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Advice pls: Current grad student outreach


hopefulPhD2017
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Anyone have any advice for chatting with current grad students after the application is already turned in? I applied for fall 2017 PhD programs last month and can expect to get news starting in January. While I haven't gotten any official acceptances or rejections yet, I have a Skype chat set up with a current doctoral student; they reached out to me. Is this typical? Besides trying to evaluate whether this is a good sign of potential acceptance, I'm also curious: what are the top five questions you'd ask of a current student in one of your top program choices? Thanks! 

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It's a good sign, yes. No one would bother reaching out to you if they weren't considering accepting you. Depending on whether the student is in your field and the setup of the program, you might ask e.g. about what happens in the first year, how you get started with research, whether this student collaborates with others and in general if there are such options, if students get to pick their own research topics or if those get suggested by professors, if it's possible to take classes in other departments or nearby schools; and on the social side where people tend to live and about the social life in the department - are there parties? Do people meet up after hour to hang out? What do people do over the summer? Does the stipend suffice or to people need to work or live far out or with lots or roommates? In general, I'd just ask the student about their research and how they're enjoying the program and their relationship with their advisor, and the rest of the stuff I mention above will follow one way or another. You don't need to ask it all, pick some questions depending on how the conversation develops. Also be prepared to say something about yourself and your interests, because you will definitely get asked about that. You might also get asked what other schools you're considering, so don't get caught off guard. 

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14 hours ago, hopefulPhD2017 said:

Anyone have any advice for chatting with current grad students after the application is already turned in? I applied for fall 2017 PhD programs last month and can expect to get news starting in January. While I haven't gotten any official acceptances or rejections yet, I have a Skype chat set up with a current doctoral student; they reached out to me. Is this typical? Besides trying to evaluate whether this is a good sign of potential acceptance, I'm also curious: what are the top five questions you'd ask of a current student in one of your top program choices? Thanks! 

I think it's a great opportunity for you to find out more about your POI(s). Apart from his research, how is he/she as a guide/mentor? Are there any personal traits that could be tricky? How long do people in the lab typically take to finish their PhDs? This person could also connect you with somebody who is in the POI's lab, if he/she doesn't directly work with him/her.

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23 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

It's a good sign, yes. No one would bother reaching out to you if they weren't considering accepting you. Depending on whether the student is in your field and the setup of the program, you might ask e.g. about what happens in the first year, how you get started with research, whether this student collaborates with others and in general if there are such options, if students get to pick their own research topics or if those get suggested by professors, if it's possible to take classes in other departments or nearby schools; and on the social side where people tend to live and about the social life in the department - are there parties? Do people meet up after hour to hang out? What do people do over the summer? Does the stipend suffice or to people need to work or live far out or with lots or roommates? In general, I'd just ask the student about their research and how they're enjoying the program and their relationship with their advisor, and the rest of the stuff I mention above will follow one way or another. You don't need to ask it all, pick some questions depending on how the conversation develops. Also be prepared to say something about yourself and your interests, because you will definitely get asked about that. You might also get asked what other schools you're considering, so don't get caught off guard. 

Thanks @fuzzylogician! Lots of great points and advice. I'm making a list and adding these to it. Appreciate you warning me--I was already asked that by a POI and it did catch me off guard. Now I'll be ready!

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9 hours ago, Forest Owlet said:

I think it's a great opportunity for you to find out more about your POI(s). Apart from his research, how is he/she as a guide/mentor? Are there any personal traits that could be tricky? How long do people in the lab typically take to finish their PhDs? This person could also connect you with somebody who is in the POI's lab, if he/she doesn't directly work with him/her.

@Forest Owlet, I'm absolutely going back to grad school for the mentorship so that's a great way to phrase it. Appreciate your response!

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16 hours ago, DBear said:

I think I'd ask how often students get to go to conferences (ie, does the program offer enough travel funding for or will you have to fight tooth and nail for this kind of thing)

Good luck! 

@DBear Excellebt point and not something I have experience with so I wouldn't have thought ask. Thanks! Love this forum and feeling much calmer about the chat. 

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@hopefulPhD2017 I'm literally laying here willing a school to send me something ANYTHING indicating that I don't suck. I'm the only person I know applying to phd programs, I'm the first in my immediate family to get a bachelors and I'm getting my MSW now and so I'm literally reading threads from 2014 trying to figure out what my chances are and it's depressing.

 

I want ice cream.

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@PhDorBUST I'm also the only person in my real life applying to PhD programs. Most people think I'm insane. Literally two of my cousins yesterday said, "ugh. I finished my bachelors and was done." "Same here!" Second cousin chortled. I did not know how to respond. 

I do have a handful of friends with PhDs, and some in my family too, so I'm not a total lone wolf. It's awesome that you're the first in your fam to finish higher ed--I hope they're really proud of you! 

I laughed because I've gone as far back as 2012 on these threads. 2014? Child's play. Plus, I've already had a DQ milkshake today. Catch up!!

I myself am terrified of rejection and that's one reason why I've never applied for anything so competitive before. I hear you about not sucking.

 

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Just wanted to update everyone who stepped in and offered advice. I talked to a current grad student for about an hour last week. The time flew! I got a great sense of her experience there. What I wasn't prepared for was the very specific questions about my research interests, etc., as it felt like an interview, which in a way I guess it was.

I enjoyed talking to a current graduate student and have a much better sense now of what I might want in a potential program, and am now ready for more conversations soon (hopefully). Thanks again for everyone's help. I am glad I stumbled upon this community by Googling "what do do while waiting to hear back from graduate school."

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