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I realize this question may not have an explicit answer - if so I will remove promptly as per guidelines.

I have an upcoming visit to my top-choice program where I will be meeting potential committee members and the grad program director. I am very nervous.

Details about the visit itself:

  • morning breakfast with committee member
  • lunch with other grad students
  • several meetings with different professors/grad program director
  • last meeting is with primary supervisor

Suggestions can be more structured around the following considerations:

  • how can I stop freaking out
  • do i need to sell myself 100% of the time, or try to be more amicable

This isn't an official interview (app isn't due for a couple months) but I've been talking with several profs in the department for a while.

  • 1
    Is this leading to grad study or a faculty position (or postdoc)? – Buffy Oct 1 '18 at 20:18
  • 1
    Also, if it is for grad study, is it a lab science where you would work directly with the other grad students? – Buffy Oct 1 '18 at 20:21
  • This is for a new PhD position. It is for a lab-based group where I would be entering a shared work space for the grad students of 2 professors. – Reputable Misnomer Oct 1 '18 at 20:41
  • This is bad advice because I know how unhelpful it is... but you really do just have to be yourself and learn what calming techniques work for you. – astronat Oct 1 '18 at 20:51
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First, you are probably new at this so freaking out is pretty natural. If you'd done it ten or so times, it would feel pretty natural. Actually, a bit of physical exercise can help you calm your mind. Coffee, not so much.

But, more seriously, I think you need to be pretty natural. You will be a colleague and people will want to be able to work with you and so, to be comfortable with you. It needn't be all technical either. "Anyone here play handball?"

But you also need to demonstrate that you are suited for the environment. People will look to you for ideas, of course, so you need to be able to answer questions both about yourself and about the field/research that is going on.

But, it is also wise not to come on too strong in the beginning. People have their ways of doing things. If you are "too helpful" you may be hurting yourself as in "Who is this guy?". So save any suggestions you might have for "improvement" in the lab for a later time.

I once made the mistake of giving too much advice in a new employment situation and it was resented, as I learned later. Whether it was the right advice or not wasn't important.

Probably the best thing you can do is express a lot of interest in what is going on. But each meeting will be a bit different. If "selling" is needed it will be more likely useful with the supervisor. Be positive in all things. "How do you see yourself fitting in with these people?"

You might also be prepared for surprises. Can you give an impromptu talk on your prior research?

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SELLING (last bullet):

In converse to a job (where this really would be an interview), this is mostly about you learning and I doubt they will file reports and have a decision meeting (as they would for a formal job interview visit). Most of the decision will be based on your application. Of course, it would be good to avoid looking bad and to look good (to benefit yourself), realize that most of the decision will be done based on your written application.

Just come across as pleasant and interested in the topics. Treat it like a date. Get the people to talk about themselves.

FREAKING (second to last bullet):

Enjoy yourself. Don't be completely loosey goosey. But at the same time, realize this is a learning opportunity regardless if you get the gig or not, regardless if you decide to go to the school. The most fun part of the learning curve is the steepest part and that is when you are most ignorant. Any day one onsite visit (job interview, job start, consulting study) has the benefit of a rush of new info. Realize that and enjoy that you are collecting intel and learning.

Have some idea what you want to know (make a written list). But also be open to learning new unexpected things good and bad. E.g. "mugging is overemphasized at University of Chicago--it only happened to me once." was a statement that dropped the place for me and I wasn't even aware of the neighborhood issue prior. So any "plant tour" should BOTH involve planning and answering pre-set questions AND be open to new findings where you didn't even know the question to ask.

P.s. I am aware that the OP has already succeeded (and maybe was a bit of a superstar but who worried too much) but am responding to all the other people that read from searches.

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