Recruitment Weekend & Department Climate


Many graduate programs set aside a time for all prospective students to visit and learn about their departments and universities. Lauren Leydon-Hardy, a philosophy graduate student at Northwestern University, writes in with some information about one aspect of their “recruitment weekend”:

When I visited Northwestern as a prospective student in 2011, I used an opportunity to be alone with a female faculty member to discuss the climate within the department. She was gracious and welcoming, and we spent the better part of half an hour alone in her office, chatting openly about their strengths and their shortcomings. She then directed me to a couple of female graduate students, with whom she encouraged me to continue this conversation. Those conversations were invaluable to me, as a prospective student, facing an enormous question about where to dedicate the next 5-6 years of my life.

Here’s a worry, though – what if some female grads are uncomfortable bringing up these concerns with faculty and current students? What if we’re not doing enough to make those conversations possible?

I worried about these questions. So, two years ago, together with a group of female graduate students, we began hosting an informal get-together for visiting female prospective students. We use this time to host a discussion about the climate in the profession, what it’s like to be a female graduate student at Northwestern, and what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy, more generally. The get-together has been productive for a host of reasons, chief among them being that it establishes a low-stakes social setting in which prospective female graduate students can meet and chat with current female graduate students, to ask difficult questions and explore mutually shared experiences. These conversations are highly relevant to prospective female students making informed decisions about what their best future looks like.

I’m so proud to say that, as of this year, the admissions committee at Northwestern has decided to formalize the women’s get-together, as a standing feature of our annual recruitment weekend. I think this is a tremendous step forward, and signals Northwestern’s continued commitment to fostering an environment that enables every student to put her best foot forward. We have found that this works, and we encourage other departments to try this at home. Set aside time for your visiting female students to sit and chat with current female students. Make space for these conversations. We are sure that you, too, will find it incredibly rewarding. 

It is the time of year that recruitment visits are being planned. I would welcome discussion not just of Northwestern’s plan for an official “women’s get-together,” but also of other events that departments are planning. I would also be interested in hearing from prospective and current graduate students about what they want, or would have wanted, or found of value, or a waste of time, in a recruitment visit.

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