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Making an impression March 20, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school.
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mckayla is not impressed

Female Science Professor recently discussed behavior differences at department visits between already admitted grad students and those who were still waiting to hear.  In particular, she asks, of students:

What was your attitude during your visit? Did you try to impress, or was your attitude that it was entirely the responsibility of the program to impress you?

I have to admit that this question made me cringe because my inclination was to answer, “Neither.”  I’m not one who likes to ‘impress’ people.  I like to get to know them and how they operate.  To me, trying to impress someone implies a certain amount of salesmanship and maybe even a little bit of dishonesty.  I understand trying to put one’s best foot forward, but, to me, that’s different than making an attempt to impress.  (I know I may be making a big deal of this distinction, but it makes for a much more interesting blog post than simply saying yes or no.)

Actually, I was a bit surprised by this whole notion as I took a different approach when looking at grad schools: I went and visited them first in order to decide whether or not it was worth applying.  I liked this approach as there wasn’t much pressure on either side: I knew about the program and profs based on what I saw on the web, and they didn’t know if I was a student worth having, so they weren’t as likely to give me a dog and pony show.

gallagheronbellascage (The cats and guinea pigs were feeling left out, so we should make a separate show for them.)

Visiting before I applied gave a much more realistic impression than one gets during an admitted student weekend or something similar when everyone is on their ‘best behavior’, to the point of being fake, and the activities are highly scripted, to the point of creating unrealistic expectations.  (I do see such events as useful to pick out people who really make a terrible impression.)  My later experiences confirmed my ‘gut reaction’ to the pre-application visits, so my only caution is to not ignore those impressions or rationalize them away…or let those accepted student weekends override the early impressions.

I also think this minimizes the ‘workload’ to both sides: less applications for the student, only serious students applying to the program.  I remember at one visit weekend, I spent some time with another applicant who was very negative about the program we were checking.  She clearly hated the place, and it made me wonder why she’d bothered applying.  I wondered until I realized that, unlike me, she hadn’t been there before.

The down side is that it’s not always possible, especially financially, for students to go and visit other programs.  This is especially true if the only time to visit is the summer and professors are unavailable, mitigating the benefit.  It’s even worse if that prof’s students are also gone so that you can’t have a chance to talk with them about the prof you’d like to work with.

My answer to the above questions is that I never tried to impress anyone, nor did I want them attempt to impress me.  I wanted to see how the people and place functioned and whether I could see myself there.  It’s going to be the fit that matters, and visiting grad schools is going to be to everyone’s benefit when the view of the place and people involved is realistic.

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Comments»

1. Moose - March 20, 2013

I visited schools before applying when I was applying to undergrad, which helped me narrow my decision to a single early-decision application. That wasn’t possible for grad school, but I can see where it would be helpful. On the plus side, by visiting after I had been accepted, all of my schools paid for my travel costs. My work depends heavily on expensive shared instrumentation and I knew I was interested in that before applying to grad school, so I was able to rule out many places based on the availability of the right facilities and institutional infrastructure.

mareserinitatis - March 21, 2013

Yeah, I only visited one undergrad school, and I realized later that was a mistake, so I made a point of looking into grad schools early. I can see how special facilities would have a huge impact on your decision, though.


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