Visiting Schools of Interest

View of Purdue research park

It has become routine for schools to interview prospective graduate students. You should plan to visit as many of your top-rated schools as possible. In some cases, the school will pay some fraction of the travel costs and you should check this out before you arrange your travel. Contact someone at the schools, for example, the potential advisor(s), or the chair of graduate admissions on the campus, to arrange the visit. The best time to visit is during the period after your application has arrived, but before the final decisions on admissions are made. Typically, this period falls between late January and mid-March. Do not delay your visit into April because admission decisions generally have been made by April 15.

During your visit, talk with several faculty who share your research interests. Do some homework before you visit so you are familiar with their recent work and can discuss it with them. Determine if their recent publications accurately reflect the direction of their current and future research. People may change fields and past publications are not always a reliable guide to what is, or will soon be, going on in a lab. Be prepared to talk about your scientific interests and what kind of research you would envision doing as a graduate project. Avoid being too vague ("I’m interested in marine biology") or too specific ("I'm interested in the symbiosis between the purple-spotted jellyfish and juvenile fishes").

This is very important: talk with the graduate students at each school to learn about general aspects of the graduate program, specific pros and cons of the advisor(s) with whom you might work, and the working conditions in the advisor’s laboratory. Are students allowed a high degree of independence in selecting projects? Is the advisor helpful in obtaining research support? Is the advisor generally on campus and available to the student? What is the advisor’s track record in terms of helping students find good postdoctoral opportunities and jobs? Get a feel for the size of the advisor’s laboratory. Some laboratories are huge and the existing "chain of command" may leave graduate students with only minimal contact with the advisor. This does not mean that you will not receive good training, but it may be under the guidance of a postdoctoral worker or a technician. Learn about the community at large. Does the campus have all the facilities you need? How good is the library? What are the living conditions (rents, commuting distances, etc.)? Find out about requirements and opportunities for teaching or research assistantships.

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