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Will the current graduate students have a say in my acceptance?


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I'm not a mean person, but the impression that one might get in their initial few interactions with me is "competent but unempathetic". So it's going to take me a fair bit of effort to develop rapport with the faculty members of the programs that I will be visiting (I dread the dinners more than I did the GREs). But that's all right--I feel reasonably mentally prepared for this.

 

But what about the current graduate students? Will their opinions of my character have some kind of influence on the selection process? I know that at some departments, graduate students have a say in whether candidates for faculty positions are hired or not. Is there some similar tradition in graduate admissions? I assume I will be spending a fair amount of time with the graduate students, but I would like to avoid having to play the role of "the amicable undergraduate," because I probably already know more about the discipline than most of them, in addition to having more life experience. I would like to be my usual myself, which is, I guess, "competent but unempathetic".

 

I know I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, but I just wanted to get some feel of what the people on this forum think about this.

Edited by naizan
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I think approaching it from the angle of "I probably already know more than them" isn't really going to be productive in a science which is highly collaborative...   Same problem with those who don't feel the need to discuss science with those who are slightly out of one's research bubble.

 

Being amicable is part of the job, or at least for those who are successful at it.

Edited by Soc Cog
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At my current school I heard that applicants not only interview with all of the faculty within their area, but with the current graduate students of their POI as well. This is in addition to staying with some one of the area grad students. 

 
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Yes x100000000.

 

Last year, in the lab I'm working in, the prof didn't extend an offer to his first choice cause everybody disliked them. He went with his #2.

 

As another thread on here said, just don't be a jerk.

Edited by PsychGirl1
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I'm not a mean person, but the impression that one might get in their initial few interactions with me is "competent but unempathetic". So it's going to take me a fair bit of effort to develop rapport with the faculty members of the programs that I will be visiting (I dread the dinners more than I did the GREs). But that's all right--I feel reasonably mentally prepared for this.

 

But what about the current graduate students? Will their opinions of my character have some kind of influence on the selection process? I know that at some departments, graduate students have a say in whether candidates for faculty positions are hired or not. Is there some similar tradition in graduate admissions? I assume I will be spending a fair amount of time with the graduate students, but I would like to avoid having to play the role of "the amicable undergraduate," because I probably already know more about the discipline than most of them, in addition to having more life experience. I would like to be my usual myself, which is, I guess, "competent but unempathetic".

 

I know I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, but I just wanted to get some feel of what the people on this forum think about this.

 

I agree with the other posters- I  would definitely put your best foot forward and be as amicable and friendly as possible. I've heard from current graduate students that they have gotten waitlisted students accepted or rejected, based on their behavior at visiting weekend. This point is probably even more salient if you have not been offered admission (i.e., you are going to a recruitment weekend before an offer has been extended, as opposed to a visiting weekend after an offer has been extended). 

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Also, say you get an acceptance- you don't want to enter the lab on the wrong foot. Regardless of "how much you know" or "how much life experience you've had", cultures/expectations/everything are different within each lab and within each school. No matter how competent, you will find the support, advice, and guidance of your fellow labmates invaluable.

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Also, say you get an acceptance- you don't want to enter the lab on the wrong foot. Regardless of "how much you know" or "how much life experience you've had", cultures/expectations/everything are different within each lab and within each school. No matter how competent, you will find the support, advice, and guidance of your fellow labmates invaluable.

 

Well said. You can know a lot about a field, but grad school/ academia is ridiculously esoteric. I've spent 2.5 years among graduate students in a particular department, and 80% of the stuff they talk about still baffles me. As one grad student told me, you learn how to survive thesis proposals, first year research projects, classes, etc., with help from older students and your own cohort. 

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At my school, current grad students fill out review forms regarding our interactions with prospectives. Obviously faculty make their own decisions, but they do tend to consider our impressions. We had a case recently where most of the students expressed concern over a particular applicant, concerns that were largely ignored. At least one faculty member has since expressed that they wish they had listened more to our hunches.

 

The take away is that you should realize that you are being appraised with every interaction, the moment you arrive, from the current students, the departmental secretary, and the faculty. Just be your charming self, and be polite. Treat people how you would like to be treated.

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Uhhh YES.  My department will ask if we had particularly strong feelings (good or bad) about the applicants.  Faculty have never accepted someone that one of us has said was unfriendly/rude/arrogant/competitive/non-appreciative of the opportunity to interview in our department. 

 

The grad students end up seeing the applicants a lot more than the faculty, and you wouldn't believe how many applicants BLOW IT by saying something in front of a grad student that they just should NOT have.  Go in with the attitude you have and you will not be admitted into my department--we really do not want to work with someone who thinks they know more and have more life experiences than us--you don't even know anything about these grad students and this is how you view them!?  And even if you DO know more and have more (notice, not better) life experience, does this mean you cannot be friendly, polite, and interact with them in a professional way??  That kind of attitude would surely be communicated back to the faculty, the faculty whose loyalty is to the current students, who put their trust in the current students assessment of your character. 

 

How about you just act like a nice, happy, normal person who is appreciative of the opportunity to meet with current students at the place you might live the next 5-8 years?  Also these are the people who you will see more than anyone else for those years, so how about you try just being nice to them and maybe make a friend?

Edited by watson
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we really do not want to work with someone who thinks they know more and have more life experiences than us--you don't even know anything about these grad students and this is how you view them!?  And even if you DO know more and have more (notice, not better) life experience, does this mean you cannot be friendly, polite, and interact with them in a professional way?? 

This. No one likes to interact with someone who goes in feeling superior without any information to base it on (are you older? I don't understand how you can say before you even meet these people that you know more and have more life experience). "Unempathetic" is way, way different than being a jerk who thinks he/she is better, knows more, etc, etc, etc. No one is asking you to become BFFs with every grad student in the department, but you really have to be friendly, nice and polite.

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But what about the current graduate students? Will their opinions of my character have some kind of influence on the selection process? I know that at some departments, graduate students have a say in whether candidates for faculty positions are hired or not. Is there some similar tradition in graduate admissions? I assume I will be spending a fair amount of time with the graduate students, but I would like to avoid having to play the role of "the amicable undergraduate," because I probably already know more about the discipline than most of them, in addition to having more life experience. I would like to be my usual myself, which is, I guess, "competent but unempathetic".

 

I think the opinion of your character will influence the selection process, and it's not just the other students' opinions. You will be meeting lots of profs as well and their opinion probably counts even more! I don't understand why you think you need a very different strategy (if I understood your post correctly) to interact with the other students compared to your interactions with the faculty. When it comes to research related topics, faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students do not act very differently, from my experience. In discussion groups and seminars, all three groups will tend to discuss the science/research as peers and colleagues. 

 

I also think research at the graduate level and beyond is very very specialized. So, the foremost expert in the room will be the person who is currently working on that topic -- it might be a graduate student, a post-doc, or a faculty member. I know that most profs will expect their PhD students to know way more about their thesis topic than themselves. In addition, at the grad school level, most students will start to specialize. For example, during my MSc, I was studying the Physics GRE in order to apply to PhD programs and I started a study group, mostly with other undergrads. These undergrads knew way more physics than I did! This didn't surprise me (in fact, I was counting on it) because they are still learning Physics while my grad coursework had become much more specialized. In many PhD programs, the first couple of years might have broad coursework to build a foundation in the field, but most of the topics are not directly useful to one's research the further along you go.

 

I think it's a bit presumptuous to make the blanket statement that you will know more about "their discipline" than the current grad students. Except for the new students, each grad student has probably dedicated a good chunk of their lives studying something very specific. So it's probably not likely that you will know more about every one of these topics. However, I'm also confused about your expectations of what you think you should "behave like". I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "amicable undergraduate", but I definitely do not expect visiting prospective students to be completely oblivious to their field. In fact, I would expect them to probably know at least the same general stuff as me (since most undergrad core curricula are similar), if not more (since I am further removed from it than them). I would also expect them to have a lot of knowledge about the topic they are interested in studying. When we sit down to discuss what they are working on, I hope that I would learn something cool about their work. 

 

Again, I am not sure what you mean about the role of an "amicable undergraduate". You are definitely not expected to "play dumb" or "hide your knowledge of the field" or whatever to appease the graduate students (why would we want that? we want to see smart, clever, and motivated people as our future colleagues). Being friendly is really all that is important. I think most people would like to work with people that they would really "mesh" with or get along with, but in academia, there's no shortage of people who might be less extroverted/more introverted. So you don't have to fake it as a bubbly, excited, happy all the time person. Just be yourself and be friendly. 

 

However, it also sounds like you feel like you have a certain personality and you don't want to change it. This is fine, one of the purposes of the visits is for both you and the current department to decide if you will get along or not. When you visit, you will probably quickly get a sense whether or not you will get along with these people for the next 5+ years or not. I think this is an important part of the decision on where to go -- you want to pick a school that fits you both research-wise and personality-wise. I might be worried about what you mean by "unempathetic". To me, this means that you are describing yourself as someone who doesn't care about the thoughts/feelings of others in your actions (but maybe I understand this wrongly). For me, the sense of community is very important in grad school because it's a time that is very stressful and can also be very emotionally draining. So, for me, this would be a negative trait / a red flag. But every department is made up of a lot of different people with different attitudes so I don't expect everyone to be a friend, nor should you need to worry about being close with everyone! Just be yourself and find the department that fits you the best :)

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Just to add my blunt two cents, quite frankly, when I see someone describe themselves as "unempathetic" and then I consider the fact that they're probably being generous about themselves, it reads to me like "I'm a presumptuous a-hole with questionable social skills," especially since this is psychology and not a socially-challenged tech field (and I safely say this after many interactions with the most techy of the techs.)

 

Not saying that that's you, of course. Maybe you mean it in some other way that escapes me. However, if that's how any given person comes across in-person, then yeah, I wouldn't be chomping at the bit to have them as a peer lab member.

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In addition to all of the things already mentioned, the current students definitely do know more about the program than you do! Even if you don't want to be buddy-buddy, professional courtesy is a necessary life skill, and it will go a long way. :)  Good luck!

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I am a non-traditional student: I'm older than most of my undergrad peers, I've had some hard knocks (literally and figuratively), and am generally rich in the "life experience" category. Which is exactly why I found the grad students at my school and befriended them - because, as a whole, they are ALSO rich in "life experience," as well as knowledge, passion and dedication. And at a recent interview weekend, I found the exact same thing: a bunch of interesting, intelligent, motivated, passionate individuals who are wicked smart and know a lot about their particular specialization.

 

So the moral of my story is: every single grad student has to have jumped all the hurdles we have/are. They are well-rounded and care enough to have attained this difficult goal of grad school admission - and tenacious enough to have survived at least a year! Don't assume you know more than them or they won't be as experienced as you. If you know more and are more experienced than your typical undergrad classmate, then just be grateful you may have the opportunity to work with some people more like you, and be humble enough to learn from them. They deserve our respect for getting to where they are now.

 

Also, the grad students in my potential lab definitely helped me get accepted! My POI told me they all said good things about me and that their opinion really counts for him. 

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