If you want to do a research-focused graduate degree (Thesis MS or PhD), it is critical that you find the mentor and a good situation for your professional development. Do not start a graduate degree program at an institution out of convenience. You should be careful and strategic. In a separate post, I argue that the most important element to your success in graduate school finding a good match with your mentor (LINK).
Here I aim to provide a list of helpful questions. I would recommend actually having these in a little notebook while on campus on your visit, so that you don’t forget. Clearly you want to look for a match in your scientific interests and see if you are a good fit for the community and the personality of the mentor (see related post- LINK). You do not want to START the conversation with these! Match is the most important issue at hand. However, you really need answers to these practical questions at some point along the way. If you are looking for a PhD program, it would be a good idea to talk to both the potential mentor and the “Graduate Chair” and see if you can get good answers to these:
Questions to ask your potential new graduate mentor
- Is there a tuition waiver associated with being a grad. student?
- Is there a stipend? What is the stipend amount?
- Who pays for health care? What is the health care like? Are rates likely to change soon?
- Are there fees besides tuition that are not covered in a waiver?
- What is the required course load for graduate students? How many classes do you have to take and what are the required classes?
- Are there TA or other duties associated with the position? Are there other departmental activities that are expected of students beyond what is part of the TA/GA? What is the hourly load each week?
- What is the source of funding to pay for research equipment, supplies and travel?
- How much travel funding does the department have? Will they pay for you to travel to meetings?
- How do I contact current students in the lab? From the program?
- How do I contact lab alumni? Program alumni?
Many of these questions are practical and you really should not agree to join a lab as a graduate student until you have the answers. I would urge you to be really contentious about pursuing the last two. Talk to current students in the labs that you are interested in. Find out about their experiences. If you visit campus and there are current students in the lab, and no time is set up to talk to them then you should view this as a potential “red flag.” Because, why?? And, find students who recently graduated from the labs you are interested in. What are they doing now? Are they working? Alumni are a key indicator of how things will work our for you.
See other posts in the Path to Grad School series here: LINK