Friday, March 1, 2013

14 things not to say on prospective weekends

Weekend visits for prospective graduate students are coming up! Time for some tips on what not to say:

1. To assistant profs: "So, how many grant proposals have you written this year? Do you think that's enough?"
2. At a get-to-know-you dinners: "I understand that chemical engineers have much better salaries!"
3. To a full prof: "This meeting is sorta boring -- can we pick it up a bit?"
4. To the department administrator: "Can I get a limo pickup from the airport?"
5. To certain profs: "I saw on ChemBark that you're moving to Berkeley -- is that true?"
6. To a 3rd year grad student: "You're bright -- why aren't you in medical school?"
7. At the reception, loudly: "These cookies are kinda stale."
8. To the department administrator: "Here's my receipt for my midnight trip to the bar."
9. To a 5th year graduate student, "When are you going to graduate?"
10. To anyone: "Do you want to go back to my hotel room?"
11. To anyone: "Why isn't this place as highly ranked as MIT?"
12. To PIs that you meet: "What is the unemployment rate of your last ten Ph.D. grads?"*
13. To the department chair: "I saw on ChemBark that some of your best people are leaving -- is that true?"
14. To postdocs: "Are you going to do another postdoc?"

*You should find another way to ask this important question.


  1. CoulombicExplosionMarch 1, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    15. To your interview guide (or possibly anyone): "I really want to work for Professor Y. Should I even attend my interview with Professor Z?"

    As for #12, I think it's fair to ask where group alumni have placed, although for many groups, that information is available on their webpage. Being self-reported, it may not be representative of reality. "Current contact information unavailable" tends to raise an eyebrow.

  2. 16. To other visiting grads: "I'm already accepted into the program at Harvard, but I figured I'd accept the free trip out here"

    1. Generally, the second-tier departments try harder to show you a good time than the top ones. I recall meeting a fellow prospective who openly admitted to visiting departments she had no intention of attending for ski trips, free booze, etc.

  3. 17. To current graduate students: "Oh, I'm sure I'll be able to graduate in four years" (we're already trying very hard to suppress the snark)

  4. Prospective weekends always remind me of Homer Simpson guarding the bee when the nuclear inspectors come.

    Hey, I just got an email from the department coordinator: Free food for postdocs and 6th year grad students in the basement! Gotta go.

  5. 18. To assistance profs around year 5: "I'd really like to join your group, but I heard you may not get tenure."

    I heard CRO's #16 at least half a dozen times every season while I was in grad school.

  6. Regarding #2, they're lying. I'm ChemE and I don't make any money.

  7. #10 is okay to ask anytime EVER.

  8. A rotating student actually told people in our department that he was going to cure a major world disease as his PhD project. We got a lot of LOL mileage out of that one, considering the high level of research done on the same level of disease by the senior faculty in our department.

    When one prospective told us his project we explained the reality that it can take well over a year to make the construct proposed (in a mol bio lab). He laughed at us and told us that HE could do it in a week. It ended up taking him over a year.

    Our department posts the info on alumni jobs on its website. Voluntarily provided information, of course. Right now we're showing 50% unemployment in the 2 year cohort + 30% postdocs. The remainder are split between industry and alt-academia.

  9. 19. How do I game the system to get my own apartment in the on-campus housing lottery?

    Alternatively: The on-campus housing sucks. My parents are going to buy me a condo/ cover my rent.

    20. I want to work for Prof X (Nobel laureate/ big shot/ everyone wants to work for hir), and I'll totally get into hir group because I was the top of my class at Random College.