What You Should Be Asking Your Potential Advisor

Last week I attended the grad recruitment weekend planning meeting and I was reminded of how exciting and confusing the whole recruitment process is. I’ll write later about how the process works, how to understand your funding offer, what to expect at recruitment weekend and what to do if you can’t go to the recruitment weekend, but today I want to focus on the most important part. The questions YOU should be asking during interviews

If you are in the interview process you are probably pretty far along in terms of being accepted to the school. You are likely trying to decide which professors you want to work with or which university you should attend. This is a huge, important decision and you should make that decision with as much information as you can get. The questions below are questions you can ask the professors you interview with and their students. If you are going into a rotational program before deciding which professor to work with, these are good questions to ask during your rotations.

The goal of these questions is to get a better understanding of the culture of the group, the expectations, the day to day work etc. I’m listing questions for the professor as well as the students. You should make every effort to talk to the students in your potential research group without the advisor present. Ask if you can set up a skype call with the students, go to coffee with a few of them when you visit etc.

So, here’s the list (in no particular order)

Questions for your potential advisors:

  1. What are the current projects going on in your group? How do you see a new student fitting into these projects? 
  2. What is the onboarding process like? Are there tutorials I will use or will I rely mostly on you and the more senior students?
  3. Are you available throughout the week or do you typically meet with students at a regular meeting? 
  4. How do you measure progress? 
  5. What is the timeline for most students in your group? 
  6. What do you expect students to accomplish in their first year? By the time they graduate? (This could be number of publications, leading a project or something else)
  7. Are your students involved in engineering organizations? 
  8. How would you describe the culture of the group?
  9. What do you do to support the culture of the group?
  10. How many hours/week do students in your group typically work? 
  11. Are you more hands-on or hands-off?
  12. Is there funding available for travel to conferences if our work gets accepted?
  13. What are typical working hours? Are these flexible?

When you meet with your potential advisor you are trying to figure out three things. Do your interests align with the work in the group? Would you work well with this advisor? Is the culture of the group what you are looking for? Again, you are trying to get as much specific information as possible. When you leave the interview you want to be able to picture what it would be like to work in that group and work with the professor.

Questions for students:

  1. Do you like the group?
  2. What do you work on? 
  3. What does that work look like day to day? What tools do you use?
  4. What did you work on when you first started?
  5. How did you learn the tools, skills concepts and procedures you needed to do your work?
  6. What did you struggle with the most coming into the group? Did you feel like you had enough support during that time?
  7. What classes have you taken or which ones would you recommend?
  8. What does the cycle of your work look like? Are there times of the year that are more busy than others?
  9. What are your normal working hours?
  10. How much support do you get from the advisor? Do you feel like it is the right amount?
  11. Do you have other mentors available to you?
  12. Do you like the town/city?

When you talk to the students it can also be helpful to ask about what part of town to live in, which parking pass to buy and other day to day things like that. I think it is super important and valuable to ask students 

Be sure to go into the interview with a list of questions and take notes. Ask follow up questions and even reach out to the professor or students after the interview if you need more information about something. Your grad school decision is a big deal and you should be fully focused on making the right decision for you. What do you want to work on? What environment do you want to be in? 


  1. Pingback: 6 Things To Consider When Choosing Your Grad School – SHE engineered

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