Grad student recruiting survey

May 09 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Hello current and future grad student and postdoc readers, I have some questions for you!

We have traditionally done pretty well with recruiting, but lately things have waned a bit and we want to know why. We want to improve recruiting in our department, so we can attract more applicants and convince more of them who visit to come to us for their PhDs. We are looking at ways to do this, and I wanted to get some brainstorming feedback from you all out there who are looking, or who have recently looked, for graduate school opportunities. I even created an email address just for this! Please email me (or comment here) with any responses you're willing to share with me: chemicalbilology@gmail.com

1. Where do you look for information about a department? What venues (internet, your current school, your current mentors, conferences, etc.) have been most effective in introducing you to departments that you might not know about otherwise? How important is the department's website in your decision to apply or not apply?

2. What are your top priorities in a grad school department? For example, rank these things (and/or add your own): reputation of department/institution name itself, reputation of PIs and their science, types of grad support available (TAships vs. RAships), length of average graduate student time to PhD, attitudes of current graduate students, exposure to postdocs, friendliness of environment, stipend level, etc...

3. If you were on the fence between two equally solid offers, what kinds of things could the recruiters do or offer to change your mind?

4. On a recruitment visit, what are the most valuable and important parts of the trip? Should there be more time with PIs, or more time with students? How much do social receptions influence your feeling of a department?

5. From afar, who seems more interesting and important to talk to: junior faculty or senior faculty? Do you want to see them give talks about their research, or do you want to spend more time one-on-one?

6. Any other things that stood out as positive or negative from visits you have had, or departments you have looked at (without identifiers please)?

Thank you!! All survey respondents will get a little gold star sticker put on my wall for them! If you don't have a way to answer anonymously by email, please feel free to comment here with your answers. If you do decide to email me, your anonymity will be protected.

19 responses so far

  • Professor in Training says:

    Arlenna: a few of us in our dept have been wondering about the very same questions and I'd love to know the results of your survey if you'd be willing to share them.

  • Arlenna says:

    Sure! I'll be happy to--do you have a bloggy gmail or something?

  • Professor in Training says:

    trainingprofessor [at] gmail [dotty dot] comThanks 🙂

  • Comrade PhysioProf says:

    This is a brilliant idea!!I hope you will share the anonymized results with me, too!

  • Arlenna says:

    Definitely will share with you too CPP! Hey, can all you other bloggers help advertise this thing around for those who don't read mine? TYVM!!

  • Professor in Training says:

    Done!

  • Eugenie says:

    I wandered here from PiT's blog- I'm about to start the grad school search and even though I don't think I can contribute to this survey, your questions are helpful for me to start figuring out what I should look for... thanks!

  • Arlenna says:

    You'll be perfect Eugenie! If you don't mind as you start this process, please let me know how it goes and what you do/don't find useful and helpful out there looking for a god graduate department. There's no deadline for this, so you can send me an email anytime over the summer/into the fall and I will still be interested to hear your experience! 🙂

  • Mrs. CH says:

    I saw this on PiT's blog and think it's an excellent idea! I'll send you my survey - will you be posting the results somehow?

  • Arlenna says:

    Yeah, I think I will post a result summary--I might ask permission to use some anonymized quotes, too, I'll email respondents if I decide to do that.

  • EcoGeoFemme says:

    I'll share the experience of another student because I think it's illustrative. He was looking for a new master's program, leaving a school after one year because his extremely big cheese advisor wasn't around enough. So he was primarily looking for a better fit with a new advisor. He got offers from two schools, one that was highly ranked for our subdiscipline, and ours which is good, but not awesome. He chose our lab because he would have had to pay tuition at the other one. At our school, he had to TA most semesters, but got a stipend and did not pay tuition. I think he was happy with our lab, but maybe would have chosen the other if the money had been equal.The money was really important for me too when I was looking. When you are making so little, a difference of a couple thousand dollars or the same pay in locations with different costs of living makes a big difference. It came down to two schools, but when I got a fellowship at the one there was no contest. However, I really preferred the project and advisors at the fellowship school as well, so there were many other factors besides money. I should say that in my field, TAing is the default funding. Most student TA unless they get a fellowship or have a well funded advisor who pays them some semesters.All that said, I mostly wanted an interesting project with a lab where I thought I would fit.

  • Eugenie says:

    Arlenna: thats a good idea, I'll definitely follow up once I figure out how I'm going to attack everything... Also, I'll point my boyfriend (Theo) who just completed the whole process over here....

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    Arlenna - This is great! I'll look forward to the results post. You're more than welcome to quote from my email response if you want.

  • DrFriction says:

    1. The departmental web page is vital. It needs to be up-to-date, easily found from the University web page, and correctly link to each professor's research page. For lesser-known programs, they need to make sure that they're properly listed in various "find a grad school" search engines and lists; nothing beats noticing where quality research in your field of interest is done.2. PI research and reputation, dept. reputation, quality of life (happiness of current grad students), support.3. Each person is different. E.g. being excused from TA-ing wouldn't have impressed me, but an opportunity to select/expand TA responsibilities might have.4. Make sure each person has a reasonable, limited number of PI interviews. These are pointless if more than 3 people talk to a PI at once. For Sr. undergrads, a poster session at the beginning can be very helpful (to adjust, finalize PI interview schedule).5. Jr. faculty may have a tougher time recruiting... poster session gets everyone done simultaneously.6. The grad students need to be involved with the recruit weekend. Encourage them to have a party, give some support, and don't be puritanical about it.

  • biology grad student says:

    1. Faculty at undergrad school helped me decide where to apply. The departmental websites were slightly helpful (or unhelpful) in choosing a particular program at a school. 2. Departmental reputation, reputation of institution itself, PIs that I could see myself working for, friendliness of environment and location of school. Most of the schools I applied to had similar stipend levels and means of support (TA for 1-2 semesters, and the rest of the time guaranteed.) Also all of the advertised times to graduations were similar, although how correct the advertised times were could have been different.3. Not too much, maybe offer a more prestigious fellowship4. Most of my schools had a day of sightseeing with the grad students and then a day or two of interviews/other activities with both the PIs and students. It was a pretty good balance. The dinners with faculty definitely influenced my opinions of the department, as did the interviews. 5. It depends, a mix of both I would say. A couple of talks are interesting, but I preferred either one on one time or less formal time (ie at dinners or lunches).6. How well planned the weekends are and how much free time there is built into the schedule- it's good to have some downtime but several schools had really awkward periods of time with nothing to really do

  • Anonymous says:

    1. I asked about 6 professors at my school for suggestions and started with that, then I looked at US news and world reports for top rankings in programs I was interested in, and looked for cross-high programs, (so schools that were strong in various subfields of biology, in my case). The website is nice, but I'm mostly interested in individual professor's research programs-although I want to see backup, like more than one professor in the subfield doing something I would enjoy, so seeing different professor's work build on each other. 2. I wanted a top 10 department, I wanted at least 2-3 PIs doing good science that I could see myself working for (if only one was in a department it was too risky for me--what if it doesn't work out?), I wanted to do rotations to try out the labs before I joined, I wanted to see that grad students were relatively happy, and that I felt like I'd made a connection with the professors I talked to 1 on 1. 3. I was. Both the schools I (seriously) considered had great rankinngs, several great professors and a great atmosphere. How did I choose? It turned out being small things: one school was really proactive where several professors e-mailed me personally; I got a 4 year fellowship there (which really helps), and the school I chose was very pro-interdisciplinary, where you could take classes from other majors and do internships and things to broaden your horizons; the other wanted you to follow the dotted line and graduate already. So, sort of personal touches. 4. I want time alone with students to ask them (and have them answer, honestly) what they do AND DON'T like about the school/dep't/etc. I want 1 on 1 time with the professors I'm interested in to talk about reasearch, and if they show me the lab and let me meet people it's a plus. I like poster sessions, where I can browse around and talk to people, but formal dinners are a little uncomfortable. So, low-structured events are nice. 5. Whether junior or senior faculty, I wanted someone who would have time for me (smaller lab, less than 20 people): what's the point in working for super famous professor if you only ever talk with the post docs? I wanted to have the opportunity for mentoring. One on one talks are great--if I'm interested enough to talk to them (or ask to) one on one, I shouldn't need a powerpoint spiel. 6. I LOVED interviewing weekends. How often in your life (as a student, anyway) are you allowed to go on all-expense paid vacations to talk with the smarted people in your area of study and see what the city has to offer? Talk about cool!

  • quietandsmalladventures says:

    1. the departmental website was vital. i wanted to know what coursework was preordained and which electives i could choose to add. most importantly, i wanted to go thru all the faculty's research interests and figure out who had projects i'd be interested in. broken links, no description of the lab interests really frustrated me. my goal was to find a lab doing interesting research where i wasn't just slogging along at something that didn't interest me.2. the money was important but not a deal breaker. that being said i had equal offers and chose the smaller (less prestigious) school in the less expensive city because of the breadth of research which gave me better opportunities to diversify my knowledge.3. i had a less than great relationship with my adviser during my master's program, so fit was very important. 4. going into interviews, i liked that i could choose 3 PI's to talk to. i went into them knowing who's labs i was interested in and who's research i wasn't. that being said, one my interviews got me interested in her research by being very enthusiastic even though i didn't think i'd like her subject.5. the best thing you can do as faculty is be interested in the interviewees and be enthusiastic about your research. most of us wouldn't have applied to the program if there weren't aspects that we liked.

  • Miss Outlier says:

    I answered your questions and I unfortunately got a little lengthy (sorry), so they're over at my blog.http://three-sigma.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-arlennas-blog-theres-post-up-about.htmlI'm in mechanical engineering; I hope my responses are helpful!

  • reticent says:

    1. The department website was very important, as well as the Lab's website and email communication with potential PIs. Websites that have a lot of information including degree requirements gave me confidence that the department was organized.2. Number 1 priority was research fit- having a PI that does interesting research that I got along with personally. Number 2 was location- I have extenuating factors that limit me geographically. Number 3 was stipend- the place I live is expensive. Number 4: did the grad students seem (relatively) happy?3. I did end up deciding between two equally solid places. What could have helped would be additional money- I had my own substantial fellowship so felt I wasn't costing the school very much and if they wanted me to come they could have made some sort of token stipend increase that would have let me know my efforts to get the fellowship were appreciated! My final decision came down to which PI I wanted to work with.4. I liked talking to current students- a mix and even some (mildly) disgruntled ones to see that the ones that I did talk to were not just pretending everything was awesome. Talking to potential PIs was also very important for figuring out if we would be a good match.5. I would probably not want to see too many research talks- if I applied that means I know who I want to work with and what their research is! It can be good to see that there are other good PIs at the school though. Thinking back at one of the recruiting trips there was one faculty talk that stood out, both because it was interesting research and because I got to see a dynamic female PI. I don't care much about senior vs. junior faculty, I care who is doing interesting work (though if I only saw junior or senior faculty I might think something was up).6. Positive: food with current students off campus, possibly with alcohol (good for encouraging honesty and warm feelings!). The school I did end up choosing I got a lot of personal attention from the PI, including concrete details about the project I would be working on and prompt emails answering my questions (though I probably needed more attention than most recruits as I needed some logistical things hammered out). Negative: large gaps in the schedule- though some gaps can be good for gathering thoughts or talking to people that weren't on the schedule. Cranky professors or professors that weren't sure why they were talking to me.

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