What to Ask About Grad School

Ask the graduate department

  • What are the academic regulations/ requirements for graduating? 
  • What percentage of the students pass the qualifying exams the first time? How many chances are there? 
  • What percentage of the students do not go beyond a masters degree? 
  • What is the average time to ·obtain a Ph.D.? 
  • How many students will be in my entering class? 
  • When (and how) do you choose your advisor? How difficult is it to switch advisors after, say, a year? 
  • Who selects the dissertation committee? 
  • Is the support offered in the form of a teaching or research assistantship? How much is the stipend? 
  • How many working hours per week is expected for a TA or RA? Is the stipend enough to live on in that area? 
  • Are you guaranteed support for the entire time, or is it on a year by year basis? If it is year by year, what would disqualify you? 
  • Is there a teaching requirement? How are teaching assignments made (lottery or choice)? 
  • What sort of computing facilities do they have? Do they have easy access to electronic mail? 
  • What are their provisions for housing, day care, health insurance, etc.?

Ask current graduate students

  • Do the students have enough time for a social life? Is the type of social life you desire available?
  • What are the environs like? Do you like them? 
  • What is the academic social environment like? For example, do students work together? 
  • How well does the faculty treat graduate students? 
  • Do graduate students have access to athletic and other university facilities? Is there a graduate student organization? 
  • Are the provisions for housing, health insurance, etc. adequate? 
  • Is the atmosphere highly competitive?
  • Do most of the students like working with their research advisor? 

Before choosing an advisor

  • What is the average time for a student to finish a Ph.D. with that advisor? How frequently is the advisor available? 
  • How much monetary support is there for research? 
  • How independent is the research of the students?
  • Do the students present their work at national conferences? Who pays for attending such conferences? 
  • Does the advisor take an active role in placing her/his students? Do students go into industry or academia? 

Specific issues for women

  • Does your advisor give you a thesis problem or do you find your own? 
  • Is your prospective advisor sensitive to women's issues? 
  • It has been said: "Do not go to a place where there are no female faculty." 
  • Talk to female graduate students in the department!!! 
  • Do they have women's support groups? What do they do? Do they have one specific to your field? Is there a women's center? 

Helpful hints

  • Choose a research area that you are interested in. However, still choose an advisor with whom you get along! 
  • Choose an advisor with broad research interests. 
  • Your advisor should be willing to help you get through in a timely manner, i.e., assist you with meeting the deadlines for preliminary exams, proposal preparation, and dissertation. 
  • Attend research seminars offered at your university and annual meetings of professional organizations. 
  • Participate in drafting grant proposals so you will know how to write successful ones. 
  • Make an effort to present your work at departmental, institutional, and professional meetings. 

Adapted from Graduate School in Science and Engineering: Tips For Students and Faculty by Marsha Lakes Matyas.