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Extremely nervous about grad school visit

  1. Dec 21, 2015 #1
    Hi guys,

    I've been visiting the forum here for months now and really enjoy some of the discussions that go on here. I'm hoping you can help me out with this issue which is a huge source of nervousness for me. I know most if not all of you have gone through this so I'm hoping to get some advice.

    After applying to grad school I was hoping to have a month or so where I can sit back and relax and wait to hear back, but this morning I got an invitation to visit a pretty good school out east (#6 on my list of 14). I was all excited but after awhile I realized that it wasn't going to be with a huge group of prospective students as I was hoping for, they said I could come whenever I want (paid, of course) and I chose January 11.

    Apparently, I am touring four labs and going out to lunch and dinner with some faculty.

    I know I'd have to try really hard to fudge this opportunity up, but I'm profoundly nervous (as in, I will not sleep well until it's over). I am not a guy who is laidback, hilarious, and a social butterfly - I'm extremely awkward and nervous around people. I doubt that my admissions is at stake (my professors said they invited me so early [one day after applying, even] because they want me to go there), I just want to make a good impression since they are sacrificing so much time and money for me to visit.

    I'm really not looking for the "just relax, be yourself" type of advice... what do I ask the faculty about? What do we discuss at dinner - research? Family? Local events? Sports (heaven forbid)?

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 21, 2015 #2
    I know that feel.

    I visited a graduate school a couple of weeks ago, and was also hella nervous. But then again, it wasn't paid, it was of my own accord :) From what I saw, the professors will guide the conversation. Have you ever spoken to a professor about their research? By the time they finish talking, you will have already heard back from all 14 grad schools because it will be April.

    Besides, and hopefully someone can vouch for me on this... if you are a physics person and not horrifyingly awkward, you are in the minority.
  4. Dec 21, 2015 #3


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    Ask what you want to know about. Remember that you're trying to figure out the best fit for you as well.

    Some prompts if you get stuck:
    • What are the required graduate courses? What are the elective options? Are the courses run every year? Who teaches them?
    • What are the other graduate students currently working on?
    • Will you be expected to TA? What courses are available? How much of a time commitment is it?
    • What conferences are graduate students expected to attend?
    • How soon do you have to choose a supervisor and a project?
    • What are each professor's expectations of his or her graduate students? What hours are students expected to keep? How frequently will they meet? Are meetings formal or informal? How much say will you have in the direction of your project?
    • What is the cost of living like in the city? Where do most of the students live? How do they get around?
    • Where are past graduate students now?
    • What is the next big thing in the field?
    Some things you can have prepared before you go (it's not necessary to have these nailed down, but sometimes it can help if you're really nervous to have a script):
    • A personal introduction. Explain who you are, where you're from and at least a general area of interest.
    • A couple reasons why you applied to this particular program.
    • A general idea of the research that's being done in the labs you'll be touring.
  5. Dec 22, 2015 #4


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    I'm not so sure why you're under the assumption that you can't blow it. I'm sure the tour is as much about "is this really someone we want hanging around for the next seven or so years" as is it a tour to convince you that it's a place you want to do the same.

    Personality conflicts happen, and could very much derail your chances as anything else.

    That said, you shouldn't go into the tour nervous and awkward, it's as much about how you feel around the department and whether you feel its a good fit you. You have power and a stake in this process as much as they do. That should ease the anxiousness, if you can believe and accept this.

    Study what the faculty is currently working on, get enough working knowledge to ask good questions, you don't need, nor should you be expected to be an expert. People love to talk about their work, especially when only a handful of people care/know enough background to understand. Get a feel for who might end up/you choose to be your adviser - should you go there. Beyond that, interact like you would with any other human being, physicists are people too.

    If they go out for drinks after work (very common, at least from what I've experienced) join them if invited, talk about hobbies, fun things to do, scantily clad women, whatever seems natural and fluid. Be yourself, don't try to sell yourself as something you're not.

    Just remember this is for you as much as it is for them.
  6. Dec 27, 2015 #5
    @Choppy, thank you so much for the list of conversation pieces. I'll be sure to keep these tucked away in a corner of my mind...

    This is common? Well, now you've got me scared.
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