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  1. Upvote
    SANDIEGO reacted to St Andrews Lynx for a blog entry, Visit Day - What I Look Out For   
    By this stage I figure I'm something of an expert at visiting potential grad schools. As mentioned in my earlier posts, I looked around a number of American universities when I was over in the States last summer (before the applications were even created). I visited several UK universities for formal interview days and informal introductions.

    Last weekend I had my first Visitation Weekend as an admitted grad student. And I handled it like a pro
    Seriously, though - I believe that visiting prospective grad schools is a vital thing to do. For starters it taught me how to interact professionally with faculty, how to make small-talk with grad students and how to interview successfully.

    Everybody will have different objectives for the visitation weekend, and will take different approaches to achieving those objectives. Here is advice from my perspective.

    Before the Visit
    Work out how you feel about the school. Is this place your Top Choice or a Safety School? Did you apply here because you liked the faculty...but think the small college town atmosphere might get to you? If you have concerns about the university think up ways to find out more about the underlying issues. What questions can you ask professors/students/people waiting in the Starbucks queue that will get you the information you need to make a decision.
    Scour faculty, school, university and specialist Department webpages for information. See what is available to you in this place that is different from other locations. As an international student I wanted to see what resources are there to inform and support grads moving from another country.
    Write down a list of your most vital questions on a piece of paper...then put it in your jeans' pocket. On the morning of my visitiation weekend I could be found in my hotel room, scrawling feverishly on the back of my boarding pass all the questions I could possibly think of to address to POIs, students and both. Keeping that list on me during the day meant I could double-check it discreetly between meetings to check I wasn't missing out on anything important.
    Mentally & physically prepare yourself. As an introverted scientist, a whole day spent talking with lots of strangers, acting like a friendly team-player and remaining energetic until I was dropped off after dinner...whew, that counts as an endurance event. I had to take time out to psych myself up and get "in the zone". I'm OK with jetlag, but required a lot of water and an early night beforehand.

    During the Visit - Objectives3-5 faculty that I could see myself working for. As a chemist I go through several lab rotations. I have a thesis committee of 3, including my PI. I don't know that my 1st choice PI will have space to take me on...or that I'll work well with them. Therefore, the grad school I commit to must have an absolute minimum of 3 POIs that I like.
    Other Departmental faculty that I get on with. I'm going to be doing more than slaving in the lab for 5 years. I want to be in an environment where the faculty get on with each other and know the grad students quite well. If a major research group-related problems erupts, I want there to be "impartial" figures I can chat to for advice.
    Grounded Grad Students. I don't want to be in an ultra-competitive grad school where the students have big egos and distrustful attitudes. I don't want to be in a grad school where the students have submissive posture and low self-esteem. I want to be on a program that produces intelligent, confident and likeable grad students. Why? Well, I'd like to be an intelligent, confident and likeable grad student myself - so perhaps I can learn from their example.
    Resources to help me meet my career objectives. Coming into grad school I have quite a clear idea of where I want to end up in the future (industry, not academia) and what is needed to achieve that. The better a grad school can help me along that path, the more inclined I will be towards choosing it. Do industrial companies recruit grad students on-campus? Does the grad school host Career Talks about working in industry? How many?

    After the visit
    [*]Send brief emails to your POIs and organisers, thanking them for their time. It can't hurt to be polite to the faculty you've met (see my 3-5 rule above). Then see how many working days it takes for them to reply. The faculty who reply quickly? You want to work for those organised people.

  2. Upvote
    SANDIEGO reacted to viggosloof28 for a blog entry, And Decision Season has Begun!   
    After a (relatively) long absence, I'm back!

    This past week has marked the beginning of decision season for me. The week before that was frustrating and a bit depressing, which is one of many reasons I did not do my weekly update last weekend.

    Several UC Berkeley History decisions were posted on this site around Friday, January 25th, and - knowing the general pattern of admissions/rejections for the school, via Gradcafe's results search page - I began to despair of my chances there. By last Monday, I was in a pretty foul mood (my friends and parents are saints for putting up with my constant anxiety!), and convinced that because Berkeley apparently did not want me, none of the other schools would either. Consider me a cautionary tale of the dangers of Gradcafe addiction!

    I was on the verge of cutting myself off from this site entirely - going cold turkey, as it were - by the middle of the week, when yet more days had gone by without a word from any school. I had begun second-guessing everything about my applications and email/phone interactions with professors. Even with POIs I felt I had made a real connection with, and who had been undoubtedly enthusiastic about my application, I started imagining that maybe they had just been stringing me along...or that something had gone horribly wrong with my applications - like that maybe all my recommenders expressed their secretly-harbored beliefs that I'm an idiot imposter who doesn't belong in a graduate program. My imagination went completely (and horribly!) wild!

    Thankfully, I was mistaken!

    Right in the middle of my super long day on campus (Thursday), I happened to check my email as I was walking to class...and, lo and behold, my inbox presented me with a lovely email from my POI at UNC Chapel Hill, giving me the unofficial notice that I was accepted to the PhD program there with guaranteed funding for five years!

    Without exaggerating, this was one of the happiest moments in my life. I called my mom and dad immediately, and have been celebrating ever since! I don't remember anything from my classes that evening - it was so hard not to sit there day-dreaming and grinning like a fool! Hopefully, none of my professors noticed...

    One thing I DO remember from that evening of euphoria, however, is that I finally heard back from Berkeley that night. Thank goodness my UNC acceptance had come earlier that day because I did, indeed, get rejected from Berkeley. (I haven't heard anything from the other 8 programs I applied to.)

    I can only imagine how depressed I would be feeling right now if Berkeley had rejected me without my having an admission from another school, and I'm really feeling for everyone still waiting. Try to hang in there - I'm sending you all my good luck vibes, and hoping that great news is around the corner for all of you!

    With an option in hand, I'm happy to say I can finally sleep properly, check my email a reasonable number of times per day, and even focus better on my thesis. Now that I know I have someplace to go, I feel more motivated to finish strong at my current program. Though, of course, I'm also sorely tempted to distract myself by looking at apartments, etc. in Chapel Hill...so we'll see how things go. I think I deserve a weekend of celebrating after this insane application process, though! My thesis can surely wait til Monday...?

    In any case, I wish all of you the very best of luck! We just need to hold out a couple more weeks (for History, anyway). I have a feeling this week will be especially eventful for us. I know it's frustrating and that things might be looking really dark right now (and that nothing I say here will probably ease your mind at all), but try to hang in there (easier said than done, I know!) and stay positive!
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