Questions to Ask When Choosing A Graduate School
Compiled by Women in Math and Science, Haverford College
of this document
Ask The Graduate Department:
- What are the academic regulations/requirements for graduating?
- 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
- 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 are expected for a TA or RA?
- Are you guaranteed support for the entire time, for a fixed number of years
(how many?), 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
- Are the teaching assignments for grading duties, holding recitation sections
for someone else’s lecture, or for teaching one’s own class?
- What sort of computing facilities do they have? Are any of these reserved
for graduate students? Do they have easy-access electronic mail?
- What are their provisions for housing, day care, health insurance, etc.?
Ask Current Graduate Students:
- 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, etc. adequate?
- Talk to current graduate students before you choose an advisor to learn:
- do most of the students like working with this research advisor?
- 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?
Specific Issues for Women:
- It has been said: “do not go to a place where there are no female
faculty.” (However, do not assume that every female faculty member will
be supportive; some are under a great deal of stress themselves and others
are not interested in supporting other women.)
- Talk to female graduate students in the department!! (Hint: In some departments
you may find out more by speaking to female graduate students in private.)
- Do they feel that the atmosphere in the department is either supportive
of women or exclusionary of women?
- Are there male graduate students or faculty members known to speak or
- Are women included in the informal mathematical community of the department?
- Are there faculty members known to have many female students?
- Which (if any) faculty members are felt to mentor female students particularly
- Do they have women’s support or discussion groups? What do they do?
Do they have one specific to your field? Or, is there one for graduate women
- 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, and dissertation.
- Your advisor should give you some research freedom; do not let yourself
be a laboratory technician for five 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
(and all tenure-track positions) will require three letters of recommendation.
It is particularly useful if you can find someone at another institution willing
to write for you. If you are interested
in tenure-track positions, make sure that a faculty member who is trusted
to write good letters observes you teach so s/he can write about this in his/her
- Make an effort to present your work at departmental colloquia and professional
This 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, HC ’91, in 1990; edited/revised/expanded by
sarah-marie belcastro, HC ’91, in 2003.