• How often do graduate advisors have meetings with
• What are the funding sources for the laboratory? Are
graduate students responsible for seeking funding?
• What are the laboratory protocols?
• How many graduate students and postdocs are typically
in each research group?
• What equipment is available to graduate students?
• If I have an issue on a research project, what steps
would I take to resolve it?
• How are conflicts resolved?
• What is the publication process for the lab? Who are the
authors, co-authors, etc.?
• What types of professional development opportunities
are provided to graduate students, including conference
and meeting attendance, career training, and job
• How is personal leave or emergency leave handled? Are
there flexible work arrangements?
• Would you please describe your current research
• How do you maintain diversity in the laboratory?
Describe the work environment of your laboratory.
Your interests may match those of a graduate program group on paper… but you will not know
if the group will be a good fit for you until you actually
meet the professors and some of the current graduate
students. Make sure you feel comfortable and that you
get a positive “vibe” from the experience. Be observant
of your surroundings and the interactions among
professors, staff, and students.
Look around the laboratory and take note of the
range of experiences and backgrounds among the
students and professors. Look in the professors’ offices
and note if there are personal items or family photos.
While you are visiting, do people stop into the offices?
Are the offices close to the labs? Go into the labs with
the professors and observe the interactions between the
professors and the graduate students.
When you meet with professors or graduate
students, be sure to ask questions.
QUESTIONS TO ASK INCLUDE:
• Do graduate students work together on projects or does
each person have his or her own project? Describe the
culture of the chemistry department.
• What are the typical hours and days that the members
of the groups work?
• What is the average time it takes for graduate students
to complete their degrees?
• How much time per week do professors spend in the lab
with graduate students?
This list is not exhaustive; don’t be afraid to ask any
question that may come to mind. Listen to the questions
others ask; they may come up with great questions you
may not have thought of and make observations of things
you have not noticed. C
you desire during graduate school. Maybe being close
to family is important to you, or maybe you want to
be close to a skiing area, or in a big city; these are all
things you should consider when looking at the location of the school. I recommend spending some time
during the weekend to explore the area around the
school on your own.
Digesting the experience
Visit weekends may feel overwhelming, but it is impor-
tant that you gather as much information as you can
about each school you visit. Even visit weekends that
go poorly can teach you a lot about what you want in a
graduate school. After the visit weekend is over, keep in
touch with professors and graduate students you met
at the schools that still interest you. They will be happy
to answer any further questions you may have in mak-
ing your decision.
Amy M. Hamlin is a graduate student
at the University of California Berkeley
studying synthetic organic chemistry. She
graduated from the University of Detroit
Mercy in 2009 with a B.S. in chemistry.