Good Questions to Ask
These questions are good to keep in mind for people looking for
graduate schools as well as people in the midst of graduate school.
Even though some of these questions are targeted to women,
they are by no means all limited to women.
This document was written from a draft of Graduate School in
Science and Engineering: Tips for Students and Faculty by Marsha
Lakes Matayas, from statements at the Recruiting and Retaining Women
in Physics Conference, held November 2-3, 1990, in Chevy Chase,
Maryland, and from a discussion within Women in Math and Science at
Haverford College. Prepared by
Liese van Zee,
Haverford College '91.
After you're done reading this document, see my
other page on astronomy as a career, etc - there is more information
and advice on grad school in the lower left.
Ask The Graduate Department:
Ask Current Graduate Students:
Talk to current graduate students before you choose an advisor to
Specific Issues for Women:
- What are the academic regulations/requirements
- What percentage of the students pass the
qualifying exams the first time? How many chances are there?
- Are a large percentage of the students
graduating with only a terminal masters degree?
- What is the average time to obtain a Ph.D.?
- 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 as a teaching or as
a research assistantship? How much is the stipend?
- How many working hours per week is
expected for a TA or RA?
- 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?
- What are their provisions for housing,
day care, health insurance, etc.?
- Do different research groups interact? Is
there collaboration within the department or across departments?
- What is the actual time commitment for a TA/RA?
Is the TA/RA stipend enough to live on in that area?
- 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?
- Do graduate students have access to athletic
and other university facilities?
- Is there a graduate student organization?
- Are the provisions for housing, health insurance,
- Do most of the students like working with this
- What is the average time for a Ph.D. in her/his lab?
- How much monetary support is there for research?
- Is the prospective advisor sensitive to women's issues?
- How independent is the research of the students?
- Do the students work together (with other students
and/or the advisor)?
- Is the advisor personally involved in the research?
How frequently is the advisor available?
- 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?
- How quickly does the advisor publish completed work?
- 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?
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,
Your advisor should give you some research freedom;
do not let yourself be a laboratory technician for five (or more) years.
Attend research seminars offered at your university
and annual meetings of professional organizations.
If possible, participate in drafting grant proposals
so you will know how to write successful ones.
Try to cultivate your ``third recommender;'' most
post-doc positions will require three letters of recommendation.
Make an effort to present your work at departmental
and professional meetings.
File translated from TEX by
TTH, version 1.94.
This file was last modified on 24 August 2001.
to Luisa's page on women and/or careers in science