What to ask during your grad school interview? (and how to prepare)

Hi friends. Many of your are or will soon be heading into the grad school interview deluge in the fall/winter months, so I figured I would arm you with good interview questions that are sure to impress your potential future advisors. These are the kinds of questions you could ask during a phone interview, video-chat interview, or during the in-person open house.

But first, some preparation before the interview:

  • Peruse the lab and University program websites. And when I say peruse…I mean read very, very carefully and almost commit it to memory
  • Read journal articles that have come out of the lab (again, read carefully and take notes)
  • Get to know the people in the lab (aka, yes, stalk them a little)

Ok, now that you’re ready for the interview, here are some questions to ask your new potential advisor:

  • Ask a follow-up clarifying question about an article you read that came out of the lab
  • After mining the website hopefully you ran into some of the studies that are currently going on in the lab. Ask some questions about a project(s) that sounds interesting to you and see what stage the projects are in, what kinds of responsibilities current grad students have, and where the projects are headed.
  • Is your potential advisor applying for any funding in the coming semesters? This question could be a nice segue into asking about funding.
  • On that note, how will you be funded? This is an important thing to know. If it’s not clearly written on the website, make sure to ask detailed questions about this. Do grad students teach to get funded? How many years of funding are guaranteed? What is the stipend? (This question should probably be saved for the in-person interview/open house weekend, but if it comes up during your phone interview, then feel free to ask away.)
  • What are current alumni doing now? Some labs will have this information on their website, but you could ask some more detailed questions like, how many students go into academia vs. non-academic paths?
  • What is the average time to graduation? How long does it take for students to graduate with their PhDs?

As a bonus, here are some questions to ask your new potential co-workers (i.e. other grad students, research assistants, or undergraduates that you may run into during the open house weekend).

  • What are your daily responsibilities?
  • Is the funding you get livable?
  • What is the advisor’s advising style? (hint: make sure this question doesn’t come across as you asking if the advisor is too hard, or too easy, or overbearing, etc. Make sure to leave this question open-ended, and feel out the graduate students a little. They will, hopefully, be honest with you and you will be able to tell how they really feel working in the lab.)
  • Is the workload manageable?
  • If teaching is required, what is the requirement and how hard is it to manage that with all your other responsibilities?

Current grad students out there: Am I missing anything on these lists? I’m happy to update this list as you guys see fit.

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