Saturday, 17 March 2012

The (Invited) Grad School Visit

Since I returned recently from an invited grad school visit (and I’ve organized a few visits for philosophy grad students before), I thought it would be interesting to talk about what you should expect, should your philosopher be in the same situation.

So, let’s say that your philosopher was just accepted into a grad program (or several!) and was invited to visit the department. It is the season for such things, after all. What sorts of things should you expect to occur at such department visits?

[Note: This information does not apply to potential grad students who decide, on their own, to just go and visit a program before they apply. Departments will not wine and dine someone, nor will they pay for travel expenses or make much of an effort unless they have already accepted this person into a program. This is not like an undergraduate campus visit].

1. Much wooing.

One of the most difficult mental things to handle (in my opinion) is to switch gears from being the applicant to being the pursued. As an applicant, your philosopher had to try—on several levels—to impress the socks off an admissions committee. Your philosopher was just competing with hundreds of other qualified applicants for only a few positions. Now, all of a sudden, the tides have changed and your philosopher has become the pursued.

Departments will likely treat your philosopher to the best restaurants, alcohol, and very nice hotels. They will inundate your philosopher with meetings with their star grad students and professors. Your philosopher may even receive regular phone calls from a certain professor with whom they particularly want to work.

For you, one of the best parts about this is that if you go along with your philosopher on this visit (as a spouse or partner), you will also be treated to some of the wining and dining. The department will likely not pay for your travel expenses, but they will try to treat you well once you get there, as you might have some influence on your philosopher.

Now, it may seem from this description that the department is being a bot dishonest by only showing your philosopher the best of everything. This is true; they are being somewhat dishonest. Encourage your philosopher to ask the grad students serious questions at vulnerable times (after there has been some drinking, for example) so as to get a better idea of the “truth” about a program.

2. Information overload

Your philosopher is going to be absolutely bombarded with information on this grad school visit. Here are some methods that I used to help me stay focused and not feel too overwhelmed:

- Make a list of questions beforehand (I noted on my questions which ones I wanted to ask of which groups of people in certain situations).
- Take notes (during presentations, when speaking with people one-on-one, at all times!)
- Review these notes at the end of each day or at breaks (there will be very few breaks during a day, though)

Really, with these methods I avoided feeling too rushed and tired (while all of the other grads visiting at the same time as me were definitely exhausted at the end of each day). Be willing to talk over each day’s information with your philosopher, but understand if they are just too tired to talk, too!

3. Interest over-sharing

Your philosopher will probably have to explain her/his interest areas to professors and grad students about 100 times every day of the visit. Seriously. By the end of my visit I wondered why we were not given placards with our interests to hang around our necks the whole time.

Your philosopher will be tired of talking.

4. A tour of the living areas of the city

You and/or your philosopher can almost always find someone in a grad program to give you a tour of the area, and they will have opinions about the best places to live. Take advantage of these sorts of opportunities! Grad students especially have figured out what sorts of cheap places are good or bad to live in. Take notes so that you can have some sort of idea of where you might want to/not want to live if your philosopher chooses to attend this program.

For those of you who have never had to try and find an apartment in a college town before: it is very tricky to figure out where to live in such places. Apartments know that they can charge high rents in areas close to campus because undergrads will live there—regardless of how yucky they are. Most universities have some sort of system of transportation that can enable you to live farther away from the campus. This is why asking current grad students about apartment living conditions in the area is so important, though, because they will know the best and worst places to live in town (and they will know which units are not favored by undergraduates, which are the quietest, and which are not infested with roaches!).

As a note: In my experience, grad student housing is almost always not worth it. GSH will be overpriced, boring (like living in a dorm room), and cheaply thrown together.

I hope this guide helps you and your philosopher as you begin to receive invitations to visit grad programs. I wish all of you well in this admissions season!

~The Philosiologist

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  1. I think this is good advice. It's been 5 years now that I did the grad school visits, and it was really weird to suddenly be treated like a star. A couple more pieces of advice: I turned down a couple of offers because the funding seemed insufficient. Going where the money is is not a bad thing, especially if you don't have parents that can help you out if you're suddenly faced with a high bill from your dentist, etc.
    Also, even though all the questioning and note-taking is good: check your gut feeling. Does the environment and the people make you feel comfortable?

  2. It's always a good idea to find out what the level of grad student interaction is, too. If you walk in to a department where the grads don't hang out together it may be indicative of an unhealthy environment. Perhaps one in which the students have to constantly compete with one another for funding.

    Sometimes "competitive funding" means that their levels of funding are at or above the general level of other school's funding. Sometimes it means that you have to fight your colleagues for your funding each year.

  3. Have you stopped updating this blog? I miss your posts!

    1. Ditto!! Has life transformed and evolved to the point where time no longer permits your creation of splendid and enjoyable posts? Hope all is well, and all the best!!

  4. But really though, where are you?

  5. I am in grad school myself (not in philosophy, though), which has kept me very preoccupied.

  6. I know you are in grad school and very busy, but I just wanted to let you know that I am very grateful for your blog. It has given me a lot of insight into my husband and our relationship.

  7. No more writing? :C