Questions to ask as a prospective graduate student

May 2021 Update: Here’s a thread from Prof. Pamela E. Harris crowdsourcing suggestions of questions to ask from the specific perspective of students belonging to underrepresented minorities.

Money

  • Minimum take-home monthly pay: What is the minimum amount I will make a month, once tuition and fees and immediate expenses are removed? Will I get this pay every month of the year? What exactly are my teaching/research obligations? For how many years am I guaranteed this funding? What happens if I do a visit/internship in a different institution?
  • Maximum take-home pay: What bonuses could I get on this pay and how likely is it that I will get them as an international student?

Immigration

  • What exactly will my immigration status be while on the PhD program? Can I work, move, travel freely?
  • I wish to move to the city with my spouse. Is it guaranteed that he will be granted a residence permit or an open work visa to come live with me?

Specifically for prospective advisor

  • Are you planning to relocate anywhere in the next five years? What happens if you relocate? Can I move with you? Or change advisor?
  • How many graduate students do you currently have, or plan to have by Fall 2019? How many postdocs? Do you usually have weekly or biweekly meetings with your graduate students? Are graduate students effectively supervised by you, or mostly by postdocs and more experienced students?
  • What are daily lab hours like? Is the lab open on weekends and holidays? Am I expected to work weekends and holidays (exceptionally or not)?
  • What exactly is my attendance requirement? This is to say, can I occasionally take on one-week trips home to Europe outside of conventional university breaks?
  • What is your personal policy on paper authorship?
  • In which companies do you have particular acquaintances that would allow me to do short/long internships? Am I expected to do these internships?
  • What are the requirements (both minimum and expected) for a PhD in your laboratory?
  • Broadly, how do you envision the 4/5 years of my prospective PhD to be? When/Do you expect me to take courses? When/Do you expect me to do internships or visits to other campuses? When should I begin working towards my thesis?
  • What is the approximate gender ratio of your laboratory and department? Specifically, how does this ratio change if one accounts only for faculty or only for current graduate students?
  • What is the approximate white/non-white ratio of your laboratory and department? Specifically, how does this ratio change if one accounts only for faculty or only for current graduate students? What percentage of students are international vs domestic?
  • What lab funding is available for attending conferences? Is it guaranteed (within reason) that I can attend anywhere I publish a full-length paper?

Specifically for current graduate students

  • How much do you pay for rent, monthly? Are you sharing a flat with anyone?
  • Have you ever done an internship in a company while working towards your PhD? Did you still get your monthly funding? How did it go?