A great many top US physics PhD programs have canceled their open houses with no plan to reschedule.

Some are intended on running "virtual open houses." Other's are just sending links to information that could be found on the internet regarding their program.

Is the April 15th requirement of a decision regarding accepting grad school offers of admission still ethical?

Is it reasonable to propose that April 15th be moved a month or two later?

A STEM PhD could take anywhere from 4-7 years in the US. That is a non-trivial amount of your life.

  • Hopefully many of these programs will find some alternative. But you aren't forced to make a decision. Or would you rather see it spread faster? – Buffy Mar 10 '20 at 17:32
  • At the same time, delaying the deadline for that decision would impact not only students who got offered admission in the 1st round, but also those who are on a waitlist. I think one would have to weigh the potential effect that could have on both type of students to see whether it could be considered as unethical. – anonymous Mar 10 '20 at 17:32
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    My advisor had his education disrupted by both WWII and by the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Things happen. – Buffy Mar 10 '20 at 17:33
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    What are you asking? If it would be reasonable to contact individual programs and ask them to accept you later, after a visit? Do you want every graduate school in the nation to jointly push back their acceptance deadline? – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 10 '20 at 17:50
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    It does not seem ethical to require students to make this decision without meeting (in person) the PIs at these institutions they intend to work under. One of the programs I was accepted to had no visit weekend or in-person interview – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 10 '20 at 19:05
  1. You presumably did some research before deciding on where to apply to in the first place. That research is still valid. Any other contact with the institution(s) and faculty add to that basis of judgement.

  2. You seem to presume that there is one uniquely right answer on your choice, and that getting to that one answer requires attending an open house. Likely, almost any choice could turn out well, or turn out badly, all depending on factors totally divorced from the open house.

  3. Note that many people accept without having been to an open house. So, the decision can be made without going to one.

  4. You seem to presume that actions to reduce the spread of the virus are unethical, something that I would hotly contest.

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    1 &2) Good point. On paper I know all the PIs whom I would like to work with. However, this is only the primary factor. What about city, the personality of the PIs and potential future peers? 3) This is very true. My biased domestic status totally took me out of knowledge about international students not being able to get into the country for VISA issues which I've learned this year as I'm abroad at the moment. 4) I do not say the action of canceling the open house is unethical. I say keeping the April 15th deadline is. – Lopey Tall Mar 10 '20 at 18:20

If you care greatly about meeting the PIs, you can perhaps visit the institutions without an official open house, and coordinate meetings with faculty there with a few emails, for those programs who do not forbid such personal visits. For others, you could schedule video chat interviews with the PIs you are interested in meeting. It won’t teach you about what life looks like in the town where the university is located and other things that you want to know, but it’s something.

So yes, it is ethical. Not to mention that holding the open house and contributing to the public health crisis has its own (likely much more serious) ethical implications.

Asking for an extension on the deadline also sounds reasonable, and certainly cannot hurt. I advise you not to impugn people’s ethics when making such a request though.

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    Campuses are certainly closing – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 10 '20 at 20:10
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    @AzorAhai then OP can request a skype conversation with the PIs they are interested in meeting. Also, for now my understanding that some campuses have canceled classes, but that does not mean the campus is closed and no one is showing up to work in their offices. You do make a good point that a complete campus closure may occur and will make a physical campus/department visit impractical. – Dan Romik Mar 10 '20 at 20:16
  • As @AzorAhai says, the coordinators explicitly forbid personal visits. – Lopey Tall Mar 10 '20 at 20:44
  • @LopeyTall understood - edited the answer. – Dan Romik Mar 10 '20 at 20:47
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    Actually an open house will tell you less than you think. Everyone is on their best behavior with all the skeletons locked up in the closet. – Buffy Mar 10 '20 at 20:47

Is it reasonable...

It does not seem ethical

I'd ask you to consider this from the perspective of graduate admissions director. Nothing like the COVID-19 situation has happened before, at least in the US within the careers of most faculty. None of us know exactly how bad the situation will get or what exactly will happen. The worries could turn out to be overblown, but they could also turn out to not be overblown.

From their point of view, every possible course of action comes with substantial disadvantages.

I would recommend, first of all, that you try to see this from the perspective of the graduate director. Then, figure out what you want. Do you want to set up Skype meetings with potential PIs, or current grad students? Would you like to ask if the deadline can be postponed, in case visiting first is important to you?

The graduate director might or might not say yes, but it's okay to ask.

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