Another year, another grad school interview season underway.
This is (I think) the first year that my program (archaeology) and our department (Classical Studies) have decided to go their separate ways for recruitment. Last week was the department’s; in a few weeks will be my program’s.
I figured that now was as good a time as any to breach the subject (again). In case you missed last year’s installment, you can check out the first five questions I suggested here.
Last year’s post was centered primarily around considerations for BIPOC prospective students, including questions about interdisciplinarity, DEI approaches, and institutional support.
This year I thought more about questions that dig deeper into structural issues, such as pedagogical training, time to degree, and financial support.
A quick reminder: although some questions may seem best suited for faculty interviews, don’t forget to talk to current students! Current students are just as (if not more) valuable as sources of information about grad programs. And don’t just ask younger students – talk to the older ones, too!
I promise, we don’t bite.
Now, on to the questions.
1. How are grad student instructors trained and supported?
I have bemoaned the lack of structured pedagogical training for students in Classics and related fields many times and in many places.
I think that this question is essential, and I wish that I had asked it during my own grad school interviews. But I don’t think I knew just how important pedagogy would be to me then.
Some departments do offer regular pedagogical training for their graduate student instructors. However, it’s important to talk to current students who have gone through that training to find out whether it’s actually helpful or not.
The answer may be that the department doesn’t offer much in the way of training, that’s an answer in itself. You should also ask about institutional supports more generally so that you know where to look when it comes time to prepare.
Is there a teaching and learning center?
Are there workshops that you can take? How often are they offered?
2. How long do most students take to graduate?
Relatedly: how has the department responded to pandemic-related delays?
It’s good to know how a department responds to crises in general, whether global or individual.
You never know what might come up. It’s better to go into a program with your eyes open and knowing that you will be okay if you need to take some time away from the program.
3. Are students supported during the summers? How?
Relatedly: is that support (if offered) enough to live on for the entire summer?
Follow up: if not, what do most students do to cover their living expenses?
The summer can be a really precarious time for graduate students. This is especially true of those who are in archaeology programs that require fieldwork.
Many programs – like my own – offer financial support during the summers. But it’s not enough to do everything. Some recurring expenses from my summers:
Archaeological fieldwork (including travel, accommodation, and daily expenses)
Pet care (including supplies and sitter fees)
Rent (including utilities)
Before the pandemic, when I would regularly travel during the summers, I would always return from my fieldwork in debt. This was compounded by the fact that we didn’t get our first paycheck of the academic year until the end of September.
If you’re anything like me when I was at this stage of my academic career, you may think that asking about money is taboo. But it’s not! You have a right to know what you will be paid before making any live-changing decisions.
4. What do the department’s graduates go on to do when they finish? How did the department prepare them for those careers?
If you’re on the fence about where you want to end up after getting your degree, ask this question.
It is frequently the case that certain programs have a strong focus on preparing you for one kind of job: academic. But if that’s not where you see yourself in five (or six or seven or eight or ten) years, part of determining whether a program is for you is figuring out how they’ll help you get where you do want to go.
This is a question you can certainly ask of faculty members. However, you’ll probably get a much more candid answer from current students – especially those who are working towards careers beyond the professoriate.
5. Are the graduate students unionized?
Of all the questions here, this is probably one better suited to current students than to faculty members. But, like, the rest, it’s an important question to ask.
This is especially true if you are unfamiliar with labor unions or if that institution’s union recently engaged in a significant labor action.
It might even be worth doing some research beforehand. Lots of universities have seen graduate student union action in the past few years. It’s worth being aware of what a prospective institution is up to going in.
Doing your research can also give you a better idea of what structural problems exist and matter to current students, and to what extent those needs are being met by the institution.
What question did you find most helpful in your grad school interviews? What question(s) do you wish you’d asked before deciding?