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tips for campus visit day


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I just received the invitation to the Stanford Earth System Science Department visit day to have a more detailed, in-person interview from my POI. We had an unofficial interview before the application. I am wondering how to prepare for the visit day. I will have a chat with many professors in the department or only with POI? Do I need to give a presentation to introduce my research experience and interests? Is there anyone who has the experience of campus visit? I really need your help!

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I've only ever had informal visits, and they were with my POI. Talked a bit about projects etc., met their students, saw the labs, that was really it. Then again, as soon as I got there I knew that place probably wasn't going to be a good fit, and I ended up not even applying. (Though I'm kicking myself a little because I probably should've applied anyway...oh well.)

That said, I have a visit day coming up and that school told me in the email to expect a full day "meeting professors and other grad students". So I would say know what people do work similar to yours, brush up on it a little, be able to talk about your interests (especially those that are relevant to the department and your POIs) and some things that excited you in the field recently, e.g. papers you read, not all of which necessarily need to be by authors from that school. Make sure you check all the relevant webpages too, (a) to get info and be up to date, and (b) to avoid asking questions easily answered by a little online digging. Maybe having a few questions would be good, too, like where have students gone after graduating, or what happens during the "down-time" of the summer months - are you funded, expected to do research, etc?

Story: my dad knew a prof in school who'd interview people, say "thanks" and then take them out to lunch. The only part of the interview the prof cared about was lunch because that's when he found people were themselves. Don't forget professionalism at every turn!

Anyone else with more visit day experience care to chime in?

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Every school does things a bit differently. It would be rare for each candidate to be expected give a presentation like that though. However, interview visits can be different from recruitment visits. But even if they want this, they will tell you ahead of time. I know my school just made its decisions yesterday and has started informing students of the upcoming visit next month! 

Here's a basic schedule of what visits look like in my program:

Day 1: 

7:30am: Bus picks up all the visiting students from hotel, drives to school

8:00am: Breakfast with other visiting students and the faculty reps for each major (e.g. geophysics, geology, geochemistry etc.). Basic introduction to the department from the chair.

9:00am: The group splits into each program major and talk with each other and the faculty rep.

9:30am - noon: Each student has their own schedule, meeting faculty and students in 15-30 minute blocks. You're asked which faculty you'd like to meet with ahead of time

Noon-1pm: Lunch with a few randomly selected graduate students

1pm-5pm: More meetings like in the morning, with a coffee break for socializing with current students

5pm-6pm: Dinner, catered by department

6pm-9pm: Evening social event, usually at the on-campus bar

9pm: Bus takes students back to hotel

Day 2:

Morning: Field trip! Choice of a hike in the mountains or visit to off campus lab locations

Afternoon: Free time to explore campus; some labs will have lab tours; some students will volunteer to give campus tours. Also, anyone who you were not able to meet with on Day 1 might be free on Day 2.

Evening: Social events, usually dinner with first year grad students in town, followed by drinks at a bar in town with all students


In either case, you will get tons of info from whatever programs you're visiting soon. They'll tell you the general outline of the day but you might not get a detailed schedule with meeting times and people names/locations until the night before (or even the morning of the first day) since it's hard to create such schedules. I've seen the giant spreadsheets that our admin staff puts together to arrange for 20+ different people to meet with all of the faculty and students!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi, current Stanford ESS student here. I just was in your shoes a year ago, so hopefully my comments are helpful.

First of all, relax. They're not interviewing you as much as you should be interviewing them. At this point, your POI likes you and you both should be focusing in off it's a good fit for both of you or not. Come prepared with questions. But again, relax.

Depending on if you put down multiple faculty with whom you are interested in working with on the application, you might rotate chatting with your POI1 and POI2 ...(through POI #N I guess). I was only interested in my PI, so that time I was cycling through the lab group.

The Department will send you an itinerary soon, if they haven't already. This will include morning breakfast with other potential students and the department chair and other people, and then from there you will probably go on your "interviews" with faculty. But it really depends on your POI after this point--mine had a chat with me and the other interested students, and then cycled us through the lab members. Remember that they are trying to figure out if you are going to be a good fit too (and vice versa). I think the itinerary includes some free time, and then in the evening there's a dinner for all the potential students with current grad students so you all can ask the good questions (are they happy? How boring are department seminars? Is the cost of living in Palo Alto making them live under bridges? etc etc etc). There will be free food and drinks.

Relax, and good luck!

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I went to an independent campus visit.  My POI took me to his rock lab and grilled me for about an hour.  He asked me to identify several rocks as well as their constituent minerals, asked me if I knew how to use a variety of machinery in another lab, and asked me to explain the structural evolution of two different rocks in his office.  He didn't expect me to know most of the answers; he was testing me to see how I responded under pressure (confirmed by my BIL who earned a PhD from Dr. X).  I agree with @gelologist that professionalism is important, but that doesn't mean you should be meek and forgettable - profs are people too.  Don't be afraid to joke around or be yourself, depending on the circumstances, it could make you a very memorable (and desirable) candidate.  

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