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JerryLandis

Questions for Current Grad Students

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Sorry if this question is kind of vague, but I was wondering what other people have been asking current students in emails/calls/recruitment meetings with them. I suppose I'm interested to see what other people's important issues are, and if I am neglecting to ask any important questions.

I've been in contact via phone/email with a couple of current students. In working on my decision between 2 MA programs, and I was kind of hoping that someone would respond to me saying "don't attend this program; your other choice sounds way better." Of course I'm sure the graduate coordinators purposefully choose representatives who would NOT say that to prospective students, but it was the least I could do to hope. Mostly I have asked about the positives/negatives of the teaching approach, be it interdisciplinary or more specific, the social atmosphere of the university especially for those not living in university accommodation, the general success rate of those applying from the program to PhD programs, and what their impressions were of certain classes I would be interested in taking. Anything else?

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Sorry if this question is kind of vague, but I was wondering what other people have been asking current students in emails/calls/recruitment meetings with them. I suppose I'm interested to see what other people's important issues are, and if I am neglecting to ask any important questions.

I've been in contact via phone/email with a couple of current students. In working on my decision between 2 MA programs, and I was kind of hoping that someone would respond to me saying "don't attend this program; your other choice sounds way better." Of course I'm sure the graduate coordinators purposefully choose representatives who would NOT say that to prospective students, but it was the least I could do to hope. Mostly I have asked about the positives/negatives of the teaching approach, be it interdisciplinary or more specific, the social atmosphere of the university especially for those not living in university accommodation, the general success rate of those applying from the program to PhD programs, and what their impressions were of certain classes I would be interested in taking. Anything else?

I've been asking a lot of questions about what it's like to work with my prospective supervisors, since I know what kind of supervision I respond best to. Another question I like to ask is "what's the worst thing about this program"; since most students have entirely good things to say, this forces them to consider the negatives too. Other questions: what conferences do they go to, are the students competitive with each other, do they hang out together outside of school (and if so, what kinds of social activities do they partake in), do the students collaborate on projects together, can you live decently off the stipend, is it at all common to take classes outside of the department, how much time do they devote to classwork vs research vs TA-ing vs other life things... That's all I can think of right now!

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There are lots of things that I asked and have been asked about. I'm pretty sure there's other posts about this but I'll offer a few below.

- Atmosphere of the town (what's there to do? do people hang out? are cohorts close? nightlife? arts stuff? whatever you're interested in really)

- Relationship with faculty (How hard/easy is it to get the advisor you want? Is it difficult to switch advisors? How are the faculty on a more personal level?)

- Classes (How easy/difficult/useful is the coursework? Is there flexibility to focus on what you want within those courses? Will you be able to take what you need when you need it?)

- Conferences (Are grad students encouraged to present? Is funding available to attend?)

- Professional Development (Are there workshops or trainings? Networking opportunities? A speaker's series?)

- Housing (What are the options for off-campus housing, how affordable are they, how far away do most people live, and how do they commute?)

- Student expenses (are there things you have to pay for that you might not know about [ie, fees, surcharges, supplements]? How do you pay for these? How far does the stipend go?)

- How well integrated is the program/department into the university? Are there opportunities to take courses in and/or work with faculty from other departments?

- What do you wish you had known before you started the program?

- If you had to pick one or two things you dislike, what would they be and why?

- What are your favorite things about this program/department/university?

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I agree with everything rising_star said, but also make sure to ask things like follows:

If you have to TA:

-How many "teaching hours"/classes do most TA's get assigned?

-What types of classes do they TA

-How many years most students have to TA

-How many hours a week do they spend on their TA duties

In general:

-How many days/hours most grad students are on campus? (you'd be surprised at this, I talked to students who said most people were there 7 days a week, including nights)

-How much time off they get (may be official or through advisor, but some schools have 4 weeks, others have 2 or less)

-Does the department try and help students through the program, or do they try to push you out if you have trouble?

-How efficient is adminstration? (i.e. payroll, billing, etc)

-Average length to degree, and does the department try to get you out or try to keep you there as long as they can

-Can you switch concentration/advisors fairly easily?

And I agree with what eucalyptus said about asking about competition/dynamic between grad students, and the social atmosphere too.

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Of course I'm sure the graduate coordinators purposefully choose representatives who would NOT say that to prospective students

You may try to find out emails of current and former graduate students of professors with whom you would like to work. At least it's what I did, and I'm asking questions about research groups and professors, whom I consider as my potential advisors.

1)    In general, do you like working with Prof. X? Do other students get along with him? Do you find the environment in the research group friendly? Is there something you don’t like in working with Prof. X?

2)    Did Prof. X give you a thesis problem or did you find your own? Does he give his students some research freedom?

3)    Does Prof. X take an active role in placing his students after graduation? Does he give strong recommendations (of course, if a student deserves it) that help his student get a good position in academia or industry? Does Prof. X have connections with people form industry or academia that may help you in your future placement after graduation?

4)    Do you find meetings with Prof. X productive and do you get what you want from them?

5)    Did you have internships at other research group during your graduate studies?

6)    Is the RA support provided by Prof. X enough to have a comfortable life in Y area? What is your salary as a research assistant? Is the provision for health insurance at Z University adequate?

7)    Did you have time to do your own research when you were teaching? What were your responsibilities as a TA?

8)    If you were applying to graduate school now, would you join Z University and Prof. X’s research group?

Edited by 4ty2

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