A PhD student writes:
I just saw the post on visiting prospective graduate students. I think that Prof. Sullivan is right on with her suggestions. I think talking to people who are in the programs that students are considering is eally the best way to find if the program is a good fit.
I wonder, however, as a graduate student who is in a program that I think is deficient in several of the respects that Sullivan mentions, what our obligations to prospective students should be.
For example, I tend to think that my department is bad at placing its students at good jobs and that there is a general dearth of professional training. I also think that my department is not a great place for women, though I think it is getting better.
I have two concerns when talking to prospective graduate students. This has also come up for me when chatting with job candidates who come to campus.
The first is that I am concerned about my own reputation if I am fully honest when people ask how the environment for women is or how well the department takes care of its students. These things tend to get around, and I am worried that I may sully my reputation with my own professors if they realize that I am telling prospective graduate students and faculty about these problems. I also am worried that if it comes off that I am badmouthing my department, that is just bad form. I wouldn't want my reputation in philosophy circles to be linked to complaining about my department.
I am also well known in my own department for raising these issues, and so I think that if professors in the department hear that someone said something negative, they will assume it is me.
Second, I think that the environment for women, at least in my department, will get better if there are more women around. Thus, it seems self-defeating to discourage women from coming to the program because it is not a great place for women. The problem is similar with job candidates. When they ask what the graduate student life is like and how it can be improved, that seems to be a sign that they would better our department in these areas. I don't want to discourage them from accepting an offer by saying that our department as a whole just doesn't seem to care about professional development for grad students (or environment issues for women). They may not want to come if they imagine that they will be the only ones working on such matters. If they are women themselves, they may not want to come because of the climate issues, even though they might be able to do a lot to change the climate.
Of course, I see that misleading people by not mentioning real concerns cannot be fair to them. I just don't know how well graduate students themselves are in a position to offer this kind of information. When asked, I usually find myself changing the subject or mentioning the few things that are good and leaving out the bad.
Anyway, I thought that I cannot be the only graduate student who feels this way, so I thought it might be something worth a mention since you are discussing visiting prospective students.
Thoughts from readers? (Because I am still on the road, comments may take awhile to appear, please be patient.)