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Watching from the sidelines - ds applying to grad school


Hoggirl
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Hello, all!  I don’t post much here anymore, but I am seeking support/advice/experiences for those who have watched their children apply to grad school. While I didn’t homeschool all the way though high school (as many of you did), I was pretty involved in the college application process.  At least in terms of keeping ds on track with pacing and reading though essays, etc.  Now ds is applying to b-school this cycle, and I find myself back in that same mode of worrying/obsessing/wondering/waiting.  Only this time, I am pretty much not involved.  Ds did ask me to read through his essays for his two Round 1 schools.  I was pretty surprised and flattered.  But, I’m trying not to ask any questions about any of it unless he brings it up, and IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!  

Maybe this is just a JAWM, vent,  or seeking commiseration thread.  Just wondering how you all have dealt with any of your kids applying to graduate/professional school but having practically no involvement.  

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No advice, but, it is hard.  I try to repeat to myself--it's his journey, look at the wonderful things he is doing, whatever xyz (job, school, etc.)turns out to work or even if it doesn't, it will be fine and he will have a "good" life, it's his journey (again!lol) and he can and will and should do it his way with me just loving and supporting him from behind.  But, yes, it drives me crazy not to ask questions or to pounce when he brings certain subjects up.

You can do this, mama! 🙂

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My advice is to stay out of it. They know what they're doing. Their advisors are the people they should turn to with questions. Anything that parents can say will likely just complicate their lives. Don't get emotionally invested in the outcome. Just let him tell you what he decides when it's all done.

Edited by 8filltheheart
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DD is in a masters program now.  Neither DH or I were involved in the application process.  Now she is talking about going on for a PhD and has discussed some of her options with DH and me, but that is primarily because DH and I are both college professors so we have some particular insights.  She is asking us more like she would ask her professors rather than asking us as a parent.  I just viewed it as taking the same type of role tht I take in other areas of my adult children's lives--being supportive, providing input if asked, and knowing that they aren't my decisions to make or worry about.  

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I am in the middle of this now. And I have the same worries. I think we need to support our kids in any way that they ask.

8fill, I know that your physics boy got a LOT of support from his research adviser, and I think that his whole experience with research at Bama was amazing, but I'm not feeling that my ds is getting quite the same support. He is getting support from his research adviser, but not piles as far as I can tell. His main research adviser said he would definitely get ds into a good program, but this guy is an assistant prof, so with fewer connections and less experience. My ds is the only UG in his lab, and I'm not sure how many other UG he has helped get into grad programs in the past.

And I also think that the kids that are applying this year have now had TWO summers (out of 3 in UG) that have been majorly impacted by covid.  My son currently has made his third UROP happen, even though he has never met the prof, and the prof is older and not very interested/comfortable with zoom. Because of this, their conversations have been kind of awkward. This guy needs to write ds a rec, but my ds can't really ask him yet, because he really needs to wait until he meets him and works with him face to face a bit and makes a good impression.  My ds is currently doing machine learning in particle physics and a second research project in theoretical condensed matter physics from his BEDROOM.

The other problem with covid is that my ds has had a difficult time trying to figure out what kind of research he wants to do because the opportunities have been severely limited, and he just hasn't had the 'lab' experience because he has been doing all his research out of his bedroom for his sophomore and junior years.  This makes it hard for him to figure out what he should be looking for when researching schools.  He has a list of profs to consider, but no personal wisdom as to what to look for to make a good lab for him.  

My point is that I am kind of trying to advise as best as I can, and trying to send him to ask questions of others, but covid has kind of munted the standard process, so he is not exactly where he needs to be in his experience or in narrowing his choices as he would have been if he had gone to university prepandemic. 

Edited by lewelma
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Thank you. I know you are all correct that I need to stay out of it unless asked.  And, I really am.  When he told me he was applying, we had lots of discussion about it, and I DID ask lots of questions then.  At the end of that conversation I said, “Okay, I am finished with all my questions and won’t ask you about any more about this unless you bring it up.”  And, I have been true to my word on that.  We usually talk once a week, and I don’t ask anything/bring it up AT ALL.  He sent the essays to both dh and me, and we read them and gave feedback and thanked him for asking for our input.  Haven’t said/asked anything since.  Which is why I came here to whine and bellyache about it - lol.  Thank you for being a sounding board. 

Yes, @lewelma , “worry” would be the operative word for me as well.  I know he wants it, so I want it for him.  Which basically boils down to the fact that I can’t stand not being in control.  However, even if I WERE involved in the process, I still wouldn’t be in control because I don’t control the admissions process and outcome.  Your ds’s process is far different from that of my ds’s.  But, we can worry together - lol.  Not that it does any good. I’m going to worry whether I’m involved or not. 

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19 minutes ago, Hoggirl said:

Thank you. I know you are all correct that I need to stay out of it unless asked. 

So my ds asked me to help yesterday. His UROP adviser told him that there was another professor at a different university who was tracking my ds's research, and that my ds should ask him for a LoR. (apparently it looks good to admissions if others are tracking your UG research!??!)  Anyway, my ds was like I have NO idea how to write a person I have never met or communicated for and ask him for a LoR. LOL. So he and I spent close to an hour crafting something that my ds felt good about sending.  And the guy wrote back - Yes. 🙂 But this is an example of where I can help. He has been advised by someone who knows what to do, but then my ds was not sure how to implement it and asked me for help. I'm there. 

Edited by lewelma
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Another way I am helping, he needs to update his resumes. Well, I have helped a LOT of people with resumes, so have the capability and knowledge. The one he has now he created with a seminar and personal evaluation in his Sophomore year, so we know it is done in the proper format for acedemia.  Now he just needs to update it. This I can help him with. Once again, he has gotten other's advice, but then I am doing some of the grunt work *with* him. 

I just think saying, 'we are in the middle of a pandemic, but I really think this is on you,' is kind of harsh.  I'm there for him whenever he asks. 

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@lewelma I see helping with a resume as much different than getting involved in anything else (though my kids' U's career centers had resume assistance) other than financial assistance if they need it for their applications.  

In terms of being on top of things, offering advice, or even crafting a letter asking for a LoR (plus all of the other things your wrote in your other post prior to editing), no, I do no think adult college students should seek that sort of assistance from parents.  If they aren't getting enough assistance from their advisor, I'd expect them to get help from their career center, especially with covid scenarios.  They are the ones who will know how to help them far better than a parent.

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1 hour ago, 8filltheheart said:

@lewelma I see helping with a resume as much different than getting involved in anything else (though my kids' U's career centers had resume assistance) other than financial assistance if they need it for their applications.  

In terms of being on top of things, offering advice, or even crafting a letter asking for a LoR (plus all of the other things your wrote in your other post prior to editing), no, I do no think adult college students should seek that sort of assistance from parents.  If they aren't getting enough assistance from their advisor, I'd expect them to get help from their career center, especially with covid scenarios.  They are the ones who will know how to help them far better than a parent.

All good. We can agree to disagree. I am helping when ds asks for help. He is in a foreign country, with no way to get home, in a pandemic, and looking to plan his future. My typical response is to ask xxx, or go talk to the xxx department, which he does. But he has been living in his bed room for 1.5 years now, navigating a world that is difficult and confusing. He is an adult, and as an adult asks for help when he needs it, whether from me or others. If he asks, I give it.

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Is MIT's campus not open now?  Is Boston under lockdown?  I'm trying to understand why he is living in his bedroom.  It could be MA is just very different from where we are bc things here are completely open and life is pretty much functioning normally.  My college sophomore has been back in class for a couple of weeks and worked on campus doing on-campus research all summer.

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1 hour ago, 8filltheheart said:

@lewelma I see helping with a resume as much different than getting involved in anything else (though my kids' U's career centers had resume assistance) other than financial assistance if they need it for their applications.  

In terms of being on top of things, offering advice, or even crafting a letter asking for a LoR (plus all of the other things your wrote in your other post prior to editing), no, I do no think adult college students should seek that sort of assistance from parents.  If they aren't getting enough assistance from their advisor, I'd expect them to get help from their career center, especially with covid scenarios.  They are the ones who will know how to help them far better than a parent.

 

21 minutes ago, lewelma said:

All good. We can agree to disagree. I am helping when ds asks for help. He is in a foreign country, with no way to get home, in a pandemic, and looking to plan his future. My typical response is to ask xxx, or go talk to the xxx department, which he does. But he has been living in his bed room for 1.5 years now, navigating a world that is difficult and confusing. He is an adult, and as an adult asks for help when he needs it, whether from me or others. If he asks, I give it.

It seems like there might be three sorts of objections to what lewelma's suggesting. 

First, that she's being intrusive.  That isn't the case, it seems to me, since the child asked for help. 

Second, that the child would be better served by consulting university resources.  I imagine this depends a great deal both on the specifics of the university resources and on the abilities of the parents.  Given a parent like lewelma, and given the institutional structure of MIT, I myself am betting on lewelma.  She has a good deal of experience in sophisticated rhetoric, a strong science background, superior knowledge of her child and (apparently) practice writing resumes.  Other parents, or even perhaps lewelma with a child in a different situation, would want to point a child toward other resources for help. 

Third, that it somehow isn't appropriate for an undergrad student to get help from parents.  To be true, it is sort of "unfair" for an undergrad to get help from capable parents because so many undergrads have parents who are less able or less willing to help than lewelma is; but I don't think it is inappropriate.  DH's gut feeling is also that this sort of help is excellent, if the parent can provide it (he runs a research lab at a graduate campus, and gets lots of requests for LoRs and has supervised many UGs in summer or post-graduate technician jobs). 

Just some thoughts from a person who is observing pandemic lab life from the perspective of a lab-head's spouse.  And a mother of probable future grad-school applicants.  🙂 

Edited by serendipitous journey
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45 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

Is MIT's campus not open now?  Is Boston under lockdown?  I'm trying to understand why he is living in his bedroom.  It could be MA is just very different from where we are bc things here are completely open and life is pretty much functioning normally.  My college sophomore has been back in class for a couple of weeks and worked on campus doing on-campus research all summer.

MIT campus was closed for most of the summer.  Back in April, DS chose to move to a place that seemed safe when he signed the contract for his apartment (early April), but ended up being a major hotspot this summer. He and his flatmates have been very careful and not gone out much. Move in day for MIT is in a week at which point he will be back on campus in Boston.

I think that each person's pandemic experience is so very varied.

Edited by lewelma
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13 minutes ago, serendipitous journey said:

 

Just some thoughts from a person who is observing pandemic lab life from the perspective of a lab-head's spouse.  And a mother of probable future grad-school applicants.  🙂 

Thanks for that. I'm being open because I think people need to understand that the pandemic has impacted UG kids in different ways. Yes they are adults, but they are navigating a world that is very difficult and confusing. Seeking help is a very adult thing to do -- this help does not need to be professional help to be valid. 

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28 minutes ago, serendipitous journey said:

To be true, it is sort of "unfair" for an undergrad to get help from capable parents because so many undergrads have parents who are less able or less willing to help than lewelma is

This made me laugh. A lot of people pay the big bucks to get professional help that is way better than anything I can offer. 🙂

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1 hour ago, serendipitous journey said:

To be true, it is sort of "unfair" for an undergrad to get help from capable parents because so many undergrads have parents who are less able or less willing to help than lewelma is; but I don't think it is inappropriate.

I'm going to say something that is probably not PC, or whatever the appropriate term is now, but this is one reason that success can be a family trait.  

It is natural for parents to act as consultants for their adult children.  

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9 hours ago, Hoggirl said:

... Now ds is applying to b-school this cycle, and I find myself back in that same mode of worrying/obsessing/wondering/waiting.  Only this time, I am pretty much not involved.  Ds did ask me to read through his essays for his two Round 1 schools.  I was pretty surprised and flattered.  But, I’m trying not to ask any questions about any of it unless he brings it up, and IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!  

Maybe this is just a JAWM, vent,  or seeking commiseration thread.  Just wondering how you all have dealt with any of your kids applying to graduate/professional school but having practically no involvement.  

I wanted to toss out that you could think of this as an investment in the relationship.  😉  If DH's mother had been able to keep quieter about all the post-grad stuff she thought he could use her advice on, but for which he wasn't wanting input, he'd have ended up talking to her a lot more about what was going on in his work & his life & seeking her perspective when he could've used it. 

So you'll probably earn all that involvement back over the years.  It is such a good sign that you're TRYING to keep quiet unless he brings stuff up!  Kudos!

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Knowing to ask for help is definitely the right decision, but I still don't believe that parents are the right ones for grad school admissions.  But, equally, I had no idea people would actually pay someone for help for grad school applications since applications go through depts and not general admissions.  But beyond that, I cannot imagine that MIT does not have an office dedicated to helping students apply to grad school with counselors who are familiar with the depts at the various schools where students apply and know the process at the individual schools.  They would be the ones who would have been corresponding with various schools in order to understand how covid has impacted applicants and what that means and can help students apply with that in mind.

As a non-grad school but very competitive example, my dd tried to apply to CLS her sophomore yr without using her school's Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships.  She was rejected.  The next yr she went and worked with a counselor.  That counselor had insight into exactly what they were looking for and shared how to craft her application. Dd was accepted 2 yrs in a row bc of their insight into how to craft her application.  That insight came from their familiarity with the program and knowledge for what they look for in applications.  

Not many parents have direct insight to individual physics depts at select Us and what those depts are looking for in its grad students.  I would be shocked if there isn't an office on MIT's campus that doesn't help students understand that. 

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12 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

 But beyond that, I cannot imagine that MIT does not have an office dedicated to helping students apply to grad school with counselors who are familiar with the depts at the various schools where students apply and know the process at the individual schools.  They would be the ones who would have been corresponding with various schools in order to understand how covid has impacted applicants and what that means and can help students apply with that in mind.

He talked to someone early in the summer who was only somewhat helpful, and I think this caused him to thing that the entire office was not worth his time. I will reiterate to him what you are saying, and tell him to go back and talk to someone else. I think it will be way easier when he is on campus in a week. Thanks for taking the time to respond; I very much appreciate your perspective. 

Edited by lewelma
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13 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

But, equally, I had no idea people would actually pay someone for help for grad school applications since applications go through depts and not general admissions. 

For MBAs, if one hires a consultant (my ds is NOT doing that), top firms’ fees generally start at $4,500 for applying to ONE business school.  Like college, most students apply to more than one.   If you scroll to the bottom of this article you can see an entire chart with pricing lists for several top MBA consulting firms and how much they charge based on the number of applications one submits. 

https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/top-mba-admission-consultants/

I know nothing about applying for academic/research/PhD programs, but consultants are definitely being paid to assist with business school applications.  I imagine the same is true for law and med school admissions. 
 

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1 hour ago, 8filltheheart said:

....  

Not many parents have direct insight to individual physics depts at select Us and what those depts are looking for in its grad students.  I would be shocked if there isn't an office on MIT's campus that doesn't help students understand that. 

 

1 hour ago, lewelma said:

He talked to someone early in the summer who was only somewhat helpful, and I think this caused him to thing that the entire office was not worth his time. I will reiterate to him what you are saying, and tell him to go back and talk to someone else. I think it will be way easier when he is on campus in a week. Thanks for taking the time to respond; I very much appreciate your perspective. 

 

It's great to see this conversation.  Very true that getting help from the insiders is very leveraged, and can be very powerful.  And that not all counselors are useful; and that one should try a few times before throwing in the towel. 

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40 minutes ago, serendipitous journey said:

It's great to see this conversation.  Very true that getting help from the insiders is very leveraged, and can be very powerful.  And that not all counselors are useful; and that one should try a few times before throwing in the towel. 

Basically, the counselor told him that he should contact the grad students at departments that he was interested in to ask questions about the labs -- the problem being he doesn't know what questions to ask really. Not much else seemed to have been helpful. His next stop was to talk to his main UROP adviser. He was very helpful, talking recommendations, publications, and professors in PP to consider. Next up he went to his official adviser and got professors names in condensed matter physics. At which point, ds cross listed the PP professors with the condensed matter professors to come up with a list of schools to apply to. No one has yet talked about his statement of purpose or offered to brainstorm/look over it.

So it is not like Ruth is directing this search. LOL. It is just that it is so bitsy. He is collecting pieces from different people and trying to make a whole. I am the one asking if his list of schools is realistic given their very low acceptance rate, which may be even lower due to covid. Perhaps that is a non-issue given his level. Perhaps ds can get into all these top schools, but no one seems to be checking his list. Also, no one seems to be able to guide him as to what he wants in a lab. He wouldn't know because he has spent 2 of his 3 UROP summers doing research in his bedroom. So I suggested he write the advisor from his one in-person experience, but that person has not written back, even with 3 bumps. I am also concerned that he is overbooking for next term with 2 writing classes, a grad physic class, 2 UROPs, his music scholarship, a serious girlfriend, being back with friends after 1.5 years, and all these applications. He has talked to his official adviser about some of this, but the attitude is, if you can do it, then we trust you. I'm thinking, hello, mental health. But he is just so keen and excited. Plus, there are a lot of other issues that he needs advice on (some personal) that he is not clear who to ask. So there is some nuance here as to who to ask, who will help, and where to go. Add to this being remote for so long, leads to some confusion as to how to proceed. My main goal is to be there when he asks, and to direct him to consider some things he might not have considered. I'm also directing him to ask people who know way more than me!

 

Edited by lewelma
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3 hours ago, serendipitous journey said:

Third, that it somehow isn't appropriate for an undergrad student to get help from parents.  To be true, it is sort of "unfair" for an undergrad to get help from capable parents because so many undergrads have parents who are less able or less willing to help than lewelma is; but I don't think it is inappropriate.  DH's gut feeling is also that this sort of help is excellent, if the parent can provide it (he runs a research lab at a graduate campus, and gets lots of requests for LoRs and has supervised many UGs in summer or post-graduate technician jobs).  

🙂

When my son was in undergrad, we helped him with an application for a DAAD summer science research scholarship in Germany. His research advisor was happy to write the LOR and the university had a person assigned to help with DAAD and related applications. But my son found the person to be of absolutely no help at all. He didn’t seem at all knowledgeable about the particular program my son was applying for and and he had no science background, so he wasn’t even really useful for reading his resume or cover letter. When my son received the scholarship and the Dean of the Honors College took him out to lunch to celebrate, my son shared with him that he thought it was unfortunate that likely only students like him with parents experienced in academia could successfully navigate the process because the advisor provided by the university was not helpful. Fortunately, the Dean looked into it and the next year there was a new advisor and they also asked my son to both help publicize the program and be a student info resource. My son was happy to do so, and the university subsequently had more students receive the same scolarship.

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2 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

Knowing to ask for help is definitely the right decision, but I still don't believe that parents are the right ones for grad school admissions.  But, equally, I had no idea people would actually pay someone for help for grad school applications since applications go through depts and not general admissions.  

I think it’s more common for competitive professional grad school programs (e.g. business, law, medicine, etc), as these can be more like competitive undergrad admissions. I doubt it is done much, if at all, for academic grad programs. My husband has been through both types of processes more than once (due both to being undecided about his career and deferring and then turning down admissions offers and then later a career change) although he never paid anyone for help.

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11 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

@lewelma I see helping with a resume as much different than getting involved in anything else (though my kids' U's career centers had resume assistance) other than financial assistance if they need it for their applications.  

In terms of being on top of things, offering advice, or even crafting a letter asking for a LoR (plus all of the other things your wrote in your other post prior to editing), no, I do no think adult college students should seek that sort of assistance from parents.  If they aren't getting enough assistance from their advisor, I'd expect them to get help from their career center, especially with covid scenarios.  They are the ones who will know how to help them far better than a parent.

Except that sometimes career/pre law/pre med/ if they even exist departments at these schools are just not very good. Just like high school guidance counselors are often not very good. 

Not addressing the specific scenario and my kid hasn’t even applied to college yet never mind grad school. 

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59 minutes ago, madteaparty said:

Except that sometimes career/pre law/pre med/ if they even exist departments at these schools are just not very good. Just like high school guidance counselors are often not very good. 

Not addressing the specific scenario and my kid hasn’t even applied to college yet never mind grad school. 

Except we arent discussing any school, we are discussing 1-Stanford  (hoggirl's ds) and 2-MIT (Ruth's ds).  You would expect those schools' resources to exceed what is offered at your very avg public U.  Maybe my perception is completely off, but I'd expect those schools to have a greater percentage of students applying to national fellowships and elite grad schools and would have supports in place to help those kids.

Ruth, didnt you share your ds applied for a National Science Foundation fellowship under the guidance of one of his professors? Could he ask that prof for help/guidance? That prof might be able to help him generate the questions he needs to ask destination depts, etc.

Edited by 8filltheheart
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53 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

Except we arent discussing any school, we are discussing 1-Stanford  (hoggirl's ds) and 2-MIT (Ruth's ds).  You would expect those schools' resources to exceed what is offered at your very avg public U.  Maybe my perception is completely off, but I'd expect those schools to have a greater percentage of students applying to national fellowships and elite grad schools and would have supports in place to help those kids.

Ruth, didnt you share your ds applied for a National Science Foundation fellowship under the guidance of one of his professors? Could he ask that prof for help/guidance? That prof might be able to help him generate the questions he needs to ask destination depts, etc.

So, a differentiator here is the timing of when one applies.  My ds has been out of undergraduate school for over three years now.  Most MBA programs want work experience before applying.  Can’t speak to law and medicine as those are more frequently (though not always - I worked five years before returning to law school) applied to while still an undergrad. 

With that said, his company offers support and guidance for applying to MBA programs because if he gets into certain ones (I’m not exactly sure where the cut off for sponsorship is in terms of selectivity of the program), they will sponsor his MBA tuition along with a small stipend (on condition that he return to the firm for two years after - otherwise, he has to reimburse them). 

So, that is another part of my challenge - the fact that I am totally unnecessary to this process because there is a system in place to assist him. 

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9 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

 But beyond that, I cannot imagine that MIT does not have an office dedicated to helping students apply to grad school with counselors who are familiar with the depts at the various schools where students apply and know the process at the individual schools.  They would be the ones who would have been corresponding with various schools in order to understand how covid has impacted applicants and what that means and can help students apply with that in mind.

  I would be shocked if there isn't an office on MIT's campus that doesn't help students understand that. 

No experience with MIT, but between my husband and myself we have both attended and taught at quite a few different highly selective universities and colleges, and I've never heard of such an office, anywhere.  Career services will (maybe sorta) help if you're looking for a job, there are some good med school advising arrangements, and occasionally there's a useful prelaw advisor around, but for academic Ph.D. programs?  AFAIK you're on your own.   

Your idea of a centralized office is fantastic, though!!  I doubt any university administration would be interested in anything like that, but maybe if US News and World Report ever starts incorporating "percent of graduates who go on to earn Ph.Ds" into their rankings.

6 hours ago, lewelma said:

Basically, the counselor told him that he should contact the grad students at departments that he was interested in to ask questions about the labs -- the problem being he doesn't know what questions to ask really. Not much else seemed to have been helpful. His next stop was to talk to his main UROP adviser. He was very helpful, talking recommendations, publications, and professors in PP to consider. Next up he went to his official adviser and got professors names in condensed matter physics. At which point, ds cross listed the PP professors with the condensed matter professors to come up with a list of schools to apply to. No one has yet talked about his statement of purpose or offered to brainstorm/look over it.

 It is just that it is so bitsy. He is collecting pieces from different people and trying to make a whole. 

 

Yeah, this sounds about right to me.  He is lucky that you are in a position to help him.

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@lewelma - I did a quick google search for “best forums about PhD programs” and found several sites. One answer on Quora had a detailed list explaining the pluses and minuses of each of them.  There was even one that was specific to Physics but apparently more focused on astronomy.  Not sure what your ds’s area is.  

Just like CC, one would hav to weed through what was helpful v what was plain ol’ silliness.  The WTM boards have been extremely helpful to me throughout the years - perhaps there is a similar treasure out there among those? 

Poets & Quants has tons of MBA program info.  No message boards, but it has been very helpful for ME as someone watching from the sidelines to understand the process of admissions, how the courses of study are different at each school, etc. 

All the best to your son as he explores his future options.  🙂

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28 minutes ago, JennyD said:

No experience with MIT, but between my husband and myself we have both attended and taught at quite a few different highly selective universities and colleges, and I've never heard of such an office, anywhere.  Career services will (maybe sorta) help if you're looking for a job, there are some good med school advising arrangements, and occasionally there's a useful prelaw advisor around, but for academic Ph.D. programs?  AFAIK you're on your own.   

Your idea of a centralized office is fantastic, though!!  I doubt any university administration would be interested in anything like that, but maybe if US News and World Report ever starts incorporating "percent of graduates who go on to earn Ph.Ds" into their rankings.

 

Thanks for sharing that info.  So, what that tells me then is that access to mentoring professors who are willing to be there and support you through the process should be an important factor to consider for kids wanting to pursue grad school.  My ds was definitely supported by his dept and he had multiple professors who supported him.  But, his experience was pre-covid.  I would think that these Us/depts/profs would be aware of hard it is for students who haven't had IRL experiences with them but they still need support for the application process.   Ruth's ds can't be the only student at MIT facing this problem.  Ruth, maybe if he reached out to the career center or whatever the office would be at MIT or the physics dept itself, he could ask them if they have any insight specifically on how to address the covid impact?  If they haven't thought about offering specific assistance, maybe it would spur them to??

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1 hour ago, 8filltheheart said:

Thanks for sharing that info.  So, what that tells me then is that access to mentoring professors who are willing to be there and support you through the process should be an important factor to consider for kids wanting to pursue grad school.  

Absolutely.  It can be a very hard thing to evaluate as an incoming freshman, but when my oldest ds -- who intends to go for a Ph.D. -- applies to college, we will do our best to get some insight into this.  

Ruth, one person your DS might reach out is to whoever is the current Director of Graduate Studies in the physics department.  IME academic department at universities generally have this as a rotating faculty position; members of the department take turns coordinating the graduate program, hopefully with the assistance of a permanent staff person.  While the DGS's job isn't to be a grad school counselor for undergrads, given the enormous upheaval from covid I think it would be perfectly reasonable for your DS to reach out and ask for a short meeting, not for specific assistance but just to discuss the landscape.  That person will know more than anyone else in the department about what is going on in graduate programs across the country and how everyone is handling these very unusual times.

 

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I've got no advice on applying to MBA programs - my brother earned one at a school that he worked at, so I'm not sure how the application process worked.  As for applying to grad school, back when I did it some of us got advice from the profs whose labs we worked in, but there was no office to help like there was for students looking for jobs.  Both junior and senior faculty members can give good advice, often from different perspectives.  Most people in academia have ties to people at many univerities, though.  I've been out of the university setting for 15 years and could still connect students with faculty that I know in the biological sciences at 10+ universities, and that number would have been far higher before I left, when I could have made friend-of-a-friend contacts and also had people who would have recognized my name from interactions at conferences, or responded to requests because they knew my advisor and I would have led with 'Hi, I'm a former student/postdoc from Prof X's lab'.  Faculty often have a feel for what labs are productive, where students tend to do well, etc.  

Mostly I was writing with ideas about what a student could ask other students.  Spouse and I were both first-gen college students, so we got no advice from parents once they dropped us off, and we figured out the grad school thing on our own, so the idea of parents being involved much beyond getting to college isn't something that I have experience with.  Having been one of the grad students involved in hosting, recruiting, and otherwise working with prospective grad students in our department, it's a different ball game than undergrad admissions.  In some departments, you apply to the department and they decide how many they can take based on funding.  In some settings, or for some labs, students are applying to work specifically with a faculty member.  That faculty member picks the 0, 1, or 2 students that they want for the year, so in a sense the application to the department isn't relevant - it has to be done, but it isn't the deciding factor.  When we went through the application process we had no idea what questions to ask. Looking back, I have some thoughts.  

-Ask about the research, of course, but also ask about how free students are to pursue their interests.  You'll always be limited by what projects are funded, but some faculty want students to pursue the faculty member's specific questions of interest, while others encourage students to get their own funding and explore things that are generally related to the area of the lab.  Some faculty give students a 'starter topic' and then they branch out, while others seem to view the students as...extra sets of hands?  who can work on what they want to have done. 

-Ask about a typical day or week to get a feel for work-life balance.  Some faculty are very flexible - check in occasionally, be there for lab meeting, and get work done at some point.  I worked in one crowded lab where some students worked 'the night shift', rarely being seen before mid-afternoon but saying that the equipment was all free at night so they worked then.  Other faculty want students to be there 9-5 hours at a minimum.  One faculty job candidate said that he worked 70 hr weeks and expected students to do the same.  I know one prof who went over what he wanted students to accomplish in the next week, and they were nervous about their weekly check-in.  I remember a student talking about having to pull an all-nighter because something hadn't worked and they needed to repeat the work so that everything would be done on time.  That level of management is really different from anything that I experienced, or would have appreciated. On the other hand, faculty can be so unfocused that students can flounder along unless they are really self-motiviated.  My own advisor was a good guy but didn't see any reason to 'rush through' grad school, and it took our faculty committees saying ' They've done enough' for us to get out.  

-Ask about cost of living and what life is like in the area.  Realisitcally, how long is the commute?  Is there anything to do in the college town?  Where can you afford to live on the stipend that you'll get?  Can you afford to live within walking distance?  Is there close parking, or busses, or whatever, if you need to work late?  Grad school is different than undergrad for many students - a bus system that runs until the library closes at 1 does you no good if you are doing a timecourse that ends at 2 am.  

-Ask about the atmosphere in specific labs.  Some places are cutthroat, with students needing to hide data lest somebody try to scoop them and publish it first.  Others are very collegial and have a family feel.  Ask about undergrad, grad, and postdoc numbers.  When I worked in labs, that was the biggest difference in vibe. Postdoc-driven labs felt very...business-like?  In places with lots of undergrads, you'll likely get to be a mentor (this is where I learned that I preferred teaching, and a stint in a postdoc lab confirmed it).  Others specifically do not want to 'waste time' working with undergrads.  Depending on the field, they might also ask about summer internships.  Both as a grad student and as an employee, spouse was involved in summer programs for grad students that later led to jobs.  This isn't a thing in my field, though.  

Good luck to your students!

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@Clemsondana-- that list is great.  Really super for considering schools; talking with current students is something few folks think about doing.   One would be shocked at what you can learn if you simply ask; and if you don't ask, it can be very hard for current students to deliver a warning even if they want to. 

Ask faculty you know and either respect or detest about the different schools -- which value individual achievement most, which foster inter-student competition, which operate more collaboratively -- that sort of thing can matter.  One could also ask one's advisor what they want in a grad student applicant for a bit more data. 

Knowing whether or not a post-grad year of working in a lab is expected or desirable can be handy. 

@8filltheheart-- the most selective schools are sometimes being the very slowest to move away from sink-or-swim as a working theory; or, as Ruth said, they trust that if the students wants to take it on then the student can handle it.  Most of the students applying to the DH's department are also applying to grad school at Stanford, MIT, and/or Harvard, and he's done admissions stints for several years -- serving & chairing.  From where he sits there's no expectation that MIT will be particularly helpful, at an institutional level, to its undergrad students.  Or its young faculty 😉 .  Kids from Brown would have better odds of getting good help imho. 

Fellowships are also really different to grad school apps.  Which itself is a bit of arcane knowledge, I suppose!  But the grad school apps are just the place where lewelma's various fields of experience over the years are leveraged.  You want great grades, great scores, great LoRs, and a personal statement that shows passion,skill, and grammatical competence at a minimum; if it's both erudite and fun to read it'll make the top % of stuff those sciencey, Ivy-league admissions committees wade through each year.  

Help with things like cold requests for LoRs, formatting resumes, editing letters, plus the bigger-picture scenario of balancing life out -- that seems to me & to DH like a great place for help, and if the parent can help & the student wants it, fabulous.  imho.  ymmv.  &c!

Edited by serendipitous journey
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LOL @serendipitous journey not a compelling argument for selective schools for UGs when students want grad school.  😄 When I say ds's profs were mentors, I don't mean they walked him through the application process, but he most definitely could ask them about depts/profs doing research in his field of interest and get their feedback.  He could approach them for LoR without qualm (though most of LoR requests were prior to grad school and were for REU applications.  His grad school LOR were from his research prof on campus and then REU profs.)  If profs in the dept are not accessible to answering questions about depts/profs/research, then that isn't sink or swim; that is just being unhelpful to the students in your dept.  Profs should be willing to answer their UG's questions.

My suggestion to use the career center was bc Ruth said that her ds has no real connection with his research profs bc he has been remote and covid impacted normal pathways. That is a wrench that surely someone should be helping students understand. I think Jenny's recommendation for the dept's grad studies advisor for how to deal with the covid impact is a good one.  And, for sure, ClemsonDana's list of questions are great.  

But, yeah, getting involved in applications/deadline management/oversight/school or job selection......my adult kids are on their own.  That is way beyond my willingness to be involved parent.  🙂  Y'all are way more adult kids hand-on than I ever want to be.  

 

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7 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

Ruth, didnt you share your ds applied for a National Science Foundation fellowship under the guidance of one of his professors? Could he ask that prof for help/guidance? That prof might be able to help him generate the questions he needs to ask destination depts, etc.

That is an excellent idea. He didn't end up applying, but that department is designed to help students with what goes in the essays, and all the other important decisions for one of those big scholarships. Even if they don't help with Grad Applications, they would definitely have some clarity as to where to go to ask. 

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6 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

 Ruth, maybe if he reached out to the career center or whatever the office would be at MIT or the physics dept itself, he could ask them if they have any insight specifically on how to address the covid impact?  If they haven't thought about offering specific assistance, maybe it would spur them to??

Definitely more good ideas. Thanks so much! I will suggest that he talk to the physics department and the career office when he gets back.

I think he was thinking that his UROP adviser and his university adviser would be the people to talk to, and they have been helpful. But they are both young, new to MIT, and I'm not sure how many (if any) UG they have helped through this process. His new UROP adviser (the one that is older and doesn't like zoom that ds is struggling to build a relationship with) has actually just won the Best UG UROP adviser at MIT, so we know he is good. This guy just likes to work face to face. So we are really hoping that this prof can offer him some advice once they actually meet. 

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4 hours ago, JennyD said:

 

Ruth, one person your DS might reach out is to whoever is the current Director of Graduate Studies in the physics department.  IME academic department at universities generally have this as a rotating faculty position; members of the department take turns coordinating the graduate program, hopefully with the assistance of a permanent staff person.  While the DGS's job isn't to be a grad school counselor for undergrads, given the enormous upheaval from covid I think it would be perfectly reasonable for your DS to reach out and ask for a short meeting, not for specific assistance but just to discuss the landscape.  That person will know more than anyone else in the department about what is going on in graduate programs across the country and how everyone is handling these very unusual times.

 

Excellent idea. He definitely needs to discuss the landscape.  He really needs to know ASAP if he is targeting the right schools, or if because of covid there are just way more applicants for fewer positions (which is what I think will happen). What other things would you include in "landscape," that he should ask abou?

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3 hours ago, Clemsondana said:

I've got no advice on applying to MBA programs - my brother earned one at a school that he worked at, so I'm not sure how the application process worked.  As for applying to grad school, back when I did it some of us got advice from the profs whose labs we worked in, but there was no office to help like there was for students looking for jobs.  Both junior and senior faculty members can give good advice, often from different perspectives.  Most people in academia have ties to people at many univerities, though.  I've been out of the university setting for 15 years and could still connect students with faculty that I know in the biological sciences at 10+ universities, and that number would have been far higher before I left, when I could have made friend-of-a-friend contacts and also had people who would have recognized my name from interactions at conferences, or responded to requests because they knew my advisor and I would have led with 'Hi, I'm a former student/postdoc from Prof X's lab'.  Faculty often have a feel for what labs are productive, where students tend to do well, etc.  

Mostly I was writing with ideas about what a student could ask other students.  Spouse and I were both first-gen college students, so we got no advice from parents once they dropped us off, and we figured out the grad school thing on our own, so the idea of parents being involved much beyond getting to college isn't something that I have experience with.  Having been one of the grad students involved in hosting, recruiting, and otherwise working with prospective grad students in our department, it's a different ball game than undergrad admissions.  In some departments, you apply to the department and they decide how many they can take based on funding.  In some settings, or for some labs, students are applying to work specifically with a faculty member.  That faculty member picks the 0, 1, or 2 students that they want for the year, so in a sense the application to the department isn't relevant - it has to be done, but it isn't the deciding factor.  When we went through the application process we had no idea what questions to ask. Looking back, I have some thoughts.  

-Ask about the research, of course, but also ask about how free students are to pursue their interests.  You'll always be limited by what projects are funded, but some faculty want students to pursue the faculty member's specific questions of interest, while others encourage students to get their own funding and explore things that are generally related to the area of the lab.  Some faculty give students a 'starter topic' and then they branch out, while others seem to view the students as...extra sets of hands?  who can work on what they want to have done. 

-Ask about a typical day or week to get a feel for work-life balance.  Some faculty are very flexible - check in occasionally, be there for lab meeting, and get work done at some point.  I worked in one crowded lab where some students worked 'the night shift', rarely being seen before mid-afternoon but saying that the equipment was all free at night so they worked then.  Other faculty want students to be there 9-5 hours at a minimum.  One faculty job candidate said that he worked 70 hr weeks and expected students to do the same.  I know one prof who went over what he wanted students to accomplish in the next week, and they were nervous about their weekly check-in.  I remember a student talking about having to pull an all-nighter because something hadn't worked and they needed to repeat the work so that everything would be done on time.  That level of management is really different from anything that I experienced, or would have appreciated. On the other hand, faculty can be so unfocused that students can flounder along unless they are really self-motiviated.  My own advisor was a good guy but didn't see any reason to 'rush through' grad school, and it took our faculty committees saying ' They've done enough' for us to get out.  

-Ask about cost of living and what life is like in the area.  Realisitcally, how long is the commute?  Is there anything to do in the college town?  Where can you afford to live on the stipend that you'll get?  Can you afford to live within walking distance?  Is there close parking, or busses, or whatever, if you need to work late?  Grad school is different than undergrad for many students - a bus system that runs until the library closes at 1 does you no good if you are doing a timecourse that ends at 2 am.  

-Ask about the atmosphere in specific labs.  Some places are cutthroat, with students needing to hide data lest somebody try to scoop them and publish it first.  Others are very collegial and have a family feel.  Ask about undergrad, grad, and postdoc numbers.  When I worked in labs, that was the biggest difference in vibe. Postdoc-driven labs felt very...business-like?  In places with lots of undergrads, you'll likely get to be a mentor (this is where I learned that I preferred teaching, and a stint in a postdoc lab confirmed it).  Others specifically do not want to 'waste time' working with undergrads.  Depending on the field, they might also ask about summer internships.  Both as a grad student and as an employee, spouse was involved in summerprograms for grad students that later led to jobs.  This isn't a thing in my field, though.  

Good luck to your students!

Wow! This will be enormously helpful to him. I'll pass on the list.  A lot of the schools he is applying to have official ways to contact the graduate students to ask just these types of questions. Most things open up September 1, so he can ask this stuff then.

As for picking a prof, he has talked to his main UROP advisor and was told that in physics, that if ds knew who he wanted to work with, that he could approach that person and ask if they are taking students. But otherwise it is a good idea to have 2 (but not more) areas of interest that you discuss in your statement of purpose, both of which are in the department. This way you look like you have focused down, but that the department knows that it can find you a prof to work on because there are a few that would be appropriate. I think applying would be way easier for him if he knew the exact field he wants to go into (but covid really munted that) because then he could directly approach the prof for support, and then have the prof get him into the department. 

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3 hours ago, serendipitous journey said:

the most selective schools are sometimes being the very slowest to move away from sink-or-swim as a working theory; or, as Ruth said, they trust that if the students wants to take it on then the student can handle it.  Most of the students applying to the DH's department are also applying to grad school at Stanford, MIT, and/or Harvard, and he's done admissions stints for several years -- serving & chairing.  From where he sits there's no expectation that MIT will be particularly helpful, at an institutional level, to its undergrad students.  Or its young faculty 😉 .  Kids from Brown would have better odds of getting good help imho. 

8fill has been so helpful over the years discussing what he kids have gained by going to good universities that don't have that 'elite' status. And I knew all those years ago that my ds would have to make his own way if he chose to be a small fish in a big pond, and I worried then as I worry now. And I came to believe that my ds could manage on his own, to make his own reality, and really he has.  I have been incredibly impressed with how he has handled so much. But it is right about now, that I wish my ds had 8fill's son's UROP adviser to help him. 🙂

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2 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

But, yeah, getting involved in applications/deadline management/oversight/school or job selection......my adult kids are on their own.  That is way beyond my willingness to be involved parent.  🙂  Y'all are way more adult kids hand-on than I ever want to be.  

 

Well, I’m not doing those things.  I’m just being honest that it bugs me not to be more, “in the know.”  I am trying to find the right level of, “interest” that doesn’t reach into the realm of, “involvement.”  It’s just another reality of how unnecessary I am in ds’s life now.  

I’m sure the underlying emotion is fear/lack of control. 

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I have two in grad school this year. One is in her second year of a speech and language pathology master's program and the other is starting a Ph.D Biomed engineering program.

I was completely uninvolved in apps (both live geographically distant from us now too). It didn't seem too weird, though it does feel a little odd to have not seen the school/area in which one of the daughters landed! The process in general was kind of different during Covid anyway. More competitive too, as more than typical are putting in apps for grad schools currently.

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2 hours ago, lewelma said:

8fill has been so helpful over the years discussing what he kids have gained by going to good universities that don't have that 'elite' status. And I knew all those years ago that my ds would have to make his own way if he chose to be a small fish in a big pond, and I worried then as I worry now. And I came to believe that my ds could manage on his own, to make his own reality, and really he has.  I have been incredibly impressed with how he has handled so much. But it is right about now, that I wish my ds had 8fill's son's UROP adviser to help him. 🙂

Very true!  8fill's experience, and advice, over the years mean each day in my homeschool is better than it would have been.  My kids are still a bit far out from the grad school themselves; our perspective is from the students in our lives through DH's lab and other friendships. 

I also am in agreement, which I meant to come back and add earlier but ran out of time this AM, on 8fill's point that these schools should be better serving their students.  Absolutely.

3 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

LOL @serendipitous journey not a compelling argument for selective schools for UGs when students want grad school.  😄 ....

 

YES!!!!!  DH and I are sort of gently encouraging our kids to think about good, non-uber-elite schools for many reasons, that being one of them. 

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1 hour ago, Hoggirl said:

Well, I’m not doing those things.  I’m just being honest that it bugs me not to be more, “in the know.”  I am trying to find the right level of, “interest” that doesn’t reach into the realm of, “involvement.”  It’s just another reality of how unnecessary I am in ds’s life now.  

I’m sure the underlying emotion is fear/lack of control. 

Now I'm reading the comments 🙂 It does feel a little strange to not be "in the know", for sure. Part of that transitioning into a different stage of relationship with our offspring.

Now that I have read more, I feel like I should add that I don't think either of my daughters got much assistance from their undergrad schools (both selective, one moreso than the other, fwiw). They were both graduated and not on campus though when apps started. I think there was a lot of googling to learn about the process, and assistance from acquaintances with applicable knowledge. One daughter was employed by people who were very familiar with the process and helped quite a bit.

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1 hour ago, Hoggirl said:

Well, I’m not doing those things.  I’m just being honest that it bugs me not to be more, “in the know.”  I am trying to find the right level of, “interest” that doesn’t reach into the realm of, “involvement.”  It’s just another reality of how unnecessary I am in ds’s life now.  

I’m sure the underlying emotion is fear/lack of control. 

I really hear the fear. My ds cannot get into NZ because the quarantine hotels are full. And if I leave to visit him, I cannot get back in to NZ. This means that he has no home, and I cannot see him. Also, I live in a much safer covid world down here, so I have an added fear component as I don't know the landscape of the USA, only the bits and pieces I read in the news. Then, just now (as in while I was writing this) he has told me there was a homicide on his street, and there was an evacuation order, and the detective just knocked on their door. I just think having adult children is hard, because you want them independent obviously, but you have no way to keep them safe. Perhaps I am more involved in the application process than some, because it is the only thing I can do for him being so far away.

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Knowing I'd have trouble not hearing about the process, I've been following this thread. 

I just wanted to say that there is a person/office at my dd#1's (very non-elite) school that is there to help with grad school advising, applying for programs like the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals in Germany or the Fulbright Research Grant. They have seminars every Friday to discuss different scholarship/programs & start the conversation early about the process of applying for grad school. I believe the person is based out of the Honors College but anyone can go to these seminars or email/talk to the person. Her title is, "Fellowship & Graduate School Advisor." 

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On 8/26/2021 at 4:22 PM, lewelma said:

My point is that I am kind of trying to advise as best as I can, and trying to send him to ask questions of others, but covid has kind of munted the standard process, so he is not exactly where he needs to be in his experience or in narrowing his choices as he would have been if he had gone to university prepandemic. 

This.  Dd finished her masters and is applying for a PhD this year.  She has no advisor, and no one in her European school that knows anything about the process in the US.  She has one terrible grade from a class that went online half way through her first year, in French, with a teacher she could barely understand in person.  She's definitely asking me for advice on this and other topics, and I don't feel like I'm being intrusive or helicopter-y.  I also feel like I don't have the best advice for her, just that she is used to talking with me and she has no one else to ask. Her undergrad advising was top-notch, but she's two years out from that. 

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19 hours ago, lewelma said:

I really hear the fear. My ds cannot get into NZ because the quarantine hotels are full. And if I leave to visit him, I cannot get back in to NZ. This means that he has no home, and I cannot see him. Also, I live in a much safer covid world down here, so I have an added fear component as I don't know the landscape of the USA, only the bits and pieces I read in the news. Then, just now (as in while I was writing this) he has told me there was a homicide on his street, and there was an evacuation order, and the detective just knocked on their door. I just think having adult children is hard, because you want them independent obviously, but you have no way to keep them safe. Perhaps I am more involved in the application process than some, because it is the only thing I can do for him being so far away.

So, as somone who lives in the Covid Wild West, where anything goes...how does it work?  If I buy a plane ticket for NZ, do I need to show proof of a quarantine reservation as well?  

(Also, God help you if you need gall bladder surgery in Texas right now.)

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