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  1. Upvote
    Wicked_Problem 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 - Objectives 3-5 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
    Wicked_Problem reacted to viggosloof28 for a blog entry, Now that the Dust has Settled...   
    Back again after a fairly long absence!

    And gentlefolk, it's finally March. I know for my discipline (history), programs are probably about half-way done returning decisions. I personally applied to ten schools and actually heard from the last of them on Monday. I'm extremely relieved to be done with the waiting game, and am extremely happy with how everything turned out (despite getting rejected from six programs - heh!).

    As you might know from my last update, UNC Chapel Hill accepted me all the way back on January 31st. Part of the reason I didn't want to post another entry until now, in fact, is because I got so much news during the first half of February. And since most of it was good news, I didn't feel like it would be kind to post an update with so much (probably gag-worthy) excitement when so many folks were still waiting to hear back.

    ...Now that people are beginning to enter their decision processes, though, I thought I would share a bit about mine!

    I was able to eliminate two of the schools that accepted me right off the bat: one due to poor fit and the other because of ranking/some slightly rude POIs. In the end it came down to CUNY and UNC. They're both excellent fits for me - the faculty is just incredible at both programs. As much as I would love (seriously, love!) to live in NYC, though, the cost of living was a big factor in my decision. Of course, the rankings of the schools are quite different (#10 at UNC vs. #27ish at CUNY for European History), and the prestige/external funding opportunities will be very important to me.

    I gave myself about a week and a half to really mull it over (and wait for rejections from other programs - ha!), fearing that I might have formed an unreasonable attachment to UNC because they gave me my first acceptance. Tallying up the pros and cons, though, I'm completely confident that UNC is the right program for me...so on Saturday I went ahead and formally accepted their offer! I'm all set to go out to campus for the visiting weekend in March and absolutely couldn't be happier!

    Now all I need to do is finish my thesis and complete my coursework, so I can actually - you know - *graduate* and attend my new program in the fall. That's proving easier said than done, but spring break is just a week away at my current school, so the finish line is in sight!

    As you all continue the horrible wait and make your decisions, I wish you all the luck and happiness I've been lucky enough to experience the last few weeks! Feel free to comment and share your hopes, anxieties, decisions...whatever you like!
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