So, you've got a few graduate program offers and they've asked you to come to the campus and check out the program. What does that mean for you? How do you take advantage of this opportunity to get a real understanding of what it will be like being a graduate student there. You might not be asking for it, but the following information is my advice on making the most of your graduate school visit:
In my opinion the most important thing to do (other than asking questions) is being observant and reading between the lines. What aren't the graduate students saying? What things are being passed over with little detail? Do the graduate students seem stressed? A normal amount of stress is fine, but if it appears to be more than that, it says something about the kind of support the graduate students receive in the program.
Here are some important questions to ask:
For the P.I.
How do you identify if a student has been struggling?
What do you do when students are struggling?
For P.I.'s strudents
How do you feel before meetings with your advisor? After?
Could you tell me about a time you were frustrated with your advisor? How was the situation resolved?
How are you funded? Were there any misconceptions about your funding?
Does your advisor collaborate within the department?
If you are interested in multiple labs or faculty, ask them for their opinion on those labs or faculty. If they give opinions on some but not all, ask them to point you to someone who could tell you more about those labs or faculty. This could be a red flag or they just aren't familiar with them.
For Graduate Students in General
Are you unionized?
Do you fell the stipend is appropriate for the cost of living in the area?
If you want to teach, what kind of opportunities are there for graduate students interested in gaining teaching training and/or experience?
What is the preliminary exam process like?
Do you like the other students? The campus? The city?
Where do graduate students tend to live?
My final piece of advice is do not go back to wherever you are staying and do homework. Take the time to socialize with the other students visiting or enrolled. Go explore! This is really important. You might be spending the next 2-5 years of your life with these people and in this town.
Now, get out there and find the program and advisor that is best for you!!