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For current graduate students: Interview and visitation questions


sar1906

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For anyone who has already been through the interview and visitation processes, what are some important questions you asked/wish you had asked?  Questions for graduate students? Professors?  What did you wish you had known before you started? For example:

 

For older graduate students:

 

How would you describe the political climate of the program? How do faculty resolve their disagreements?  Are those disagreements primarily philosophical?

 

What is the average length of time to completion of the Ph. D.?

 

What are some of the approaches of some of the faculty when working with graduate students?  Hands-on? Laid-back? Micro-managing?

 

How does the job market look from your position?

 

For faculty:

 

How would you describe the overall philosophical atmosphere of the department?

 

What advice do you have for prospective graduate students?

 

I'm sure there must be some current students around.  I know this would help me and hopefully other prospective students.

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For faculty and/or graduate students:

 

What support is in place at the program for helping students learn to professionalize? For example, helping students get the hang of the publication process, doing mock interviews/job talks etc...

 

If teaching is a priority for you: The same question above, regarding teaching: for example, are faculty willing to sit in on a class you teach to give you feedback on teaching? Generally, how much is pedagogy valued?

 

What is the attrition rate at the program? Is the cause of attrition the usual (life intervenes, priorities change, etc...) or is there some frequent cause related to the program (e.g. climate)?

Edited by Monadology
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First, let me say that all of the questions mentioned so far are good ones. I would add--and this seems to be something that doesn't get mentioned enough when this topic comes up--that it can be very informative to engage faculty and students in philosophical conversation.

 

For example, you might find that, in response to a generic question like "How's the philosophical atmosphere here?" people answer, "Oh it's quite good, collegial, etc." That's reassuring but doesn't reveal much about the unique character that each department has. So, in addition to a question like that, you might also try to strike up a philosophical debate, e.g. to a faculty member whose work you know: "I know you've defended such and such view, but doesn't that run into the following objection..." It's interesting to see how discussions like this can confirm or disconfirm answers to the generic questions.

 

Again, I'm not saying that you shouldn't ask the questions mentioned above; I'm just adding that a very good way to get a feel for what it might be like to be a member of a department is to do a lot of philosophy when you visit.

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I would ask about the teaching expectations of graduate students, how many students you are expected to have, ask other graduate students about how long they put in towards teaching responsibilities, etc. 

 

I talked with professors about what types of courses were usually available from semester to semester, what the people in my area of interest were thinking of doing seminars on, what the rotation was like for instructors doing seminars, etc.

 

I think it's good to ask graduate students about their perspective, but even better would be to look at a placement record. You could even look it over with a faculty member or something and get their ideas as to how a graduate from their program might fare. 

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Ask about what the undergrads are like. Advanced undergrads might be in your classes, and you'll be teaching the rest of them. 

 

Ask about formalized mentoring, especially if you're not sure exactly who you want to work with. Will you have a faculty mentor? Will that person be assigned or do you choose someone? Are there formalized graduate student mentors? 

 

Find out about the Masters process. Does it involve papers, exams, orals, etc? Do most people succeed at it (the first time around)? What happens if you don't? What's the support like in preparing for it? 

 

Ask (probably grad student, not faculty) if they know of any upcoming faculty movement. They know if professors are currently on the job market or are close to retiring, and might be able to tell you about positions that are currently being hired for, and planned future hires, as well. 

 

Visit whatever kind of graduate student spaces there are. Do they have a lounge? Offices? A kitchen? Do people hang out in any of those spaces? Do people mostly work at home? Ask about how social the grads are with each other and what the general social vibe is. Are grads competitive? Do they support each other? Also, if you're a member of an underrepresented minority group, try and talk with someone who can tell you about that experience. If there's no one who can, think about what that says about the department.  

 

If you're going somewhere you've never been, spend some time looking around; try and get an afternoon or evening free in your visit schedule. You should know a little about the place you might end up living, and get a feel for whether or not you could be happy there. 

 

Also, remember that departments are generally on their best behavior for visits. This isn't to say that anyone will lie to you about how things are. But some people might minimize problems in the department in an effort to look appealing. (I've both heard of this happening, and felt it happened at a school I visited)

 

Enjoy the visits! Remember, if a department admitted you (or even waitlisted you) it's because they want you to come there. 

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Ask other graduate students or a graduate director to put you in contact with another graduate student who shares your interests (especially in a really pluralistic department). Ask that grad student who has interests in common with you what it's like working with your POIs and how it's been generally for them studying your AOI in this specific department.

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For anyone who has already been through the interview and visitation processes, what are some important questions you asked/wish you had asked?  Questions for graduate students? Professors?  What did you wish you had known before you started? For example:

 

1. Ask people to tell you which questions they would ask, if they were in your position.

2. Ask people how to read the placement record. Ask a lot of details about the placement. Ask whether one or two professors tend to generate the most job offers. Ask whether one or two areas of interest do particularly well or poorly in placement.

3. What percent of students do well, poorly, drop out, etc.? Craft this question tactfully.

4. What do you think of the program? Why did you choose this program?

5. What are the drawbacks to choosing this program?

6. Do students work together a lot? Do they hang out together? Do they share work with each other? Do they review each other's work? Do they compete with each other? Does the program feel big or small? How much do you interact with undergraduate students? What's the quality of the undergraduate population?

7. Are there weak students in the program? (Do not name them. It's a yes or no question.)

8. Are there weak professors? (This question must be asked over the phone/Facetime/in person.) Which ones are weaker? Who works the most with students? Who works the least? (You ought to get very, very clear answers here. Do not accept vague answers. If you have to, ask about every single professor in the department with whom you may work.)

9. What's the trajectory of the department? New hires soon? New retirements? Program improving? In decline? (It's a question of speculation, but that's OK. People are surprisingly good at predicting these things.)

10. Is there department infighting? Do you hear bad things about professors from other professors? Is there department tension? Does the department get along with the administration? Is the department supported by the rest of the school?

 

Note: These are questions for grad students. They sound sort of abrasive, but you may invest a lot in the program. You deserve to have this information. I can't overstate the importance of checking out every professor. Get a clear indication about every single professor with whom you may work. Ask them how they were tenured. Were they tenured 30 years ago? Was it a mistake to give them tenure? Do they mostly take up space? You should figure this out!

Edited by ianfaircloud
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  • 2 weeks later...

1. Ask people to tell you which questions they would ask, if they were in your position.

2. Ask people how to read the placement record. Ask a lot of details about the placement. Ask whether one or two professors tend to generate the most job offers. Ask whether one or two areas of interest do particularly well or poorly in placement.

3. What percent of students do well, poorly, drop out, etc.? Craft this question tactfully.

4. What do you think of the program? Why did you choose this program?

5. What are the drawbacks to choosing this program?

6. Do students work together a lot? Do they hang out together? Do they share work with each other? Do they review each other's work? Do they compete with each other? Does the program feel big or small? How much do you interact with undergraduate students? What's the quality of the undergraduate population?

7. Are there weak students in the program? (Do not name them. It's a yes or no question.)

8. Are there weak professors? (This question must be asked over the phone/Facetime/in person.) Which ones are weaker? Who works the most with students? Who works the least? (You ought to get very, very clear answers here. Do not accept vague answers. If you have to, ask about every single professor in the department with whom you may work.)

9. What's the trajectory of the department? New hires soon? New retirements? Program improving? In decline? (It's a question of speculation, but that's OK. People are surprisingly good at predicting these things.)

10. Is there department infighting? Do you hear bad things about professors from other professors? Is there department tension? Does the department get along with the administration? Is the department supported by the rest of the school?

 

Note: These are questions for grad students. They sound sort of abrasive, but you may invest a lot in the program. You deserve to have this information. I can't overstate the importance of checking out every professor. Get a clear indication about every single professor with whom you may work. Ask them how they were tenured. Were they tenured 30 years ago? Was it a mistake to give them tenure? Do they mostly take up space? You should figure this out!

 

Could have sworn I replied to this...Anyway, great list. It's given me a lot to work with.  Thanks!

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Good, good.  OK, so how about some warning signs that would cause you to hesitate joining the program?

In addition to the excellent suggestion about funding from philstudent1991, I'd also be worried about joining a program with a weak or nonexistent graduate community, professor infighting (or strong politics of any sort) or any climate issues in general (even if they don't effect you).

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