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Ingrid J. Paredes is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at New York University. You can find her on Twitter @ingridjoylyn.

For graduate schools across the U.S., February marks the beginning of recruitment season. During this time, newly accepted students visit campuses to learn more about their prospective programs from its faculty and students. While faculty do their best to present research opportunities and the facilities available at a university, it is up to graduate students to provide insight on what it’s like to actually be a graduate student in a university’s program. In this post, I present some activities and discussions that can help us as graduate students ensure that we provide prospective students with the information they need to make their decision.

Talk about your research group’s dynamic. The most important decision a graduate student will make is their choice of adviser. An adviser, though, comes with colleagues—colleagues that you will spend most of your time with in research. If possible, have a prospective graduate student meet as many of the current graduate students in your group as possible so that they can witness the group dynamic. Tell them whether is your group more formal, or are you friends off-campus? How often do you meet with your group? How available is your adviser? Is your adviser more “hands on” or “hands off”?

It is also good to talk about the group’s work-life balance. Do your groupmates generally work from 9-5? Do you work weekends or late at night? If so, how often? How flexible is your schedule? Prospective students have to picture themselves in your group, and knowing the time commitment required can help them do so.

Have a panel of graduate students discuss their career paths and goals. When I visited NYU, we met with ten graduate students from my future program over dinner. The group of graduate students featured at least one student from each year. Each of them came from unique backgrounds, which I found comforting—this showed me the diversity of the program’s students as well as its versatility. Each student was able to use the resources available at NYU to meet their individual goals. I was surprised to learn that many of the student were interested in careers besides professorship, which might encourage incoming students to consider alt-academic tracks for themselves early in graduate school. Hosting the discussion as a panel gave us recruits a chance to get a lot of information from current students without necessarily having to ask first. Consider implementing this in your recruitment to make students more comfortable approaching you later with more specific questions based on the experiences you discussed during the panel.

Arrange short information sessions with representatives from graduate student organizations on campus. Help them realize that being a graduate student doesn’t mean that they have to sacrifice their social lives! Many universities have graduate counterparts to popular undergraduate organizations, especially for student government and professional development. These organizations allow graduate students to regularly meet people outside of their department as well as develop skills outside of research.

Show graduates around the city or town. Graduate life in the city is different from graduate life in the country, which is different from life in a college-town. Bringing students to a regular graduate student hang out will help them get a sense of where they will be living for the next four or five years. This is also a great opportunity to discuss the cost of living and how well you are able to survive on your stipend—city life is much more expensive than life in the country or in a college-town.

Overall, the most important thing to do with prospective students is to be completely transparent about your graduate experience. Every graduate program has its advantages and its disadvantages. What is important is that we present the information to prospective students so that they can decide whether or not your program is the best fit.

What are some things you wish you knew during recruitment?

[Image by Flickr user IIT and used under Creative Commons licensing.]

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