I am going to visit schools that have made me an offer. Would it be too eager if I ask potential supervisors if they will be interested in taking on students?
The American system is new to me. In the UK, you tend to (but not always) speak to potential supervisor and get one to agree to supervise before making an application. All my applications in the UK were co-written by a member of the faculty this way.
I am a little bit unsure about the US system - do we take courses for 2 years, pass the quals, then look for an advisor? Would asking around any time before that be too soon or too eager?
I'm from Europe too, so, as you say, have less exposure to the American way. I think the structure of the program can vary drastically depending on the institution. At the open day I'm attending I'll definitely be asking a few questions about the specific structure, including when you choose an advisor.
(Congrats on getting an offer, by the way. Was especially pleased for you given how it's your second year applying. )
Depends entirely on the professor. Some will say "sure, you can start working for me right now" while other will say "I need to get to know you by having lots of classes with you before I direct any kind of research for you." I think you want to assume the professors you want to work with have the latter sentiment, and if you approach them, say you're interested in their work and that you'd like to be their student, but you realize you have to prove yourself, and then ask for some references to read so that the transition to the kind of stuff they might want you to do will be eased.
Yes, you should absolutely talk to potential advisers and ask if they are generally willing to take on more students. They are not going to make a commitment to work with you, but it's good to know if it's generally an option.
You might learn that someone is planning to leave the department, that they are generally not advising students, or that they already have so many advisees that they are not planning to take on additional responsibilities. I crossed several programs off my list when I learned that the people I wanted to work with weren't going to be available as advisers.
Also talk to their students if you get the chance. (Are the students happy? Are the professors hands-on or hands-off advisers? Do they have grant support for their students in addition to the departmental funding? Do the students collaborate, or is everyone working on their own independent project?)
For example, a lot of the students I talked to at Cornell felt neglected by their advisers. The students who were finishing that year also seemed to have a hard time finding jobs. Not an environment that I'd want to be in.
owlpride wrote:For example, a lot of the students I talked to at Cornell felt neglected by their advisers. The students who were finishing that year also seemed to have a hard time finding jobs. Not an environment that I'd want to be in.