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I am currently in the process of applying for a PhD programme. I have sent off my application and it has been deemed satisfactory from an academic standpoint i.e. my degree transcript and CV. I am now only waiting for the awarding of a studentship (funding) from the college I have applied to. Last week, I received an e-mail from my potential supervisor inviting myself to have a tour of the college, visit their research group and to have lunch. I suppose the purpose of this invitation could be to:

1) Give my potential supervisor an opportunity to assess my feasibility to undertake a PhD under their supervision or

2) Give my potential supervisor an opportunity to persuade me to accept a PhD offer.

Is it safe to assume that the decision regarding the awarding of funding from the college is all but guaranteed to be successful?

closed as primarily opinion-based by padawan, scaaahu, user2390246, Enthusiastic Engineer, D.W. Apr 26 '17 at 1:00

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Never assume anything is guaranteed until it is in writing. – Compass Apr 24 '17 at 20:10
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    I went to lunch assuming it was aim 1 and by the end realised it was closer to 2, but more of a 'help you to want to accept an offer, if they are able to make one'. – Jessica B Apr 25 '17 at 6:22
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    Here's a crazy suggestion. Why don't you go to the meeting with an open mind and be honest with your potential supervisor. You are happy to meet them and you are curious as to what the next steps could potentially be. – Armada Apr 25 '17 at 12:15
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    Your transcript and CV show how much functionality your brain has. Your potential supervisor wants to check that the rest of you can also function at a reasonably "normal" human level - after all, you are going to be working together for several years! – alephzero Apr 25 '17 at 15:25
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    Maybe they just want to show you around the lab, introduce you to their research group, and take you to lunch. – JeffE Apr 25 '17 at 19:30
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No one can really know what the exact motive is of the professor. However, if he or she is willing to take time to meet with you (especially for lunch, which means the person is also investing money into your meeting), I imagine that the program is able and willing to provide you with support and he or she is assessing your fit to work together.

Be aware that this could be something of an interview where he or she is assessing a few applicants to see which one is best suited for working on their project. Therefore, I urge that you to prepare for the lunch as you would any other type of academic interview (e.g. review some recent work of this faculty member, prepare questions ahead of time for him or her). When I applied to my PhD program years ago, one faculty member invited me to meet with her, but ultimately chose another applicant to work on her project. I received support from another faculty member to work on a different project, but the invitation to meet by the initial faculty member did not indicate a guarantee. Best of luck!

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    "especially for lunch, which means the person is also investing money into your meeting" - that's not actually clear to me from the question. This depends a lot on the culture; at least in my country, asking someone to come along for lunch while on campus does not imply paying for them. Based upon the information provided by the OP so far, I do consider it most likely the potential supervisor simply wants the OP to join the usual team lunch rather than setting up a special lunch event for the OP that would not happen otherwise. That also means the money investment may well ... – O. R. Mapper Apr 24 '17 at 16:16
  • ... be minimal at university lunchroom prices, not comparable to a "formal lunch" in a public restaurant. – O. R. Mapper Apr 24 '17 at 16:17
  • @O.R.Mapper, It's true that is not clear from the question, but even if the person purchases their own lunch or doesn't invite the person to lunch at a public restaurant, they still are investing money into the meeting, which (to me) signifies that it has elevated importance. I meet with a lot of graduate students, but I don't go to l lunch with many of them. – Nicole Ruggiano Apr 24 '17 at 16:38
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    @Tim: Again, this depends on location and field: In applied CS in Germany, I'd say that a tie is always unnecessary (in the sense that it makes you seem disconnected from academic culture) unless it's the doctoral defense day or one is interviewing for a postdoc position or higher. The only exception would probably be some very traditional professors that prefer some additional formality. – O. R. Mapper Apr 24 '17 at 18:08
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    @O.R.Mapper Even for a postdoctoral interview the tie would be overkill. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 25 '17 at 13:38
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Both motivations are possible, but there is a third one that's more likely: To give you an opportunity to meet your prospective supervisor and your colleagues, to show you the campus, and so you get to know the town. This helps you both to make an informed decision and decreases the likelihood that you will regret your decision to become a PhD student at this university and bail after arrangements have already been made.

If you feel insecure whether the lunch and campus tour is actually a job interview, you can just ask your prospective supervisor (in an email) whether you should prepare for the meeting.

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    I would be careful about how to phrase the question, "Should I prepare for our meeting?" so that it doesn't look like you don't value the significance of this invitation and the person's time/effort. @Tim, if you want to ask about preparing for the meeting, make it something specific, such as, "Do you have any suggestions for specific readings that would help me prepare for our discussions about your current work?" Hence, the question is "What should I prepare," rather than "Should I prepare at all?" – Nicole Ruggiano Apr 24 '17 at 16:08
  • @NicoleRuggiano I agree. – henning Apr 24 '17 at 16:11
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    It absolutely is a job interview, so yes, one should be prepared! – Jon Custer Apr 24 '17 at 18:49
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Both.

Or rather, if (1) works out, then (2), plus (1.5): to see if you get along professionally.

The professor wants to have someone in their lab who is a good fit and has a good chance of success in the lab. Having lunch with you and giving you a chance to meet your potential future colleagues is an opportunity for them to see how you would fit there, as well as for you to see how you would fit there. Essentially, this is a job interview, so prepare appropriately (though I wouldn't expect silly job interview questions: just a conversation about shared research interests - after all, that's why you are applying to grad school in the first place!).

In this situation, you should be both demonstrating your suitability for the position and evaluating whether the position is a good fit for you. In other words, your goals should be exactly the same as the professor's.

As a side note, if you are someone who experiences a bit of "imposter syndrome" or just get particularly nervous in situations like this, it is definitely okay to internalize that this professor is willing to take some time for you and that is a positive thing, if that makes you feel better and less nervous. What you should not do is take this meeting as a sign that you are "in" and not be prepared to make a good impression.

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Your potential supervisor is not hiring a CV or an application form: he's hiring an actual person. Believe it or not, research in general and graduate work in particular is usually done by humans, often interacting with other humans. If you constantly toy with your cell phone during your visit, you can bet you will never receive an offer of admission.

Pro tip: better start reading the latest papers of this research lab. And don't forget them home when you visit.

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Meeting with the group and having lunch (and perhaps drinks) is a standard part of an academic interview. If and when you'll be looking for a postdoc, this will also include you giving a talk. As any interview, it is a chance for both you and your potential supervisor to understand if you wish to work together (and also to present yourselves in a good way). The fact that they invite you means that you're shortlisted for something (maybe, for the funding that this person has), but there may be other shortlisted candidates as well.

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I think it would be presumptuous/foolhardy on our part to impute such motives on the prof. The Prof is just following standard process in inviting you to a lunch and the courtesy will be extended to all candidates. It is likely part of the process to show the candidates that when it comes to comparing apples to apples, this university is well provided and would not be a pushover for your graces.

Additionally it might be part of the process to shower you with illusions of illustrious tradition, better than brand advertised, or that their professor is personally the best to get along with and were you good enough with him (without it being evaluative). He may be allowed to make a few personal judgements about you more in the nature of assumptive inferences, but then he should probably leave that for the interview/second interview.

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