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Questions to Ask the Director of the Program


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I was recently admitted into a PhD program and the director wants to schedule a time to talk about why I should go to their program.

Besides questions revolving around finances, what do you think I should ask or find out?

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Average time to degree; placement of recent graduates; professional development while in the program (for teaching, research, grant writing, etc.); conference travel funding. These are the first that come to mind.

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Some other questions that I would ask:

- Are there plans for the department to hire in the next 5 years? Would this be to grow the faculty or to replace retiring faculty? Would the department prioritize faculty hires that emphasizes current research strengths or would the department branch out into new areas?

- Questions about the coursework. What to ask specifically depends on what is already on the website. But I'd want to find out (whether thru this conversation or online) how many core courses are there, how many electives, what are the rules on choosing elective courses. I'd also want to know what types of courses are offered. Which ones happen every year? Which ones come more rarely? Are there special topics type courses taught by faculty members specifically in that area? If so, which faculty members / courses would be of special interest to you (i.e. what courses / experiences would you have here that you couldn't get somewhere else?)

- (If you are not also going to an in-person visit): Do students have offices? Where are they located (compared to the advisors)? How many students share an office?

- What equipment/supplies are available for students, especially new students starting up? Do you get a desk, computer, etc. Do you get funding to buy startup supplies you need? (If this kind of support is not normal in your field, I'd skip the question about funding to avoid sounding out of touch, but asking about equipment/supplies is still a good idea. You want to make sure that you get the infrastructure support you need for your work).

- I know you said "other than finances" but two key things to ensure you ask about finances: are future years of funding adjusted for cost of living? if so, how often does it happen? And secondly, if funding is adjusted in a future year, will existing students also get a pay increase or would it only apply to new students?

- What academic events happen in the department? Ask about things like regular seminar series, discussion groups, journal clubs, etc.

- How are department seminar speakers selected? Do students often get to meet with visiting faculty members? Are students on the colloquia committee?

- How involved are students with department life? Do students have a representative on the department meetings or at least on committees that affect students? Are students consulted in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions?

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