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.

guest
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Justin Caouette
6 years ago

My advice: (1) be sure to meet with the folks you plan on working with, even folks that might not be in your area *at the moment* but whose work looks interesting nonetheless, and (2) get to know the grad students. Ask about the profs, the atmosphere, their policies about conference funding, the work load, etc. I had one fly-out when I was deciding on grad programs and I’m so glad I went. The people I thought I would work with turned out not to be folks I connected with *at all*. This was a deciding factor for me not attending that program. So, if you’re lucky enough to visit the program you’ve been accepted to be sure to have a general plan of action. Oh, and enjoy! This can be a huge life transition but try not to get overwhelmed. I still stay in touch with many of the grad students that I met on that trip, it’s a great way to start building a far-reaching cohort and support system in the academy.Report

Overseas Prospective Student
Overseas Prospective Student
6 years ago

As a prospective student from overseas (non-English speaking country), I would appreciate if any of you could shed some lights on the following questions:

(1) Are programs committed to financially cover the costs of students in my condition to visit? The costs are significantly higher, so I think this might be a real concern.

(2) If not, any tips on how I should proceed to get to know places better?

Thanks in advance!Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

Some of the richest programs may be able to cover the full costs of a visit for you. Others (perhaps all) will contribute something. Ideally, you would get admitted to a few different programs, and each would offer, say, $800 towards your travel expenses, and collectively they would provide enough money for you to visit. The visits tend to be clustered in late March/early April, so it is possible to do several at once. And departments do tend to cover up to the high-end of domestic travel costs, so there is a budget that will work if you can add a few visits together.

It gets harder if you are only admitted to one or two places, or they aren’t that rich. (And remember some very good philosophy departments aren’t that rich, especially those at public universities.) You have to talk to the admissions director at the place you’re admitted to see what they will do. It might be possible to set up phone/video calls with existing graduate students or faculty, or Skype into some planned event. It isn’t the same as being there, but it’s better than nothing. But before you settle for that, you should talk one-on-one with the person doing admissions; they may be able to find more money for your travel given your situation. It doesn’t hurt to ask.Report

Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Lauren Leydon-Hardy
6 years ago

Elizabeth Barnes asked a really helpful question in response to this post, that I think could be extremely useful in guiding our discussion, here.

From E: Just curious (especially since I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my role as admissions director in my department): have you guys thought much about how/whether/to what extent you might extend this kind of effort to incorporate other under-represented groups? I think women-specific events can be really valuable in a male-dominated field like philosophy, but at the same time I worry that people from other groups might feel like their interests aren’t as valued or represented (especially since, comparatively speaking, non-disabled white women seem to be faring significantly better in philosophy than other groups, at least on some dimensions). I should emphasize that I ask this question entirely as a point of genuine curiosity for what you guys are up to! (It’s not, e.g., a criticism veiled as a question.)

I’ve been thinking and worrying a lot about Elizabeth’s question. I confess, I don’t have any really exciting answers, here. It’s not obvious to me that exactly parallel initiatives to the women’s meeting will work for other under-represented groups. Maybe I’m just not thinking creatively enough. But, I would love it if a part of our discussion here could be an exercise in collaborating on how best to serve under-represented groups, particularly while they’re trying to make decisions about where to pursue their graduate careers.Report

Sarah Adams
Sarah Adams
6 years ago

One thought in response to Elizabeth Barnes’ question: it might be helpful for departments to have publicized (enough) resources for incoming students. For instance, my department doesn’t have a meeting specifically for women or minorities during the visit weekend. It might be an interesting thing for us to adopt! However, we do have a grad student who is in charge of the weekend and a grad student who reports to the climate committee (full disclosure: I was the admissions grad student last year, and I’m the climate grad student this year). My hope is that all our incoming students and potential visitors will receive information on who to contact about climate issues with the assurance that this person will be as honest and discreet as possible. Current grad students who’ve experience climate issues (either women or minorities) probably know who among the faculty to refer people to as well. In the past, we’ve sort of tried to pull people aside as discreetly as possible to see if they have any questions, but I find this can be a little uncomfortable and overwhelming. In general, we try to give the incoming students the opportunity to see how our department functions, and to interact individually with faculty, and to meet as many of the grad students (informally, either in meals or a reception) as possible.

I like the idea of having a meeting with female visiting students, but I do worry about a case like we had last year where we only had one woman visit. I referred her to a faculty member I thought she should talk to, and I made sure she met the other women in the department. So I think a separate meeting (or at least offering a separate meeting) is a great idea, but I think it’s also important to offer information and contacts to people who can’t come to the visit weekend.

To the overseas prospective student: I think it’s worthwhile to at least ask! Our program plans for a certain number of visitors, so hotel rooms are already booked and meals are already planned. We then pay back people for transportation costs. We’ve had overseas students come, and we paid a portion of their plane ticket, but not the whole thing.Report

Baron Reed
Baron Reed
6 years ago

As the chair of graduate admissions at Northwestern, my colleagues and I are deeply grateful to the efforts that Lauren and many of our other graduate students have devoted to making our community an inclusive, collaborative, and happy place to be. Both the meeting with prospective female graduate students and our Climate Committee are student-led initiatives. Faculty are very happy to support these efforts–including in giving them autonomy to help shape our department for the better.

In response to the question from Elizabeth Barnes: in addition to the women’s meeting Lauren mentioned, we also have a meeting between our Climate Committee (composed of graduate students, with a faculty liaison) and all of our visiting prospective graduate students. The aims of that meeting are both to listen to questions and concerns the prospectives may have and to make clear that the culture of our department is one where we actively value the differences each of us brings to the community.

I also encourage all of our prospective students, both admitted and wait listed, to ask me or any of my colleagues in the department (faculty or student) any questions they may have, and would certainly welcome ones that have to do with the way various forms of diversity and inclusiveness are experienced here. I will try to steer them toward people who are already in our program and may have some relevant experiences to share. In the case of students with disabilities, I would also direct them toward AccessibleNU, which is a very pro-active office with a lot of resources and experience in helping those who might need advice or special accommodations. They’ll work with the student and faculty in our department to put together a plan that allows us to provide the best possible learning environment.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

I want to comment on what I think is useful in deciding on a graduate program, but first a comment on Elizabeth’s important question:

Obviously, this is a really difficult question. Non-disabled white women are better represented, our social and professional interests better protected, and we are privileged, relative to people who are marginalized along other dimensions—and irrespective of who is more privileged, there are a number of social identities that will raise legitimate concerns regarding a department’s culture. Hosting an event so that some social group can get together when you’re not hosting an event for every group may communicate that some social group is more valued than others. Hosting an event for each social group might communicate that the department doesn’t recognize the complexity of intersectionality, put an uncomfortable burden on those who belong to such social groups, or cause discomfort for those who do not want to be identified as having some social identity. Hosting an event for everyone aimed at inclusiveness issues may not be conducive to fostering the kinds of conversations that would be most useful. And of course all of these social dynamics are interconnected; a department can’t be genuinely welcoming to women, for example, unless it’s welcoming to women full stop. Since there are women of color, women with disabilities, queer women, etc., to ignore issues of inclusiveness along some dimensions would compromise the efforts you’re attempting to make with respect to some other dimension.

It’s complicated, and I’m sure we don’t do everything right—but Baron is right that we do have a student run climate committee, and our purpose is aimed at fostering inclusiveness broadly construed. A department can be welcoming or unwelcoming in a variety of ways, some of which are obvious and others may not be—and a lot will depend on particular circumstances (e.g., a religiously affiliated school might raise questions about whether or not those who are nonreligious feel like they’re excluded from the community in some way that interferes with their ability to thrive, while a secular school might raise the same concern for theists). Again, Baron is right that our climate committee meets with the prospective students too to let them know what we do, to talk about what resources would be available to them here, and to offer a chance for them to ask questions about these broader issues (or introduce them to people who they can ask questions of later if they don’t feel comfortable asking then). I should say, I didn’t actually attend the official visit here when I was considering programs because I had a scheduling conflict and lived close enough that I could come visit easily another time. Additionally, this is my first year here, so my description here is based off of the reports of others in conjunction with my planning for this year as a member of that committee.

Regarding what I found useful myself on visits: I second what Justin said above; meeting people who you might want to work with is important. One thing I did (perhaps this isn’t polite, but it was very useful) was ask to be put in contact specifically with people who might be unhappy in, or disgruntled with, the department. Students who volunteer to interact with prospective students are likely to be involved, engaged, and satisfied with the department; they might not be able to offer you a full picture of what your experience will be like. It’s helpful to know who is unhappy and why—but, for me, it was also useful to gauge the reaction to my request. There are problems in every community, though they may take different shapes in different places. What mattered most to me was not whether or not departments had problems but rather how they would be handled if I ever encountered them. When my request was responded to with understanding and an immediate effort to meet it, it indicated to me that a department was making no real effort to hide, and that was, in turn, a real indication that they cared both about helping me make the best decision I could and about the issues that might cause concern.Report

Anthony Kelley
Anthony Kelley
6 years ago

The philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to fostering an inclusive climate for everyone, but especially for women and other underrepresented groups. Though there is no formal component of recruitment weekend wherein admitted applicants will discuss climate issues with female faculty and/or graduate students, as a graduate student representative to the departmental committee tasked to improve the climate, I can say with confidence that such informal opportunities will be available for those seeking it. The department as a whole, and especially the graduate students, are eager to share with the incoming class of students all the ways in which the department has made progress in making the department a better place for women to teach and study philosophy. I am not a woman, but as an African-American from a working class background, I am particularly eager to share my positive experiences in the department and to discuss how progress has been made with respect to the climate here. Email me at [email protected].Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

I just realized I forgot to respond to Overseas Prospective Student and I meant to: I agree with Brian Weatherson that you should definitely ask about this, and that it will depend on the program–but I also wanted to strongly recommend that you request to be put in contact with international students who are already in the program. You should try to talk to lots of people in the department anyway, but international students face a whole set of concerns that domestic students may not be aware of and thus may not be able to offer you all of the information that will be important to you in making your decision (are there additional insurance costs or extra student fees? If you already have an MA or equivalent, or even a higher degree, will the program recognize your coursework? Does the institution have any programs in place to assist international students with visas, adjusting to the move, providing language assistance if needed, etc.? Do international students who have teaching experience at the institution feel like they face any special challenges, and do those students feel as if they’re getting adequate support?).Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

I wanted to respond to a part of CDF’s comment on another post which is located here, http://dailynous.com/2015/02/23/philosophy-and-depression/#comment-55446 — but I also didn’t want to hijack that important thread. CDF wrote:

“It’s great to have tenured and other individuals bringing publicity to the reality of depression and matters of mental health. But I wonder if we should perhaps echo the call from a few posts back on seminars in recruitment weekends for women-only or minority-only sessions, and make an effort to bring such publicity of recognition of mental health into recruitment and to help students understand the nature of the climate there too.

As of right now, while receiving offers, I am becoming increasingly wary of where I might like to study, concerned that my applications may have been blind to my own mental health, knowing that my relatively utopian experience is not to last (Echoing Sometimes Sad Grad [13]). It would help in publicizing the reality of depression (&c) not only to focus on increasing awareness within the Academy, but also in confronting incoming classes who, for the most part, know much better today the mental health difficulties they face than in days gone by, and who need that support”

This is an important suggestion, so I just wanted to say that after seeing this comment some of us at NU have started an internal discussion both to make sure that prospective students will be aware of what resources and accommodations will be available to them, and to be sure that those resources and accommodations are adequate.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I wondered if I could ask about the etiquette of accepting invitations to visit campuses when you’ve already been offered your top choice. I’m pretty sure I’m going to accept school A’s offer (it’s ideal, on paper). But there’s still a small chance that I’ll go to visit school A and end up hating it: in which case, I might consider accepting offers from schools B and C, who are also good places to be. Schools B and C are having their visits earlier than school A. So, I’m wondering: should I turn down the campus visits, given that I am more likely at this point to accept school A, and they might not to waste their time on me? Or should I go on all the visits anyway (or at least, three or four, say), given that I could go to school A and end up not feeling good about it? Also, I’m coming from Europe, which means it could end up being pricey for the schools in question.Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
6 years ago

@Anonymous (11) – I’d say you should definitely feel free to visit any school that you are seriously considering, regardless of your initial preference ordering, since these preferences can very easily be revised (and appropriately so!) by campus visits. (It can be awkward if they turn out to be scheduled for after your top-choice visit, as there’s then a risk of your showing up having already more or less decided to go with your now-confirmed top choice. But this is not an issue for earlier-scheduled visits. And even in the more awkward case of later-scheduled visits, I don’t think anyone could reasonably blame you since you couldn’t have known in advance how the other campus visit would go.)Report

M
M
6 years ago

I agree with RYC above. If there is a realistic possibility that you could change your mind — if your on-paper top choice could be a flameout, or your second choice might show much better — then you can feel free to accept a campus visit, even knowing that it is unlikely that your initial preference ordering will change. If you have a visit scheduled after you in fact confirm your top choice as your top choice, and it is no longer a possibility that you would go with the other school, make contact with the less-preferred school, explain the situation, and cancel the visit. Only one of the costs of a visit is travel — there is also meals, transportation, etc. — and you can save the school those costs by canceling. No one’s life is made better by having a visiting candidate who is going through the motions.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Thank you both, that’s very helpful. The main reason I want to visit is to get a feel for the climate. It’s important to me that I feel comfortable in the place I’m going to be spending the next five years. I’m also unlikely to produce much good philosophy if I’m in a hostile or overly-competitive environment. (Maybe this is particularly important to me since I’m female: don’t want to feel outnumbered and/or undermined.) So while school A looks great on paper, I could choose another school if A’s vibe seems overly competitive and aggressive when I get there.Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
6 years ago

@M – Oh, right, I was assuming an international visit itinerary where cancelling the last leg of the trip isn’t really an option. But in cases where it is, by all means do cancel if you’re in a position to confidently rule an option out of consideration!Report

Megan Dean
Megan Dean
6 years ago

We’ve got something similar to Northwestern going on a Georgetown. Last year a group of women grad students founded our Climate Coalition (a group of women who regularly meet to discuss and organize around climate issues in the department), and we held a meeting with prospective women students during recruitment weekend. We’re planning the same thing this year. The recruitment weekend meeting is a place for prospectives to receive honest information about the climate, but also an opportunity to model and foster a good climate by getting to know other students/prospectives in a more relaxed setting. It seems like it was a hit.Report