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Graduate Student Life Guides
Health & Wellness
Research and Writing Skills
Career Resources 
Offices for Grad Students and/or Women
  • Rackham Graduate School 

    • Conflict Resolution: Resolution Officer for Grad Students (​link)

    • Graduate Students with Children (link)​

  • College of Engineering's Office of Student Affairs OSA

  • Women in Science and Engineering WISE

    • ​Subscribe to WISE newsletter for grad students (link

  • Center for the Education of Women CEW

Organizations for Graduate Women
  • At U of M
    • Rackham Student Government (RSG)

      • Subscribe to Rackham Student Govt newsletter (link)​

    • Association for Women in Science AWIS

    • Movement of Under-represented Sisters in Engineering and Science MUSES

    • ​Ensemble of CSE Ladies ECSEL
    • Society of Women in Physics SWIP

    • Michigan Earth Science Women's Network M-ESWN

    • Graduate Employees' Organization GEO

  • External ​​​​
    • National Society of Women Engineers SWE

    • Association for American University Women AAUW

Questions to ask Grad Students Before Committing to an Advisor

As graduate students, your relationship with your advisor will be central to your success and well-being throughout graduate school. Remember your power as a graduate student - you deliver incredible value to your lab and your advisor, so it's important for you to take charge of finding the right fit and taking steps to build a healthy relationship. You can start by identifying the right lab/advisor fit for you by asking current graduate students the questions below, and matching your expectations with your advisor's early and often. Current graduate students are your most valuable resource for getting the inside scoop on a specific lab's culture. Most grad students will agree: a healthy work environment will get you much farther than a perfect research fit. 

PI=Principal Investigator (the advisor)


Questions about lab culture:

  1. What is the funding situation in the lab? What grants do you have and what is the time period they cover?

  2. How would you describe the culture within the lab? How well do the members of the lab get along?

  3. Is everyone in the lab treated equally regardless of background and/or experience?

  4. Do the graduate students work together towards common goals or do you have completely separate projects?

  5. How often are students in your lab expected to teach?

  6. How often do you have lab meetings? Walk me through how a typical lab meeting would go.

  7. Depending of type of research (theory groups), does your advisor allow you to work remotely?

  8. Do you feel comfortable talking with your advisor in general, about research or any other topic?

  9. Are there any specific work hours in your group or can you come in anytime you prefer?

  10. Does the lab host group activities? (group lunch/barbecue/coffee/etc.)

  11. What has made you feel welcome or unwelcome in the lab?


Questions about management:


  1. Does the PI always respond to your emails? Do they respond in a reasonable amount of time?

  2. How often do you see or hear from your PI? Several times a day? Every other month?

  3. How often do you meet one-on-one with your PI?

  4. Does your PI monitor your progress and performance in a reasonable manner? Does she/he have reasonable expectations? Does your PI discuss your goals with you and give feedback on your work?

  5. When your PI asks you to turn in something (powerpoint slides, paper, abstract), does she/he give you enough time to complete the assignment or is it always last minute?



  1. How is responsibility distributed for writing a paper? Does your PI review your drafts before sending out to co-authors, or is everyone involved at once?

  2. How is authorship determined for papers? Does the PI alone dictate authorship order?

  3. Which professors do your PI interact/collaborate with in the department? Outside the department? Have collaborations resulted in publications and/or grant funding?

  4. How would you describe your PI’s reputation within the research field?

  5. How are graduate students in the lab evaluated? Does this change as you progress through your PhD?

  6. Are expectations tailored differently per person or per project, and is this known throughout the lab?

  7. How many PhD students has your PI graduated? What was their average time to graduation?



  1. Is your PI understanding of personal health issues and/or family emergencies? Do you feel comfortable talking about these issues with your PI?

  2. How does your PI handle vacation time? How much vacation are grad students typically allowed?



  1. Does your PI encourage you to submit conference abstracts? Does your PI agree to fund your conference attendance? Are there limitations on conferences (certain number, domestic-only, etc.)?

  2. Does your PI introduce you to people at conferences?



Questions about research:

  1. Is there someone in the group to train you when you first start? How do students usually get started on a project when they first join the group (in terms of learning new equipment/software/research topic)?

  2. Who can you go to for help on your project other than your PI?

  3. What is the average number of publications in your lab per year?

  4. Do you feel comfortable presenting ideas to your PI?

  5. Do you feel comfortable talking with your PI about challenges in your project? Does she/he help you with challenges and provide useful suggestions on how to overcome an obstacle?

  6. Did you develop your project or did your PI have a project planned out for you?

  7. Does your PI support students who choose to pursue industry rather than academia?

  8. Does your PI provide you with all the necessary equipment and material you need for your research?

  9. Has anyone in your group done a dual degree or certificate? Does your advisor support such decisions? Does she/he support involvement in extracurricular activities?

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