Over the past month or so, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to several prospective students interested in joining my research lab as well as prospective students who attended the psychology department open house. There is a lot of information out there about how to select graduate schools and programs, but somewhat less on how to decide where to go once you get in (though this post by Dr. Mumby is worth a read). I wanted to share some of the FAQs that I fielded this season and some things that might help you with your decision.
- Supervision – It’s likely that you looked at potential supervisors when figuring out which schools to apply to. Now is the time to get a feel for what they’re really like – talk to them face-to-face (or on Skype) and reach out to as many of their students as you can. Be sure to ask about common issues, such as the nature of the research (e.g., do students come up with their own projects? what’s the potential for collaboration?), how conflict is resolved, and authorship issues. One potential student relayed some excellent advice – remember that you are applying to a supervisor first and the program second. This relationship will be central to your quality of life and your ultimate success or failure – don’t underestimate it!
- Departmental culture – If you have the opportunity to visit potential campuses and departments and mingle with current students, I would highly recommend it. Remember that you’ll be locked in close quarters with these people for many years to come, so interpersonal factors are important. I’ve met several students who were certain they were not interested in Windsor but changed their mind after meeting the students and getting to know the department firsthand.
- Relationships – What if you’re in a relationship and would have to leave to pursue your degree? This is a big one. It came up multiple times and I remember that this was a concern for me as well when I was deciding whether to look at schools that were out of town. Sage advice given by colleague Mia was that during her time in the program she’s seen couples that were in the same city break up and those that were doing long distance make it work. Nothing is certain but entering a grad program is a major decision and one you should make for yourself.
- Career goals – Think about why you’re interested in the MA or PhD, what career path are you looking to take? Different types of careers will require different types of experiences, some of which could be hard to get in certain programs. For example, if you want to work in applied settings as a consultant, you might ask students if there are opportunities to collaborate with community organizations. This info likely won’t be readily available on the department’s website, so reach out to current and former students and do some online snooping!
A final thought – if you are in the position of deciding which school to attend out of multiple offers – congrats! And good luck!