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Contacting current grad students


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Contacting current graduate students in a university you got an admit from is great way to get information. But I am currently at a loss about which questions might be acceptable and which ones are taboo. Will profs feel offended if I ask too much about the how good the program is of the program and how the the students feels about his research there? Anyway I haven't found much info about this, so decided to make this thread.

Edited by sharanbngr
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It's the next five (give or take a few) years of your life - you should be informed! Talking to a grad student is usually the best way to get information. If you're already admitted, asking to talk to one shouldn't be surprising at all, but even if you haven't been admitted yet talking to one is a good idea. I guess if you're really worried that what you're asking will get back to the professor just be sure you don't ask anything crazy or offensive. Like, "where are the good strip clubs in this town?" Ha.

 

I asked for the information of a current grad student at a school I have not yet been accepted to, and not only were they eager to put me in touch, but the grad student herself was very candid with me. So ask the tough questions!

  • Can you support yourself on your stipend?
  • What is the best thing about the program?
  • The worst?
  • Do students graduate on time? (Sometimes the program website has data on this)
  • What is it like to live here?
  • If you could do things over again, would you still choose to live here?
  • What is the mentoring style of Prof X?
  • Will I have the opportunity to do (xyz)?
  • What do students in the program struggle with?
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I would recommend that you preface any of your questions by being up front with the student - that you do not intend to offend or be too direct, but given the importance of the decision, here are your questions.  The worst they can do is not answer it.  You've already been admitted to the program, so you should not have to worry about any major repercussion.

 

I'll follow up the previous poster by saying that you should tailor your questions to be as specific to your situation as possible.  And for you, keep answers in the proper context.  So for example, understanding what students in the program struggle with could be helpful for you, but maybe you're an expert in that domain so it's a non-issue.  Another thing to keep in mind is the context of the student that is answering your questions.  An example here would be housing - I have a family that I am moving so a current student who is single may have an opinion on housing, but it likely wouldn't be helpful for my situation. 

 

Point being, if you have special circumstances like a spouse/family, are coming from another country, or something like that, try to zoom in on students that have that similar profile or circumstance so the potential for the answers to be meaningful or applicable increases.

 

Finally, be prepared accept the fact that answers you receive may not be complete or satisfactory, and that there is no way to get all of your questions answered ahead of time because some things really can't be determined because it's so highly individual (such as: Do you like living here?).  But as described above, there are approaches you can take to arm yourself with the most relevant information to make an informed decision.

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Speaking as a current grad student, I do not mind these inquiries at all. I wouldn't understand what you mean by "worth of the program," though; while I'm sure you have a reasonable rationale and explanation (it is an important decision, and I remember the stress of making it!), I'd suggest rephrasing, since as is, I would both be unable to answer it and, yes, be a bit miffed.

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Thank for these replies. They were helpful to me and I am sure will be to others as well. 

 

By worth I meant what is their opinion of the program (Having experienced it). Although I admit it was poorly worded and I changed it.

 

I don't have an adviser assigned to me, although I am in contact with a couple of POIs there. I would mainly be contacting their students. Is is needed to mention to them that I am contacting their students? 

Edited by sharanbngr
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I had lunch recently with three current graduate students in a program where I've been accepted, and it was so incredibly beneficial.  They answered all of my questions and just being around them gave me a feel for what it will be like to be around grad students in the program.  Being able to interact with them through asking questions and just talking about everyday life made me feel prepared, warm, and welcome :)

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Speaking as a current grad student, I do not mind these inquiries at all. I wouldn't understand what you mean by "worth of the program," though; while I'm sure you have a reasonable rationale and explanation (it is an important decision, and I remember the stress of making it!), I'd suggest rephrasing, since as is, I would both be unable to answer it and, yes, be a bit miffed.

 

I second this. When I was applying last year, the current grad students in the program I joined actually sought us out to try and make sure all of our questions were answered. This year, I've been giving my contact info out to the applicants who interview with us. The students are not likely to gloss things over for you, so you're much more likely to get an honest answer about whatever you're inquiring about.

 

As far as the "worth of the program," that is indeed a sketchy question. We're all going to think our programs are well worth it! That's why we're talking to you about it. I think you're going to find that rank doesn't matter nearly as much as you would expect it to, so if you're stuck trying to pick between a Top-10 program and one that ranks maybe 25th, pick the one you'll be happier with. I applied without looking at rank, and I'm quite happy with where I ended up. What matters is that you get to do good research and that you're able to launch yourself in the right direction at graduation.

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