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Preparing for Visit Day? - Not Yet Admitted

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Hi everyone, I'm a little nervous here. I was invited as a "top applicant" (PhD in Mechanical Engineering) to visit a highly selective school, expenses paid, but I have not yet been admitted. After scouring through these forums, I've just about confirmed that they can still reject me after the visit, so I want to be as prepared as possible.

I still don't have all the details, but there are several individual meeting sessions with faculty which I assume are going to be like interviews. These sessions are each scheduled for three whole hours, which is a terrifyingly long time to have to impress a faculty member for. How on Earth do I prepare for these meetings? Practice talking about my research experience? Read up a ton about theirs? Fall asleep buried under piles of recent relevant journal publications with the hope that the knowledge will diffuse into my brain? Something else I haven't thought of?

And then there's the dress code. I, a lady💁‍♀️, was planning on bringing business casual pants and tops with a blazer to carry around just in case. My biggest concern here is my ear piercings. I don't have a million of these, but I do have a few more than the single lobe piercings most people have. I usually just keep a subtle stud in these in more professional situations, and I've never had any issues. But would it be wiser to not wear anything in them at all?

I would really appreciate any help with this. I really want to attend this school!


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I'm in a different field, so take my advice with that in mind. To prepare, I would make sure to read up on some of the current publications of faculty (you don't need to read everything they ever wrote, but maybe the more recent stuff and if they have a seminal article that gets cited a lot or something). Also, definitely be comfortable with talking about your research interests, experiences, and academic/career goals. 

As far as attire, it depends how conservative your field is. I would say ear piercings with a simple stud are fine. 

Also, I would maybe post this question in the engineering section as well to ensure you get field-specific responses. 

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So, I visited the University of Michigan for Biomedical Engineering last October. It wasn’t for an internview, more a just to visit and get to know the campus (all expenses were paid). I have also had two phone interviews this year, so I am basing what I am saying on these experiences. 

First off, take deep breaths. Keep reminding yourself to do so. Also, remember that you aren’t the only one there that is nervous and the faculty have been in your place at some point and will know your nerves. I think they might have scheduled them for three hours so you have sufficient amount of time to talk with them and maybe explore their labs and possibly talk with grad students. I wouldn’t think they would expect you to talk with them for three hours. You could always ask whoever has been emailing you about this visit so you can have more clear details and maybe reduce your nerves a little. As said above, be familiar with your research interests, your past research experiences, and why you want to pursue a PhD, and why at this specific school/program. I would familiarize yourself with the faculty’s research. Read one or two recent papers and look up info on their lab website. Also, think of some questions you might have for them pertaining to their research, their lab dynamics, the department, the university, and the town of the university. You can look up  interview questions you may encounter. In my phone interviews, I was asked about my research interests (what were they and why?), where I think I will be in five years after grad school, what about their research interests me, and how I will handle the challenges (big learning curve) of getting a PhD.

I think business causal is good. I feel like only a few engineers do full business attire. When I was at my visit last year, some people went all out with nice skirts and pantsuits, but most girls wore slacks, blouses, cardigans, and flats or boots. I think your earrings will be okay as long as they are not super distracting. I have a double ear piercing, and I think it was fine for me. 

Also, take lots of notes and drink lots of water. Wear comfortable shoes yet business causal shoes as well, like flats with some cushion. 

I am sure you will do great! Just believe in yourself. Faculty, even though intimidating, are people and human as well, so they aren’t perfect and understand you at personal level what you are going through (if they don’t, I feel like that’s a red flag in my opinion). Good luck! You got this!

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