Sunday, March 04, 2007

My favorite dog and pony show

It's recruiting season at Princeton.
Typically, prospective students don't actually visit our department until they're already admitted, meaning that the department pulls out all the stops to bring in plenty of great people. I was admitted in the first year that Princeton started having a full recruiting weekend, instead of ad hoc visits to the department, and it made a huge difference (we had 1.5 times more people start than what had been common for the past 5 or 6 years). Every department does recruiting differently and presumably tries to do something distinctive/memorable, although I feel like most students come for a certain faculty member or two, not the department as a whole. Back when I was a senior in college, I remember that I had dinner at Yale's Peabody Museum (with the dinosaurs), but I think I heard that that hasn't been done in recent years. True? Also, does anybody know whether MIT still does the lobster bake? I've been told that TSRI does interview its students before admitting them, so the process is a little different there. What are some of the other well-known/ unique/ offbeat recruiting traditions?
The really interesting stuff happens after recruiting, when students commit to the university and then have to join a group. This tends to fuel the gossip for the better part of the fall semester. Who's going where, how many people is so-and-so taking, and the like. The department doesn't allow anyone to officially join a group until the end of November, although many students will start working in their lab of choice the summer before. During the fall semester, all first years attend all the research talks given by the faculty in one of our lecture halls. Unfortunately, as my years here have progressed, I've started to notice that the department's been providing less and less food at these events (we got free lunch and baked goods, the next year it was just baked goods, the year after that nothing at all.) My understanding is that at some places, the research talks are more of an "open house" setup, where interested parties listen to the faculty member discuss what's going on in the group. I've seen some of David Liu's open house posters, for instance. I understand why the department asks everyone to attend every talk, since there have been several occasions where students have switched fields completely at the beginning of grad school, and it's important to know what's going on outside of your field, but I also think that in an open house situation, there's likely to be more lively discussion, because everyone who's attending wants to be there.



At 2:22 AM, Blogger Excimer said...

Scripps is one of the few (if not the only?) chem depts. in the country that does interviews. But they're Scripps, and they're special. Northwestern wines and dines you at the Hancock Tower, then a rich prof (Chad Mirkin in my case) pays the tab for everyone at a bar for a night. (I did not end up at Northwestern. Fun weekend though.)

I guess it's a Harvard thing to have weird/creative open house posters. Christina White's are quite popular here. One of her older ones is her face tacked on the Mona Lisa with the question "Why is this woman smiling?" They have gotten progressively weirder since then. She's quite a character.

At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Zinc said...

I think the Scripps 'interview' is just to make sure the people they admit really are who they say they are on paper, the admittance/interview ratio is pretty high, I've heard.

Christina White's at Illinois now, right?

At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

That Mona Lisa poster was awesome. A wonderful idea by a true genius.

I hope that the first-year graduate students realize that the decision of who's lab to join is perhaps the single most important decision that they will make in their academic careers. The decision of where to go for grad school is an order of magnitude less important; there are good labs everywhere.

At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might tell the potential students they are joining a dying profession. Most new chem jobs are going abroad and of course with cutbacks at the NIH, academic positions are becoming harder to get.

Just thought you might like to know. You hardly ever hear anything on C&E news.

Your story does bring back the memories though. You're never more wanted in chemistry than when you're a new student. After that it's all downhill.

At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yale's dinner is now at the Lawn Club. The museum must have been creepy...


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