Congratulations! You have almost completed the graduate application season! You have your offers in hand and now all of the remaining decisions are yours. Exciting! You learned a lot about your options during your interview but now you may have some remaining questions. Here, I outline the final things you should ask before making the choice of where to go to graduate school. I have highlighted some of these considerations in previous posts, but I want to emphasize their importance.
First, one new piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to go back to the programs you have received offers from and ask additional questions. Since you’ve been offered admission, these programs want you to join! Nothing you ask at this point will be burdensome or a bother, and the institutions you are choosing between would like to help you understand your options. Make sure you fully explore any unanswered questions before selecting your graduate program.
Yes, picking the right graduate program is a big decision. However, in my opinion, your thesis lab choice is actually more important. Because of this, you should make sure that there are several labs of interest to you in the program that you choose. This is the best way to ensure you will find a lab that is accepting students, doing science you are interested in, and mentoring students in the best style for you. If there are only a few labs doing the science you’d like, make sure you have checked to see if these labs may be open to rotation students. Keep in mind that some labs may not know if they will be open so far in advance, but it is worth educating yourself so that you are making an informed decision about real possible lab choices.
You’ve been on recruiting weekends and have gotten the low-down on the structure of the programs. While specific requirements can vary among programs, I actually think most of these requirements should not impact your choice. Though it might not seem so, the coursework, qualifying exam, and teaching requirements are all relatively minor aspects of your training. You will receive the majority of your training in your thesis lab. Therefore, in my opinion, the part of the program structure you should pay most attention to is the rotation requirements and selection process. How many rotations are required? Do you have to complete them all? When do you select your rotations? Will you receive guidance on these choices? Make sure that a lot of attention is paid to these choices in the first year of your training!
While your lab choices should be your top priority, make sure you also know about additional support for your research. What core facilities are available? Will you be trained in these techniques? Is there a lot of sharing among labs for specialized equipment? Make sure you can do the experiments that will be important for your thesis project uninhibited. Additionally, the organization of each department is also important. You may likely submit graduate grant applications, so ask about how the administration assists in this process. Most of the time, there are experienced people who help guide you through the requirements and due dates, and this can be of immense support to you.
Feel of the institution
Every program has a different personality, and experiencing this is one of the beautiful things about interview visits. The “feel” of the program includes how friendly the faculty are to trainees, how friendly the faculty are to each other, how much you enjoy the campus, and how much you enjoy the city. While this is not necessarily something you can ask your prospective programs about, make sure you feel at home in the program you choose for your training.
It is becoming more and more common for PhD graduates to pursue careers outside of the traditional choice of running a lab. No matter how sure you are of your long-term goals, I want to encourage you to ensure the institution provides opportunities and support in a multitude of career paths. If this wasn’t discussed during your visit, be sure to reach out and learn more!
There can be a huge number of things that go into making the choice of where to attend graduate school. Overall, you need to make sure you choose the program that is right for YOU! While much of this is a gut decision, make sure it is also a researched choice.