The trip did not begin well. What was supposed to be a 2hr flight turned into me being stuck on the goddamned plane for 8 hours, including a re-route to a different state due to weather conditions. I arrived in MidWestern City at 11pm, well past the time I was supposed to have dinner with Potential Advisor. Therefore, I did not get to eat until 11:30pm, and it was airport food. Yuck. It took 1hr and 10minutes to get a cab from the airport because all flights that had been re-routed all came back to the City and landed at the same goddamn time. Something like 20 flights. Rather than being met at the airport by my grad student host, I had to take a cab and arrived around 1am. Thank goodness I had enough cash on me. None of this was really the school's fault, though I wished they had just put me in a hotel where I could've taken a shuttle, especially considering what I found at my hosts's place.
I don't know what I expected, but it certainly wasn't a camping-size air mattress on the floor of a living room in front of a big-ass drafty window. I froze my ASS off, and maybe got 2 hours of sleep the entire night. My host was nice, but extremely clueless.
I paid for my own transportation to the university at 7am or so the next morning. Besides my complete and utter exhaustion, the interview day itself wasn't that bad. It turns out that I have not yet been accepted and neither has anyone else. 4 of us were interviewing with Potential Advisor, with the expectation that she will be accepting 3 students for next year. We're supposed to find out our status next week.
First, the most basic details about the trip:
There were about 25 of us interviewing for the entire psych department, 7 for social psych. Out of the entire 25, I think 6 of us were NOT wearing suits. A couple people were wearing jeans. I was like WTF happened to business casual? (Not that they actually told us that, this is just what I was told by grad students at my MRU.) I don't know if maybe the high number of suits were due to people being clueless and erring on the side of being overdressed, or if I just missed something. Either way, I didn't think it mattered. But my advice to those of you seeking future grad school admission - if you get an interview, email current grad students at that U and find out what people normally wear. Don't go by what anyone else says.
Another thing I did not expect - a fucking LOT of walking. And I don't mean around campus, I mean around the CITY. Instead of having lunch delivered, we walked like 5-6 blocks to a restaurant. In the FREEZING COLD & SNOW. We're all looking at each other like "Don't they know we're all wearing HEELS??" A few of us almost busted our asses on patches of ice, and one poor girl got splashed by a passing car that hit a puddle. She was from FL. I wanted to give her a hug or something.
The entire schedule for us was 16 hours long, nonstop. I shit you not. Interviews and presentations from 8am until 5pm, then off to dinner with grad students, then off to a grad student house party. No one was told to bring a change of clothes or shoes ahead of time, so only the lucky few whose hosts had cars were able to change before dinner. I was not one of those lucky few, which means my ass was stuck in 4" heel boots that were forced to walk probably a total of 30 blocks of the city over the course of the day. Not only that, but my ride to dinner and the party took the girls she was hosting back to her place so they could change into sneakers, and for the rest of the night I was the only one of 4 people lagging behind as we walked to the restaurant, back to the car, out to the train station, from the train station to the party, from the party to the bus stop, from the bus stop to my host's apartment. All on 2 hours of sleep. I wanted to kill someone and was amazed that I managed not to cry from the pain in my feet. And my boots are comfortable! Just not for that much walking and standing for over 16 hours!
The grad student party was held in an apartment and there were about 100 people there. You could barely move without stepping on someone. The department-bought booze was gone about 2 hours in, but I managed to drink enough Tom Collins so that the pain in my feet escaped from my awareness until I had to head back out in the cold to walk some more.
It was by far the longest day of my life. I paid my own cab fare back to the airport this morning, which I'm not happy about. If I could've taken a plane home last night after the party I totally would have, but luckily my host gave me an extra blanket and TURNED THE HEAT ON last night so that I was able to actually get about 4 hours of sleep before heading out this morning.
As I'm sure you can imagine, given the circumstances described above, that I was not exactly at the top of my game this weekend. I was much quieter than I normally am, and had little interest in socializing with anyone other than the professors until I had a couple of drinks in me at the party. But even in my frazzled state, I still think I managed to impress the important people.
And now on to the real details of the experience....
I was shocked when I met my Potential Advisor. She looked like she was my age, and I was like "This is not going to work. I will be reminded of how far behind I am the entire time I'm here." But it turns out that she's actually the age I thought she was, so it's all good. Don't get me wrong, she's still really young, especially for a tenure-track professor, but there are enough years between she and I that I can maintain the same level of respect for her as I would someone much older.
And I loved her. Just like I thought I would. My interview with her was not "Where do you see yourself in 10 years" like it was with the other students who applied to work with her. Instead it was me saying "Are you familiar with studies X, Y, and Z? Those are great examples of the kind of work I would like to pursue, except I think a better methodology for what I would specifically want to look at would include doing A, B, or C." I somehow, in my extremely sleepy state, managed to convey my enthusiasm for and knowledge about my research interests in a specific yet still open-minded way. I think that she and I really clicked, but the verdict hasn't come in yet so we'll see.
In an interview with another faculty member I asked questions about his research that he had never considered before, which prompted the response "Wow, I never thought of it like that. You've just given me ideas that'll end up in me writing some new proposals on Monday morning!" I didn't even do it on purpose - he's not a potential advisor, but I do know a lot about his line of research and my goal had to include impressing all the faculty, not just PA.
Another interview included the professor describing the overall theory behind his work to two of us. He spoke using incredibly technical terms (as technical as psych gets), and at first I had difficulty knowing WTF he was talking about. Other students told me that their eyes were just glazing over talking to this guy and they just nodded and smiled. But something about what he said clicked with me all of a sudden, and when he stopped I asked "So your particular line of work sounds like an extension of Mega Rockstar's theory, but with Z and X modifications to account for A and B. Is that accurate?" He grinned. Turns out that Mega Rockstar was his grad school advisor! While the other student sat in silence, I then explained "Even though I did not apply to work with you specifically, here's how I think your theory might be relevant to my research interests....."
My final interview was with a faculty member who is responsible for teaching all the stats and methods courses and two other students were in the interview with me. Both of them were very concerned with the amount of stats work required and kept asking about being placed on academic probation because of her classes, how hard they are, etc. I asked about what is covered in each of the courses in the sequence: "Is the first course mostly concerned with ANOVA and basic stats models using pen and paper versus SPSS or SASS? Are linear regression models covered in the first course or the second? Does the department mainly use SPSS for analysis? Etc." I was really surprised by how intimidated these other students were about stats, considering how utterly crucial it is to an academic career. But maybe I'm just a snob.
I really liked the faculty there. I am not a fan of the facilities. My MRU has an entire building devoted to Psych, and though I feel the department there is just way too big, the drawbacks of a smaller program were not apparent to me until this weekend. What's weird is that this program is one of the better-funded programs in the country, with lots of federal grant money. Yet I asked a current grad student (out of curiosity only) if they had an animal lab, and the response I got was "I don't know.....maybe in another building or something......?" It just seemed off.
My Potential Advisor is very well-funded - we're talking millions of dollars in NSF grants, plus another source of funding from a huge national organization. I know most of you don't know a lot about psych research - but millions of dollars is a LOT of money for psych studies, especially considering that most money is spent on computers and surveys. She's in a fantastic position, particularly for a brand-spanking new faculty member as young as she is. It definitely makes her lab attractive.
I don't like the campus. That's not the real problem for me though. The real issue I'm struggling with is that (with the exception of 1 person who will be done in a year) I don't really like the grad students. I can't figure out why. I get the sense that most of them are doing research for the sake of doing research - they're not considering or focusing on the value of their research. They're not looking outside the social psych body of research in their lit reviews for other information that is extremely relevant to what they're doing. I pointed out a series of studies in Personality Psych that deal with the very foundation of one student's research, and they had no idea what I was talking about. They looked it up during downtime I guess though, because they came up to me later and said "That was a great point. I looked it up earlier, and I've added several controls to my proposal to account for that phenomenon."
Again, maybe I'm just a snob or something. But in talking to these students, most of them are not familiar with the current research in their own areas - areas that I've mostly just skimmed over. I have no way of figuring out if it's the program that's causing them to focus so narrowly, or if it's something about their personalities. The faculty talked a lot about viewing things from different perspectives and keeping up with other sub-fields, but maybe it was just lip service. My Potential Advisor knew her shit though. I'm not sure what's going on there.
I don't know how important the other grad students should be in considering a program. Maybe you all can help me decide. But I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut when I see possible errors or blind spots in someone's research, and I don't want to gain a reputation as a meddling know-it-all. The alternative, of course, is to just keep it to myself and let them produce faulty research, but I don't want to be affiliated with a program that's churning out bullshit or narrow-minded studies. (Not that I know they're doing that, but I get the sense that it's a real possibility.)
Again, maybe I'm just a snob. But collaboration is something I value, and I would rather collaborate with and learn from people who pay as much attention to the field as I do. I know that I have lots and lots to learn, but if the students who are ahead of me aren't people I can learn from, isn't that a problem? I really want to be in an environment where the enthusiasm and love for my field is shared by everyone (or at least almost everyone) around me. The faculty has it - how can a 1st or 2nd year grad student already be so jaded and still be so clueless?
It's breaking my heart a little. This is a very well-funded R1 university with a Potential Advisor I can just tell I would develop a very close mentoring relationship with. I'm torn between wanting constant intellectual stimulation from those around me and knowing that if I went to this school I would stand out as a stellar PhD candidate. I know it sounds incredibly arrogant, I know. I can't help it.
What about the rest of you? How do you (or did you) feel about the other grad students in your program? Because I feel like those of you I regularly interact with share the same level of passion and knowledge about your respective fields and you guys are the kind of people I would love to spend the next 5 years with. During the whole day yesterday all I could think was "I found a Dr. Isis. Now where's my Ambivalent Academic? My SciCurious? My PhizzleDizzle? My Leigh? My Juniper? Bueller? Bueller????"