Some questions to ask when you visit a prospective graduate school.

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Maintained by Harry E. Pence, Professor of Chemistry, SUNY Oneonta, for the use of his students. Any opinions are totally coincidental and have no official endorsement, including the people who sign my pay checks. Comments and suggestions are welcome (

Last Revised June 22, 2000

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These Questions were prepared by Dr. Harry Pence, SUNY Oneonta, and Dr. Laura Pence, University of Hartford. Comments and Additional Questions were provided by Dr. Alfred Lata, Kansas State University.

You probably won't wish to ask all of these questions, but you should look over the list and try to determine which ones are most important to you. Try to start with positive comments and ask the harder questions later in the discussion.

When should you plan to arrive on campus to begin work?
Is there financial support or assistance in summers? Does the Dept. guarantee summer support at least the first year?
Can you work in a research group the summer before you officially enroll?
How many support staff are available? What does this include? i.e. glass blowers, electronics shop, machine shop, computer manager, graphics person, etc.?
What equipment resources are available? What instruments do they have? Will you have access? (Remember to include computers- for Email and word processing.) Is equipment shared among groups?
When do you join a group? When do you start research?
Are there opportunities for joint projects and collaborations?
How many seminars and colloquia speakers do they have per semester? What is the departmental attendence policy for grad students?
Where's the library? Are there any special library policies that you need to know about? For example, do grad students have extended loan periods? Do they have all the periodicals and books you will need?
Were most of the recently evaluated assistant professors given tenure?
How many female faculty members are in the department?
What is the normal size of the incoming class of chemistry graduate students?
How many drop out in the first year? Why?
How much course work is need for the degree? Are there any restrictions about which courses you can or cannot take? What GPA must a graduate student maintain to keep his or her stipend?
Are teaching assistants provided to help in graduate courses?
How many hours of classes do you take (total and per semester)?

Teaching Assistantships

How often do you get paid? What is the value of the stipend? What does this include? Is summer work separate? After the first year, does the stipend increase, decrease, or remain the same?
Is there merit pay for graduate assistants? When is your first paycheck? Is there anywhere you can go for money to help pay your bills until the first paycheck arrives? Is the first check for a full month or a partial month? Is group health insurance available? Is the tuition waived or does it come out of your check?
How many hours per week are required (including grading)?
What fraction of the graduate students are on teaching assistantships?
How big are grad and undergrad classes?
Do teaching assistants get any training or orientation? How much?


Is there a time limit on how long a grad student can get funding?
What are the regulations about qualifiers (penalties for not passing?, how often do you take them?) How often do they give cumulative exams, and how tough are they? Does this department have second year orals, and what is covered (i.e. library survey, original research proposal, etc.).
Does the Department require foreign language exams or equivalencies?
Do people get stopped after the thesis defense?
Do you have to have published a journal article(s) on your research results to graduate?
Will you have to give seminars and other talks?
Are there other entrance or exit exams?


Does the university offer on-campus housing for graduate students?
Do the graduate dorms provide full apartments with kitchen facilities, etc. or are they just typical college dorms? Can you move out mid-year?
If you choose to rent an off-campus apartment, can the department help to match you up with a roommate?


Will their group accept people in the group next year? Is there any doubt about this?
How long does it take for people in this group to graduate?
What is the recent record for people from this group getting a job after they graduate? What type of jobs do they get? Where?
Have the graduates from this group been successful at getting postdocs?
Are most of the students in the group on research or teaching assistantships?
Are there postdocs and/or undergrads in the group?
Do the students have ready access to the research advisor? How is the advisor to work with?
Is there enough money to buy the necessary equipment?
What is the average number of publications for a student who graduates from this group?
Do people from this group go to national and regional meetings? How often? Do they present papers? Will the advisor or the department help pay the costs for a graduate student to go to a meeting?

Is the stipend enough to cover living expenses?
How is the politics within the department? With other departments?
How much is taken out of each paycheck?
How are the secretaries to work with?
What is there to do in the area? (fun stuff!)
Do people socialize within groups, within the dept, or outside?
What hours do people work? How many per week on average?
How are women treated? Any problems?
How safe is the campus, the area?

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