Tag Archives: advice

Advice for Choosing Grad Programs

A former student of mine just emailed me asking for advice about how to go about finding graduate programs to apply to for a particular topic area. Here’s what I wrote. What do you think? What would you add/change/delete?


From my Psychology perspective, picking grad programs to apply for can be a bit tricky. Here are the tips that come to mind:

  • Choose an advisor whose work you like to read. Find *recent* articles on the topics you’re interested. Find out who the Principal Investigator was on those papers (i.e., whose lab it was). Make sure it wasn’t just a one-off side project, or that the person hasn’t moved on to other work. Find the PI’s website, read articles by them. (I think you still have access to the ubc library resources with your A-card.) If you like their work and their writing style, move on.
  • Find out about their lab. Do they seem to have a big lab with lots of grad students and undergrads working on lots of projects? There are pros and cons to many answers to these questions, so you’ll need to get a sense of what you like. Red flag (IMO): very few students producing very few projects.
  • Consider the school they’re at. Depending on what you want to do later, the school might matter (e.g., large and prestigious vs. little known). Sometimes a great advisor matters much much more than a school.
  • As much as possible, city/province/country should be low on the list of priorities for choosing. Big cities cost a lot and have myriad distractions. Small university towns can be boring… which is a good thing when you should be writing (which is *always* when you’re a grad student – for many people it’s not usually an appropriate time in one’s life for “balance”).

Hope that helps. I encourage you to talk with people who are currently graduate students, especially in programs (similar to) those you’re interested in applying to.