To visit or not visit…that is the question

Hey friends it’s that time again. That’s right you guessed it. It is time for your FREE TIP OF THE DAY.

This week’s FTD is sponsored by our good friend Billy Shakespeare, who was so gracious as to provided us the wonderful existential quote from Hamlet that we’ve slightly modified and made way less morbid. So the time is coming (if not already here) for you to make a decision. You’ve applied and have been offered acceptance to several schools, and now you are making the decision as to whether to visit the school or not. How do you make the decision? Well I’m glad you asked.

The answer depends on several factors. The most important being financial, if you have the money (and time) I’d encourage you to visit as many schools as possible. There is nothing more helpful than to be on campus and to get the feel of the faculty, the city, and the students. But if you don’t have unlimited finances I encourage you to think strategically about where you can afford to go. Some institutions will offer “virtual visits,” take advantage of those visits and if you like what you see. Spend the cash and make the visit.

And this brings me to my FREE TIP OF THE DAY. Some universities have funds available to bring prospective students out for the weekend to visit. I’d encourage you to investigate both the program’s website as well as the university’s graduate school office. Don’t be afraid to call either. Most offices are looking to help you out. Take advantage of it.


To Visit or not to Visit?

So, your grad school applications are in, and now it’s time to anxiously wait to see which schools will invite you to visit their campus. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether you should visit or not:
1) If it is the school of your dreams, of course, VISIT!
2) If it is not the school of your dreams, but it comes close, VISIT!
3) If you got invited to MANY schools, don’t feel pressured to go to all of them (especially if there are time/money constraints). Decide which ones you are REALLY interested in visiting (and it might end up being that you do visit all of them).
4) If you got invited to a FEW (2 or 3) schools, it might be worth it to visit all of them. Even if one of them is your dream school, you should give yourself at least another option to look at.
5) Did you get an early invitation and they want you to make a decision now?– Most likely you want to go ahead and say YES, especially if you are still waiting for others to contact you. Some schools/professors organize early visits so that they get to be the first to meet with you. If they contacted you before anyone else, they most likely really want you.

When you visit, make sure to pay attention to the feel of the department, the happiness of the graduate students, and the community that surrounds the university. Remember that you will be living and working in this place for at least 5 years.

And finally, and most importantly, enjoy the visit. It’s a new place you are visiting, new people you are meeting, and most likely you will be fed lots of free food. If there is one thing form the grad school application process that I would do again, it would be the campus visits 🙂


Should I stay or should I go?

This month we’ll be talking about visiting grad schools – either before or after you apply – and I have a little story to share. Yes, it’s one of those “When I was your age” stories, but bear with me.

When I was applying to grad schools in 2007-2008, I only had three on my list. That’s a small list, but it ended up being sufficient. I was able to plan a single trip that would allow me to visit all three – via three flights and a few hours on a train. Two days before my trip, I was doing lunges in the gym (did this story take a weird turn?) and I dislocated my knee. My kneecap popped off to one side, and a piece of bone chipped off. I went to the hospital, and eventually they put it back in its proper place and told me I should have surgery and cancel my trip.

Seeing the Baltimore Museum of Art... in a wheel chair!

But I didn’t cancel the trip, and I am very glad I made that choice. Visiting schools gives you a perspective that you won’t be able to get via their websites or email. I discovered which departments had a sense of community and which ones had commuting students who spent much less time together. I found out which professors were best aligned with my interests and had compatible personalities. And I found out (and please excuse my personal bias) that a small town in the middle of Indiana was actually a beautiful, dynamic, welcoming place. I might not have given it a chance if I had never visited in person.

So is it important to visit the grad schools on your list? YES! It’s very important. If you’re applying to a PhD program, you might spend the next five to TEN years of your life there, so you better make sure you like it. Should you put your health or safety at risk to make it happen? That’s not the message I want to send. Do what you can, and if circumstances or finances prevent you, put that much more effort into getting to know the school and the people you might be working with.

In closing, I’d like to say: practice good lunge form, and always get a second medical opinion!

Thanksgiving Celebration

For 28 years of my life I spent Thanksgiving with my family in Texas at my grandmother’s house. Last year was the first time I EVER spent Thanksgiving away from home. It was a great experience. This year I did the same. I spent it in Tennessee with my significant other, and we went to this wonderful place call SWIRLS.

It is BYOB painting, and I absolutely love it. They provide you with wine glasses, canvas, and paint. Then during the course of about two hours you they take you step by step through a painting. I constructed the master piece below. The whole session was very relaxing… And this brings me to my FREE TIP OF THE DAY.

The tip for today is take time to relax. The pressures of being a grad student often times can leave you feeling as though you can’t take time for yourself, but you have to. If you don’t your body will break down, and then you will have to stop. That’s all I got for today friends… take care (literally).

Conference Travel Checklist

  • Poster in poster tube if you will present a poster (note: this counts as a carry on)
  • USB where your talk is stored if you are giving a talk
  • Address of your hotel and the conference venue
  • List of people you intend to introduce yourself to at the conference
  • List of economical restaurants near the conference venue
  • List of nice/expensive restaurants (for the one night you want to spoil yourself)
  • List of places nearby that you want to see. In case you have some time to tour the city.
  • One change of clothing for each conference day. Sometimes you can recycle some clothing (a pair of pants or a sports coat). Packing light is key! One extra change is ok, just in case, and maybe an extra pair of comfy shoes (because you will be walking a lot)
  • Granola bars (to keep you going through the long days)
  • Water bottle (to keep hydrated)
  • Cell phone and cell phone charger to contact colleagues for lunch/dinner plans (I always forget my charger!)