accept School A's offer for now and renege on it if you get into School B. If School A is setting a non-April 15 deadline, then they are not part of the April 15 convention so there aren't any agreements in place. In the meantime, if you hold additional offers from schools that are less interesting to you than School A or B, then you should decline them all now. You don't have to wait until you have your final decision before you start declining less interesting offers so that the waitlist can move. Similarly, if you are still waiting to hear back from some school that are less interesting to you than A or B, then you should also withdraw your applications now---their decision no longer matters to you (of course, if you are still considering some possibility that you might attend, then don't withdraw).
  16. As @meep95 said, when a school tells you that they follow the April 15 resolution, it means that they won't require you to make a decision before April 15. In return, if you say yes to them before April 15, other schools who are part of the resolution will not allow you to accept their offers until you are "released" from this first school. However, to clarify, it is not a contract. There are no legal obligations on either party and there are no structures in place to enforce it. Of course, if you say yes to a school and then change your mind, you will likely burn bridges. So there are tons of reasons to *not* do this, but I just want to make it clear that it's not at the level of a contract. meep95's advice is the best one: Since you are more interested in your waitlisted school, wait and see what happens. Don't accept any offers until you are sure that your waitlisted school will not make you an offer before April 15. You might have to wait until April 14 or 15 to be able to accept the first offer. I'll also add a few more pieces of advice. You can probably imagine a deadlock scenario where you are waiting to hear from your waitlisted school, while someone who is accepted to that school is waiting to hear from one of the schools you've already been accepted to. Since everyone is waiting on the other to make a decision, nothing gets done. Therefore, I would also advise you to do the following while waiting: - If you have more than one offer, review them all and decide which one of these offers is your top choice. Decline the other offers so that those waitlists can move (if those schools have waitlists). Similarly, if you have not heard from some of the other schools that are no longer as favourable to you as the ones you have offers, then withdraw your applications from those schools too. Basically, you don't have to wait until you hear back from every single application in order to start making some decisions. - Get in touch with your top choice schools that have waitlisted you. You can tell them that you are very interested in their program. If they haven't told you anything yet, then this is a good time to ask about their expected decision timelines. If they already told you that you are waitlisted, then on April 10 or something, just contact them again and let them know that you remain interested in their program. Hopefully at this point, they will have some idea whether or not you'll get off the waitilist. If they say it's unlikely, then you might want to accept the offer you have on April 15. If they say that they might be able to make you an offer on say, April 18, then ask your first school for an extension to April 15, explaining the situation.
  17. Moderator note: Let's keep the discussion civil. TheGradCafe is a place for open discussion about graduate school applications and this can best happen when users do not mock each other's stats such as GPA. Similarly, as this is an open forum, comments telling another user to go away are also not appropriate. If this continues, there will be further actions on all users involved. Remember, if you suspect someone is a troll, don't engage. Don't argue/fight back. Report them to us. The moderation team will deal with users acting inappropriately. We want to keep the discussion moving forward and fighting with trolls will just derail your thread further. Finally, if you really do not want to see another user's posts, you can use the "Ignore User" option.
  18. Glad to be helpful
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  20. Yes, I definitely agree that there are going to be more jobs in Ontario than Alberta for computer science, especially since there are more people in Ontario! But you don't need to find a job in the same place you go to school. So, if you think an Alberta degree will give you more opportunities, you can get an Alberta degree and then apply for jobs in Toronto (for example).
  21. All 8 of my schools got back to me (accepts and declines) around mid-March. However, I know that some of my friends never heard back from some schools (like jobs, you might only hear back if you're accepted). For many other schools, the system automatically sends a decline when they close down the software for the application year (could be as late as the summer). However, for schools that admit students in waves, March 23 (today) is certainly still fairly early in the game since the common deadline is often April 15. So, at this point, not hearing something might mean 1) they haven't made a decision yet, 2) they might make you an offer later if there are still room after the first group decides or 3) they have already rejected you but haven't told you yet (or may never tell you). You already have three offers, so out of the 5 outstanding schools, my advice is for you to follow up with the schools that you remain interested in given that you already have three offers. So, for those two that you describe as your favourite, it would be a good idea to follow up with these two schools (and whatever else you would consider over your current offers). When you follow up, the standard thing to do is to let them know that you are interested in their program and that you currently have offers from other places with a deadline of X date. You could then ask if they have any updates to your application and whether they know when they have a timeline for decisions. When you do this, if you are in the case 3 above, you will probably get a rejection right away. Sucks to get but you need to know in order to make a decision. If it's case 1, then they might be able to give you an expected date for a decision. And if it's case 2, then they might either say something vague like "we are still in the process of making decisions" or they might be more direct and say "we already made some decisions but we have not yet finished the process".
  22. I did a Masters degree in Astronomy at Queen's. Kingston, Ontario is a nice town but it's pretty small and pretty far away from major urban areas (at least 2 hours by car). I have no experience in CS programs, but I'm responding because you note that Queen's is closer to the US. Could I ask why this is a positive / what you are looking for? If you are hoping to be at a place where it is easy to travel to major US cities, then I should point out that while yes, Kingston Ontario is indeed very physically close to the US (you can take the small ferry to Wolfe Island and then another small ferry to Cape Vincent, NY), it's still quite far from other US cities. The Kingston Airport only has 5 or 6 flights a day and they all go to Toronto. When I lived in Kingston, flying anywhere else in North America usually means I have to do one of these things first: - Take a 4 hour bus ride to Toronto International Airport (buses leave Kingston at 2am, 6am or 10am, I believe, so if you have a 6pm flight, then you're waiting a long time) - Drive 2-3 hours to Toronto International - Drive 2 hours to Syracuse, NY and then fly out of their airport (usually cheaper this way for travel to US cities) Accessing the US from Edmonton would be a lot easier (you probably would have to connect somewhere though, but at least Edmonton has an international airport while Kingston does not). Maybe you have other reasons for wanting to be closer to the US, but just thought this piece of information might help.
  23. I understand how you feel! I am also a first-gen college student and I had a lot of concerns visiting my top choice (tier 1) school. I had never set foot on such a campus before, even as a visitor, so I had no idea what to expect. When everyone introduced themselves at the very first event, I felt very inadequate compared to everyone else in the room, who mostly came from other Ivy League and top tier schools. Fortunately, it turns out that everyone was actually very nice and when I actually counted later, it was something like 60% of people coming from top tier programs instead of what it felt like when I was sitting there (90%). 60% is still over-represented of course, but that's a different story! For your main concerns, here are my thoughts: - You don't need to dye your hair a neutral colour - Wear makeup if you like, don't wear it if you don't want to. Do what makes you feel comfortable - For clothing, I think it would depend on your field/the school you're visiting. My field is very casual and being on the west coast, people don't dress up much. For my department (west coast school), blazers or jackets would be way too over dressed. I am not super familiar with women's clothing and I'm not sure if a "blouse" necessarily implies that there must be buttons. So, to be clear, I will say that if you pick a top with buttons and a collar, at my department, you will be at the most dressed up end. If you pick a nice t-shirt (i.e. not a band shirt, or giant graphics), you will be at the most casual end (but still acceptable). For pants, clean jeans is fine and would probably represent the most casual option. The most dressed up option would be nice slacks.
  24. Ah okay, as a grad student, I've also co-organized (with another grad student in my year) something pretty similar to your set-up then. As fuzzylogician says, the hardest part was getting people to sign up to present papers and having an open sign-up doesn't work very well at all, even when people are motivated to do so. I found it most effective when I went door-to-door (office-to-office) and asked people if they would want to present. Sometimes, if there is a paper in their area of expertise, asking them specifically if they would like to present on paper X because of their knowledge works really well. You have to strike the right balance of "nagging" (so that they do it) without being overbearing or making someone feel like they need to present something they don't feel comfortable doing and then hating the seminar or dropping out from it. In "our" seminar, the goal was to stay up to date on the latest interesting papers from our field in general (i.e. to learn about new developments outside of your own sub-field). In the first year, we had informal presentations with slides etc. The papers were sent out ahead of time and people were supposed to read them so that we would have in-depth discussions. This rarely worked out because people didn't read the papers and it was too much work to be the presenter so very few people did it. We did manage to fill an entire year of this but it was like pulling teeth to get people to present and people lost interest and attendance dropped. To be honest, by the last semester, it felt like everyone who still attended did so out of obligation/felt like a chore instead of something people wanted to do. In the second year, we tried an even more informal approach (there's like 6 other seminars in our department so we wanted it to be not like a normal seminar). So, instead, the rule was no presentations, no slides. Just bring in a printout of the most important figure of the paper and be prepared to talk about what the authors did, and why it's significant in 15-20 minutes. We also opened it up beyond just papers. Following something from my undergrad school, we also just brought in press releases or science news stories (e.g. from New Scientist, Scientific American, etc.) about recent work. We also expanded it quite a bit beyond our field of planetary science and used a very broad definition. So, we talked about things from what's going on inside the cores of stars to how planets form to detecting water on Mars to psychological effects on humans isolated in a 6 month journey to Mars to how a specific type of fish adapted to the changing salt levels in Death Valley. Sometimes people did talk about a particular problem they had on their mind. The new method had pros and cons. It was a lot less work for everyone: no reading of materials ahead of time and basically you just keep an eye out for interesting stories each week and share them with colleagues. We described it as "water cooler talk" for science related to our field. This filled a need where our very inter disciplinary department would all be doing very cool stuff within our subfields and although we hang out a lot socially, we had very little spaces to hang out and talk about science that isn't our own work. The downside of this format was that no one was truly an expert on the stuff they were presenting on and if the expert was in the room, we would have some good insights, but otherwise, it was a bunch of non-experts talking about these science stories. Our goal was that this seminar was supposed to "spark" interest in a topic and more in-depth discussions can happen at another time. This met the needs of many participants but not as much for others sometimes. It's hard to have a single format that works for everyone though. That said, I am really proud of one concrete outcome: one faculty member just randomly brought up a problem in modelling some specific type of material on one of the moons of Saturn and another student, who normally would not work with this professor or think about this topic, had an insight from their own work on a different subfield. Combined with another student's skillset, the three of them went on to write a new paper that solved the problem! So I thought that was pretty cool Anyways, just sharing two experiences in case the information helps you decide what you want to do. Even though there's no norm for food, maybe that will be the cool unique thing that makes your seminar stand out from the other stuff happening at your institute.
  25. Is this an optional seminar that people can choose to attend or not, or are people required to attend in some way (e.g. course requirement or some other requirement)? Are people motivated to attend for their own reasons? Or do you have to run this so that people without anything invested in the seminar would still want to attend? I think these points make a difference because it determines how much work you can expect participants to put into the seminar outside of the seminar hours and how much external motivators you need to supply! As for food, are you just saying there are no food options in the building? Or that food is not allowed? Or that there is no budget for food? If budget is a problem, you could consider something inexpensive, like tea and cookies (bring a kettle, buy some tea bags, and get a box/tray of cookies each week or how every often each week). To pay for it, you can ask the participants to contribute (if this is something they want) or perhaps you can get a faculty member (or several faculty members) in the department to "sponsor" it. You can probably do it all for roughly 100-150 dollars per semester. Or, if you just do it once for the first meeting (making it clear it's a one-time thing).