Five years into a statistics program and I’m still shocked at my decision to go down this path. Switching fields going into my PhD was daunting and I’ve spoken before about how was convinced to turn Full Stats Stud during my visit to the programs recruitment day. Since then I’ve helped out with each batch of prospective students as they too are welcomed to Happy Valley and introduced to what earning a PhD in Statistics here could mean for them. I want to share these experiences and a little bit of what’s going on behind the curtain for our readers. If you are be going through a similar process, here’s one look at what a recruitment day looks like and what to expect. We’d also love to hear from others about their experiences as this process varies GREATLY between departments and universities!
In PSU Statistics, we invite domestic students that already have offers to our PhD program to come to campus for a day of information and fun. These students already have been accepted and we hope to convince them that they’ll find a great environment for spending the next 4-6+ years. Not all recruitment events happen after offers go out, and that could make for a more stressful visit. Even visiting a department you do have an offer for can be extremely intimidating. I know I am STILL intimidated sometimes! But one of the most important tips I have is to remember that you have worked hard and earned a spot! They should be working hard to impress you and be showcasing what their program has to offer.
As president of my department’s grad student association I’m in charge of planning several events and making sure there’s lots of other current students around to mingle and answer questions. Recruitment day is essentially a holiday for graduate students in my department and the lounge is typically full of students from all years eager for both the free food and to get to know the visiting folks. This year the grad students were involved with
- 🍛 a small dinner the night before for any students already in town
- 🥯 breakfast and lunch together in the department
- 👩🏼🏫 a small poster session
- 🙋🏼♀️🙋🏾♂️🙋🏻♀️🙋🏻♂️ a panel for questions and discussion of life, climate, and diversity in State College, PA
- 🦁 a gorgeous day for a tour all around campus
- 🍻 dinner in town followed by dessert and drinks at a faculty members’ house nearby (walkable to restaurant and their hotel)
I’m really proud of how well this visit goes every year. Our student poster session was a new event and while I was nervous about it being a bit too intimidating it ended up being a fun way to chat and show off the huge range of research projects we’ve got going among the students here. The panel focusing on climate and diversity in the area had been an unofficial part of the day for the past few years but it was refreshing to have faculty encourage us to included it as its own event on the schedule this year. Having a supportive community of fellow students and faculty can really make all the difference during the stressful parts of the grad school process.
Other events lead by faculty/staff include
- Overview of Statistics Graduate Program
- Overview of research in the Department
- Small Group Meetings with Faculty
- Wrap up + travel-related paperwork
Several questions have popped up repeatedly when I’m talking with these prospective students. I’m sharing some answers here, but keep in mind that they are very specific to one discipline in one department.
- What to expect? Every visit is going to be different. We try to provide a good balance of information about research and face time with faculty with plenty of opportunities for asking current graduate students all your questions.
- What questions to ask? Rachel has written posts before about the application process that are another great resource for how to contact potential mentors and what to share about yourself.
- Do I need to know what I want to study? In statistics, absolutely not! One of my favorite things about joining a statistics department was that you don’t need to come in paired with a faculty member. Instead we go through a year of courses together as a cohort and then start slowly with a research project with a faculty member. Even then you can choose whether to pursue different mentorship for later projects as you form your committee.
- Do I need remember everything they tell me? Nope. I mean, pay attention and hold on to any paperwork you are given…but don’t be afraid to reach out later for more clarification on the details. We pair each of the prospective students with a current PhD student to be their peer mentor if they have any questions/concerns. Often this means asking about further insight about working with different faculty and information about moving to State College.
Do your departments have similar events? Wildly different ones? Let us know in the comments below. If you and/or your programs graduate student association wants to get more involved I’d love to chat and provide tips!