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What is a visitation weekend?

Visitation weekends are hosted by most Ph.D. programs to give students a chance to visit campus, meet with professors and current students about research opportunities, and get a feel for the culture of a given department. These are geared towards domestic, U.S.-based students where the schools will pay (or partially subsidize) for your trip, and are a great opportunity to see if a program is a good fit for you!

General Tips and Guidelines:

How many visits should I go on?
Limit yourself to ~4 visits. Otherwise, they get exhausting and blur together.

How do I get the most out of my weekends?

  • Come prepared with questions for both students and professors (see suggested questions below)!
  • Take notes on your general impressions and answers to key questions so you can refer back and compare schools as you get closer to making a decision.

What if I can’t make the visitation weekend?

There are alternative options! Some suggestions are below.

  • For students who cannot make the trip (or during COVID times), virtual visits are an excellent option.
  • To schedule, reach out to professors you are interested in. Many professors and students are willing to do virtual lab tours and meetings if you inquire!
  • If you can’t make one of the scheduled visitation weekends, many schools can accommodate a visit on an alternative date.
  • For these alternative options, these visitations will likely be less formal than traditional visitation weekends. Therefore, there may be less general information provided (i.e. via information sessions, informational handouts, etc.). Therefore, make sure you come prepared with questions and make sure you leave with answers!

The weekends are for you to interview the department in a low-pressure setting

  • Weekend dress code is usually nice-casual
  • Don’t judge a school based on the other students who are visiting — they may or may not end up actually attending.

Suggested topics to ask about on your visits:

Note: A print-out version is available under the Resources tab.

Ask graduate students: Remember current students will be your future coworkers

  • What is it like working for Professor X?
    • General lab culture
    • Funding availability/How often do people TA over the course of their graduate career?
    • What kind of mentor are they (i.e. hands-on/hands-off; hard or easy to get a hold of)?
  • Ask students about their research!
    • You can learn about how passionate a student is for their project and see if that’s the type of science you’d want to be involved with.
  • What are the departmental requirements for completing your Ph.D.?
    • Classes for your specific chemistry division
    • Candidacy requirements – written/oral exams?
  • What’s the department culture like?
    • Work/life balance
    • Departmental social events
    • Extracurricular groups/sports teams you could be involved in
    • Professional development opportunities and ease of access
  • How is general living in the area/at the school?
    • Cost of living and housing
    • Transportation options – will you need a car? how is public transportation?
    • Health insurance: many schools offer health insurance, but few offer included dental/vision insurance packages
    • Mandatory student fees: Mental health services, recreation facilities, parking passes, mandatory student fees

Ask professors: This is one of the few chances in your life that you get to pick your own boss! Pick someone you want to work with.

  • Current/future research directions?
    • What projects are they actively recruiting for and how many students are they planning to take in the coming year?
    • How are different projects funded?
    • Are there opportunities for collaboration with national labs or industry?
  • How do they run their labs?
    • What are their expectations for graduate students?
    • How are new students trained/onboarded?
    • Writing process: how are manuscripts drafted in the lab?

Get a feel for the area. Is this somewhere you could see yourself living and growing?

  • Proximity of the school to your family/significant other
  • Proximity of campus to city/country/mountains/beach/airport
  • General weather conditions and whether you’re up for living in them for at least 5 years