Aneesa Sonawalla: Interviewing for grad school is a two-way street

Aneesa Sonawalla (ACL) shared her list of questions and strategy for interviewing potential PhD advisors on the MIT GradBlog.

One of the most intimidating parts of the PhD application process is choosing a research group to join. It’s a daunting commitment–this group will be your home of sorts for the next five or more years. It’s important to think about this choice as finding a good match, rather than picking the name you think will look best on your papers.

When I was making this decision last year, I created a list of questions to ask potential advisors. While the primary goal was obviously to hear how the advisor answered each question, an equally important part of the process was asking myself what my ideal answer was for each one. This was pretty tough–it’s hard to know yourself! At the core, I was trying to answer the most critical question: what do want to get out of graduate school? Particularly coming from a stable industry career that did not require me to get a PhD to advance, I wanted to ensure that I was setting myself up to get the most out of my experience. Forcing myself to think about the mentorship style I value in an advisor, the type of working environment I function best in, how social I wanted to be with my labmates, and so on, led me to a choice that I could feel confident in.