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Staying with grad students


Ellie55

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Thank you all for the amazing information on this site! I couldn't find this in another topic, so I thought I'd ask...

 

I will be attending an interview close to where I live. The school offered that I could stay with a current graduate student to avoid traffic, but I also have friends who live very close to the school who would host me. For anyone who has stayed with a graduate student (or grad student who have hosted), is this a particularly good opportunity to learn more about the program? I am allergic to pets and dust and a number of other things, and don't want to go to the interview feeling terrible, but also don't want to miss out on hearing what grad students say when professors aren't around. Any input would be appreciated!

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Like most things, the extent to which it matters probably depends on your program. For our field, we apply directly to an adviser and typically students stay with a current grad student from that lab or department. It's not only a great time for you to ask questions and see what grad school life is like outside of the office, it's also a great chance for the grad students to see what you are like outside of the rigorous interview process. They'll be your colleagues, you have to get along with them too. If all goes well, they could really talk you up, but if you don't give them that chance to get to know you better they won't have that opportunity. That said, it could go the other way. If you are rude or do something strange they may not have great things to report. In this scenario, the extra time with the graduate student is functionally an extension of the interview.

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Staying with a current student gives you a chance to learn more about the program while also giving you the chance to impress students who will report back to their mentors on their impression of you. If the decision comes down to a couple students and the grad students are able to more favorably comment on the other student because they got to known them better then I think this could hurt you. I would definitely stay with a student! When making arrangements, just make it known that you are allergic to pets so that you can be matched with a student without them.

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I think this is something you might get a lot of different opinions on so I'll just contribute my thoughts here:

 

First, I think the most important aspect is that you feel comfortable about where you are staying. I think this is the highest priority and if you will be much more comfortable staying with friends instead of with a stranger and/or in a strange/dusty environment, you should do what you are more comfortable with. I think it's more complicated than just simply saying you are allergic to pets, because a pet-free place can still have enough dust to trigger allergies or other breathing issues. 

 

Second, if the first concern is met, then I would pick the choice that allows for more graduate student interaction. But keep in mind that you will still learn most of the things you want to learn about the grad program through the normal prospective visit program, it's not like your one-on-one time with the grad student will give you significantly more information. See below for examples.

 

With that in mind, I'll share my experiences for all 3 schools I visited in 2012. At each school, I did something different!

 

1. At the first school, the school arranged for me to stay with a graduate student host and I stayed with them (they had a guest bedroom). They picked me up at the airport and drove me from their home to their school. I did get a little bit of extra socializing time with them, their cat, and their S.O. and it was nice to meet them. However, the visit day program had stuff scheduled from 8am to 9pm basically, so it's not like the extra few hours total I got with the grad student (most of it spent in their car) made much difference. I would say that 95% of the information I needed to know about the program / what grad students are like came from the actual visit itself, and only a little bit of extra insight came from random conversations with my host. 

 

2. At the second school, the school usually puts all the visiting students in a hotel. However, I had a friend already in that same program and since the school was not offering enough reimbursement to cover the flight from Canada, I asked if I could stay with my friend (and save them the hotel money) in exchange for an extra $100 towards my flight reimbursement. They agreed and this was good because it removed all out of pocket expenses for me :) The downside was that I didn't get to spend as much time with the other prospective students, but like the first school, events were scheduled from early morning to late night so again, the only extra interaction I would have missed would be having a stranger for a roommate. Also, staying with my friend allowed me to also spend the weekend immediately after the visit exploring the area on my own (this part was out of pocket expense but it was a mini vacation anyways).

 

3. Finally, at the last school, my spouse visited with me and originally the school offered to have us stay with one of the current graduate students (who also had a non-student spouse) in their house (this place had low enough cost of living that most dual income grad student families owned a home). But we felt more comfortable staying on our own (spouse can then set own schedule for exploring the town, looking at job opportunities etc.) so we asked if we could just stay in a hotel instead. We were saving the school some money since we lived close enough to drive instead of needing to fly in, so I asked them how much would they normally reimburse for a flight and we made sure the cost of mileage + hotel was under that maximum. At this visit, I felt that my spouse and I got a lot more out of *not* staying with grad students and doing our own thing (i.e. finding our own way to campus and around town) because it was more of a simulation of what it would be like if we did move there together. 

 

So, I think doing what you feel most comfortable with is the most important. I personally really dislike staying in a stranger's home, and I don't really like sharing a hotel room with a stranger either (although I don't mind at all sharing with a colleague I know to save money during conference travel). I did it for school #1 to save money and because the way the town is laid out, there was no convenient way to get to school other than a ride from the person you're staying with. I was much happier to do the visits for schools #2 and #3 on my own terms and arranging my own accommodations. 

 

The only tricky bit is to properly balance getting what you want and not being a pest. For your case, since you are still interviewing, it might be trickier to get your own terms, but honestly, if the school is unwilling to make reasonable adjustments for your comfort, is it really a place you want to be? In my case, I already had the offers and these were "recruitment" visits instead of interviews, so I probably had more "power" to ask for what I wanted. However, I think you can still be reasonably accommodated if you are asking for things that will not require more money or more work from the program (in all three cases, the things I asked for actually requires less money or work on their part). 

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This was something I worried about as well. For my interviews, my spouse will be coming along as well, and it's not a financial concern for us to stay in a hotel but I worried about what I would miss by not staying with a student. I have to give myself injections a few times a week, so that was one thing I didn't want to have to worry about with a student as well as my spouse wanting to come along. After all, he's uprooting his life too, so it would give him a chance to see where we should live, where he could work, etc. so I'm glad TakeruK talked about bringing a partner.

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This was something I worried about as well. For my interviews, my spouse will be coming along as well, and it's not a financial concern for us to stay in a hotel but I worried about what I would miss by not staying with a student. I have to give myself injections a few times a week, so that was one thing I didn't want to have to worry about with a student as well as my spouse wanting to come along. After all, he's uprooting his life too, so it would give him a chance to see where we should live, where he could work, etc. so I'm glad TakeruK talked about bringing a partner.

 

That's exactly why my spouse visited with me whenever possible (uprooting her life as well). The first two schools were too far away / required too much time off work for her to join me. The third school was very understanding and very good at making sure we were both able to visit. They included my spouse in all social events and even set aside a desk in a visitor's office for her to work at while I was meeting with professors. Don't be afraid to ask for additional considerations (e.g. bringing a partner, allergies to dust, dietary needs) if it is important to you.

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