Well, it's that time of year again. You know, the one where I look out my window at the Torrey Pines Golf Course and the ocean, think about going to the zoo in a t-shirt and shorts, and then walk out to my car that is not stuck in the snow. But really, sometimes it's foggy, so don't feel too bad about the weather, Ohio!
This time of the year also happens to correspond with graduate student recruiting, when people who have not yet been to graduate school show up, well-coiffed and nervous, to learn just how dedicated graduate students are to free food. You can see our outstanding recruitment poster above. Using my powers of surviving graduate student recruitment (by the hair of my chinny chin chin), I will now bestow up you some advice, as well as all the great things about The Scripps Research Institute. Prepare for a long read...
Now, there are some things you should and should not do when you're on visitation. I did both. I don't recommend you do both. Stick with things you should do, such as:
1. Take all of the free food. I'll tell you more about free food below, but stuff yourself. It shows initiative, and people will be impressed with your ability to get a fourth helping of mediocre chicken pasta or your thirteenth mini street taco.
2. Talk to people in whose research you have no interest. It goes without saying that you'll be talking plenty to people associated with your own research area(s). But you should also branch out and argue with current biology graduate students that total synthesis is not dead or tell the graduate students who work in the mass spec lab that they should get out of the basement more often.
3. Don't believe anyone who says "everyone is happy all the time and our department is just unicorns shitting rainbows all the time". It's a little known fact that "graduate school" is the Sanskrit word for "roughly five years of motivation by failure and sadness". Look it up. But don't let that deter you. Graduate school is hard. Chemistry is hard. And now you are prepared for the most awesome five years of your life.
4. Ask professors where they want their research programs to go in the next decade. You don't necessarily need to hear about how successful the organocatalysis projects have been if someone wants to completely shift focus to methane oxidation. The direction of a research program will probably dictate your project selection, and if a professor is moving into uncharted waters that can be a good or bad thing for you.
5. Ask about money. Ask about jobs. Ask how often the lab buys new septa. Most academic labs get most of their money from the federal government, and if you don't live under a rock you might have noticed that the federal government isn't exactly on top of money. That money pays your salary, buys your reagents, and helps you get work done faster. Nice rotovaps don't make molecules, but not being able to strip ethyl acetate from your column fractions is a big pain.
As for things that you shouldn't do, I'll leave out most of the common sense things, but keep in mind:
6. Don't talk shit about the place you're visiting. In fact, don't talk shit about anything except sports teams. It will make everyone hate you, and when you're out of graduate school in the workplace, those people will remember. And they won't forgive you.
7. Under no circumstances should you discuss Ke$ha. I don't want to talk about it.
8. Don't act disinterested. Even if you're talking to someone for whom you have no interest in working, engage in the discussion. For one, that's good life advice, but in practice, you might just have yawned in the department chair's face. Tiki Barber once told me (and an auditorium full of people) that you never know when the foot you just stepped on belongs to the ass you're going to have to kiss. Might as well start now.
And since you've already made the decision to go visit graduate schools, I'll tell you a little bit about Scripps. Like most places, it's not perfect, but we do have a coffee cart in the chemistry building, so that's pretty cool. There's a golf course outside of my window, and Sarah thinks Tiger Woods talked to her last week. The chemistry building also vibrates, but you can think of it as more of a 24/7/365 butt massage. According to Dane's unscientific internet research, TSRI gives the most free food of any graduate school - you can get a solid 3–5 free meals each week. The bathrooms in the building get cleaned literally thousands of times per day. Scripps Green Hospital is next door, so as long as you pass their flu inspection on the way to the cafeteria, you can usually get salad that isn't brown; black beans and rice for $2? Yes please.
Let's be real though. My coworkers are the bomb-diggity, and at the end of the day, you want to go to grad school where the people surrounding you aren't trying to ruin your life. Remember, we're all like penguins, and we have to huddle together to survive the Antarctic winter. Feel free to hit me up by email or in the comments section with questions, concerns, criticisms, or to solicit any more life advice.
And a genuine thanks to Dane for making that bomb-diggity recruiting poster.