25

For the record, I'm visiting the University of Chicago as an accepted PhD student (in the geophysical sciences) next week.

In particular, I'd especially appreciate creative questions that few other visiting students ask.

23

You'll want to get a sense of their feelings for:

  • The graduate program

    • Easy to work with regarding customizing the program to their specific needs (i.e., taking courses outside their specific area if necessary)?

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

    • Have they found the staff easy/hard to work with?

  • The advisor

    • Attitude towards students (respectful/distant/slavedriver)

    • Presence in the lab (micromanager/occasional presence/absentee)

    • How organized is the research?

  • The university as a research institution

    • Easy collaboration between departments (in their opinion)?

    • Availability of course offerings (from their experience)?

  • The city as a place to live

  • Great answer but it's worth mentioning that assessing "how organised the research is" might be pretty tricky. It's a valuable question, certainly, but also one likely to produce a lot of vague and opinionated answers. – posdef May 5 '15 at 11:35
20
  • Talk to current graduate students in your lab (even better, working with your potential adviser!)

    • Ask about their opinion about how the working environment is - what is the working style of your adviser, what is the average time take for a PhD student to graduate from the lab, and where do most of them land up (as eternal postdocs, or tenure-track faculty positions)
  • What is the funding scenario - do most people have to be TA's for an extended period/all throughout, or whether RA grants are available? What about conferences - do students get funding for traveling to important venues?

  • What kind of a social life exists in and around the campus, and what is the cost of living - a Ph.D is a long commitment, and you should remember these "soft" criteria as well, so that you are at least prepared mentally when you enter grad school

I'll expand on my answer as and when other points come to my mind!

6

Few of my favorites are 1) Did anything regarding the school surprise them? 2) Things they wish they had been told when they had visited/started grad school at that school. 3) In retrospect, would they still make the decision to come to that particular school.

2

I want to add three important questions:

  • What have you personally done?
  • What is that you currently work on?
  • How long have you been here?

The best indicator of future performance is past performance. You are likely to be in these graduate students' position in a couple of years' time. How satisfied will you be if you accomplished as much?

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