About a year ago, I wrote a few posts about how to find the right graduate program for you in How to Choose the Right Graduate Program: Narrowing Your Search and How to Choose the Right Program: Doing Your Research. In the Doing Your Research post, I referenced that one of the best ways to do your research is to attend prospective student events for the programs you’re interested in. At Heller, we’re currently adding Virtual Events for Prospective Students, so I want to share some quick do’s and don’ts for attending a virtual event for prospective students that will ensure that you get the most out of the session and make the best first impression possible.
✓ DO be camera ready. I get it, it’s tempting to keep your camera off and take the meeting from bed, in your pajamas. But this is your chance to make a first impression, and it’s hard to connect with a blackened Zoom box. There’s no need for a suit and tie, but aim for business casual. If the room behind you is visible, make sure it’s in a reasonably presentable state, or better yet, use a Zoom background if your camera has the capability. A good rule of thumb is to prepare the way you would if this were a virtual meeting with your supervisor.
X DON’T use Zoom as a chance to zone out. Treat this event the way you would an in-person event: that means keeping your phone in your pocket (or across the room, if you’re like me and have a difficult time resisting the siren call of Instagram). It can be really tempting to use a Zoom meeting as an opportunity to multi-task; after all, what’s the harm of checking your email when you’re already on the computer, right? But it means you’ll be less focused and engaged, which is detrimental to you and can come across as rude to the person speaking.
✓ DO research who will be presenting. No, you don’t have to know the high school that the program director went to, or Insta-stalk the current students on the panel, but as much as possible, you should try to familiarize yourself with who is presenting and prepare appropriate questions. For faculty or program directors: “Do any of your current research projects employ students?” “What type of student is successful in this program?” “Do your classes rely more on independent work or collaboration?” For current students: “What surprised you about this program?” “How available are faculty members?” “What’s been your favorite class and why?” For alumni: “What skills did you gain in the program that have proved most useful?” “How helpful was the Career Development Center in finding employment?” You can even write these on post-it notes to stick to your computer so you won’t forget!
X DON’T be afraid to engage. That goes beyond asking questions, although that’s certainly one way to show that you’re engaged and interested. Leaving your camera on, nodding and smiling when someone makes a point you agree with, and using Zoom’s reactions and chat function to respond to others’ questions and points are all other good ways to interact with the presenters and show that you’re interested. Another good tip is to look into your camera instead of the screen; it may seem counter-intuitive, but to others, that will make it appear that you’re establishing eye contact.
✓ DO follow up. Writing a note to the host of the event afterward is a great way to set yourself apart and an opportunity to ask any further follow-up questions. Even if you don’t have any more questions, even thanking them for hosting the event and telling them something you appreciated establishes that you’re paying attention and have a legitimate interest in the program.