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Questions to ask when making PhD program decision

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Hi everyone -- 

I am a U.S. prospective PhD student, but am applying for programs while working/living abroad.  I visited 3 of the 4 social sciences programs over a year ago when I was just thinking about applying but it was a long time ago now.  I've since been admitted to one and received emails from POIs at two other programs checking in to say my app has gone to committee and asking if I had any questions about the programs.  So far, I've asked about funding, about job placements, I've taken a look at the current students and recent grad profiles to see where they've been and where they are going.  But are there other questions I should be asking??  It's a long time to be at a program and I'm afraid I'm missing an important piece that I should be considering.  

I'm definitely hoping to visit but am waiting to see if I get into more than one program so I can take advantage of the visit to see multiple places at once.... 

For those already enrolled in PhD programs is there something you wish you had asked about going into the program? 

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I've been doing a bunch of googling and looking through threads on here, and this is the categorized list I've come up with that I plan to draw my questions from. (I might be over-thinking/over-preparing.)


Graduate Students

  • What research are you working on? How quickly were you able to start your research?

  • How much of a student community/social life is there (including within cohort)?

  • Is it an inclusive environment? Have there ever been problems with harassment?

  • Where do you (and students in general) live? How is living here?

  • What is the area around campus like? How are the housing options?

  • Is the university helpful with finding housing?

  • Is the stipend enough to live on?

  • How is working with your advisor? (intentionally open-ended)

  • How would you describe your PI's advising style? (hands on/closely supervised or hands off/independent)

  • What strategies have worked well to maintain a successful relationship with your advisor?

  • How available is your supervisor? How frequently do you meet with your advisor?

  • Does your supervisor support support interest in a career outside academia?

  • How regularly/quickly does your advisor publish?

  • Would you choose this advisor if you were doing it over?

  • What do you think of the program? Biggest pros and cons?

  • How easy/hard is it to customize the program? (i.e., taking different courses)

  • What do you think of the courses? Useful content, well taught, relevant to your research/goals?

  • How big is the program?

  • What would you change about the program?

  • Does the environment feel more collaborative or competitive? Are students generally collaborative or competitive?

  • How easy/difficult was the process of joining a lab?

  • What are responsibilities of TAs like? What is the workload/time commitment? How many terms do you TA?

  • How would you describe the lab group? (Intentionally open-ended)

  • What is the culture in the lab? How much time are you expected to spend in the lab?

  • What kind of schedule do you work?

  • How much collaboration is there within the lab?

  • Are you happy here?

  • What do you wish you had taken into consideration when making your decision about where to attend?

  • Who is on your committee and why?

  • Do you get to attend conferences?

  • How is it being a female in this generally male-dominated department/university/field?

Professors & Potential Advisors

  • Do students create their own projects or work on something already developed/in progress?

  • What are the expectations for a graduate student in your lab? (i.e., working from home, fixed hours)

  • What advice would you give to a student who wants to be successful in your program? Are there any specific pitfalls to be avoided?

  • How much do students RA vs TA? What is the funding structure/guarantee for students?

  • How often do you sent students to conferences?

  • How long do students in your lab take to complete?

  • What do students from your lab typically do after graduation?

  • I hear you study X. I've only studied a little bit of that so far, but I remember learning about Y. Can you tell me a little bit about your work?

  • What are your current projects?

  • What research projects do you have that would be looking for graduate students?

  • What directions or projects are you thinking about for the future?

  • What is the big picture/goal/focus/priority of the department?

  • What's the biggest strength of the program?

  • What professional development services are available?

  • How/when are students paired with advisors?

  • What percentage of students complete the PhD? Pass quals?

  • What are responsibilities of TAs like?

  • Would any of my master's coursework transfer?

  • How is your lab organized?

  • What collaboration goes on? Within/between labs, departments, other schools?

  • How would you compare this program to X and Y?

  • Is there funding available for attending things like conferences or summer schools?

  • Do you have lab/group meetings? What do you discuss? (papers, research in progress)

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