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Visit weekends

Visit weekends

Summary:

“Applying 411” is a special blog series about applying to graduate school in chemistry–at Emory and in general. The goal of this series is to demystify the process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies.

Most chemistry graduate programs offer a visitation weekend. This is an opportunity for accepted students to visit campus to meet faculty and students.

Admitted students greet each other at recruitment weekend.

How will I know if I am invited?

If you are offerred a visit, you will receive a direct invitation from a school. If a school advertises the date(s) of their visit weekend(s), you may want to mark these on your calendar when you apply–but you will not be able to attend unless you are invited.

It’s important to note that in chemistry, it’s more common for visits to be a true visitation weekend rather than an interview weekend. Most schools invite applicants who have already been accepted to the school. Sometimes these applicants are interviewed remotely. Sometimes they are accepted purely on the basis of their application materials. When applicants have already been accepted, the purpose of the weekend is for invited students to learn more and ensure that the school is a good fit.

Travel logistics, including visa requirements, can make it difficult for schools to offer visit opportunities to students located abroad. At Emory, we invite all accepted students studying domestically to come to our visit weekend. For international students, we offer a “virtual visit” during the weekend to allow them to participate. This is not at all a reflection of a lack of enthusiasm for international applicants–we simply want to protect your time and your visa status. We will make sure you have opportunities to have your questions answered.

Dr. Huw Davies gives a research presentation during recruitment weekend.

Asking and answering questions on a visit

Being accepted to the school you’re visiting takes the pressure off, but you should still act as if you are in an interview situation. You are meeting potential future faculty, staff, and student colleagues. These are the people who will serve as mentors and peer mentors, who will teach your classes, who will oversee your graduate research. You want to make a good impression. Just like in a job interview, you also want to ask the questions that you need answered to learn more about the program.

No questions should really be off the table–ask about the environment, the challenges, what people like and don’t like about the school. Take advantage of opportunities to speak to students at all levels of the program, especially in the labs you are interested in. Ask faculty about their research but also their mentoring style and what the expect of graduate scholars. If there are rotations, what kind of work do faculty expect students to accomplish during a rotation?

There are no stupid questions–but you do need to do some work ahead of the weekend to ensure your questions are relevant and useful to you. Make sure to review the school’s website, including the graduate forms and graduate handbook. For instance, don’t ask if the school has cumulative exams if this requirement is clearly stated on their website. Instead, ask what the cumulative exams are like and what faculty hope students will learn. (Note: At Emory, we don’t have cumes. Phew!)

Review ALL of the faculty websites in your research area and do some reading. You will likely meet with more faculty than you listed on your application, either formally in meetings/tours or informally during group activities. Even if you are not necessarily interested in someone, you should give yourself a cursory overview of your work. You never know how your opinions might change as you get to know faculty in person. Additionally, faculty know each other and the bald truth is–they will discuss you during and after the weekend. Make sure they have nothing but good things to say about you. Even if you don’t end up accepting an offer to a particular school, you are interacting with members of your professional community in chemistry.

A current student explains her research to accepted students at a poster session.

Visit logistics

You may be traveling somewhere that you have never been before! How does that work, exactly?

Most schools will cover all of the major costs associated with a visit. This will likely include:

  • flight and/or mileage for car travel
  • parking costs
  • hotel (often in a shared room)
  • meals
  • local transportation

These expenses might be covered directly by the school. Some might be reimbursement based. Let the school you are working with know if financial constraints will make it difficult for you to visit without assistance. At Emory, we cover flight, hotel, and local transportation costs directly with no cost to the student. Mileage and parking costs are based on reimbursement. This means most students will only pay a small amount out of pocket. It is uncommon for schools to require students to pay for meals or hotels out of pocket–it is not uncommon for flights to be based on reimbursement. Reimbursement from universities can take a few weeks and will generally be provided as a check. Keep this in mind as you plan your finances.

Accepted and current students roast marshmallows at a social event during recruitment weekend.

What will happen during a visit?

Visits are carefully scheduled to make sure they are useful to the prospective student and to the community they are considering joining. It’s important to understand that a visit is not a free vacation. Your time to explore on your own will likely be limited. That said, many schools will be willing to allow students to extend their time in the area to explore on their own (and at their own cost). If it’s important to you to explore local amenities, such as places of worship, schools, etc. in person over a more extended period, this is something to consider. You will likely be able to ask questions about the area during a visit and to go on a tour of the campus and surrounding area, but you are not likely to have a large amount of unscheduled time. At Emory, for instance, students have about four hours in the afternoon to choose from a series of activities that allow them to explore the local area, such as:

  • Beltline walk
  • short local hike
  • local tour (campus focused, Atlanta landmarks focused, or housing focused)
  • visit local coffee shop
  • visit local art museum

Much of your time will be spent learning more about the research happening at the school you are visiting. This may include meetings, seminars, poster sessions, and more. Group activities are also common and these are great opportunities to discern how a community operates and works together–both inside and outside of the lab.

Bowling is a favorite icebreaker activity during Emory’s recruitment weekend.

What do I need to bring?

Mostly just yourself! It’s a good idea to dress professionally, usually business casual, for the visit, especially for the first day. Check the weather where you’re going and wear shoes that will be comfortable to walk in. Make sure to bring a notepad and pen, any medications you need, and lab-appropriate clothing, such as closed-toed shoes. Most schools will let you know ahead of time if you need to bring anything unusual (Emory has a bowling event and reminds visitors to bring socks!)

Faculty and students play a game of pool at a recruitment event.

What if I have access needs?

Schools are required to accommodate access needs for students. On your part, it is helpful if you communicate your needs as clearly as possible so that we can plan to make your trip run smoothly. This could include the need for ASL translation, large print materials, or food appropriate to special diets. We are also happy to provide access to a lactation room, private space for medical needs like diabetes injections–whatever will make the visit possible for you.

A school should also ask about your correct name and pronouns–or at least be willing to accommodate them if you provide them. Frankly, it is a red flag if a school does not ask or understand requests to accommodate your correct name and pronouns or access needs.

Dr. Tim Lian talks with accepted students at a recruitment event.

Can I bring other people with me?

Your ability to bring a spouse, partner, parent, child, etc. to a recruitment weekend will depend on the school. Most schools do ask visitors to share a room, usually with one other person. In these cases, it may or may not be possible to accommodate another visitor.

At Emory, we will accommodate partners if space allows. We do not cover flight costs for partners, but we will cover hotel and airport transport.

Keep in mind that you will likely only want to bring someone with you if their presence is critical to deciding if you could live in a certain area. Most of the activities at a visit weekend will be designed for the prospective student. Having someone along might split your focus. A best practice might be to narrow down your choices by attending visit weekends and dedicating funds to an exploratory trip for those who might relocate with you or otherwise have a voice in your decision. Consider what works best for you and communicate your requests clearly (and as early as possible) to the schools you are visiting.

The Science Commons Atrium at Emory dressed up for a chemistry reception.

When should I NOT attend a visit weekend?

Visit weekends are very useful to applicants. Consider attending even if you have academic conflicts. Plan ahead and let your instructors know why you will miss class or lab time–most will be more than willing to work with you because they will understand the importance and academic relevance of your visits.

It’s okay to attend a visit weekend even if you aren’t sure you will end up attending the school. It’s good to explore your options! You may be surprised to learn your dream school isn’t a good fit for your personality. You may discover that you don’t feel safe or comfortable in a certain area and want to explore other options.

The only time you should NOT attend a visit weekend is if you’ve already committed to another school or definitely crossed a school off your list of possibilities. In that case, it’s helpful to the school if you decline–both the visit and the offer. At Emory, we would prefer you make the visit if you are considering us at all–we consider it our responsibility to help you determine if Emory is the right place for you!

Also, know that even if you do not attend recruitment, your offer to attend a school will stay open until April 15th. This is a universal deadline adhered to by all graduate schools. You are under no pressure to apply before this date. However, it is helpful and professional to reply to a school as soon as soon as you have made a definite decision.

Next in Applying 411: GRExit


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