How do you start researching PhD programs?
Start by checking out the institutions where the authors of your favorite articles are located. Also, search for umbrella programs that could provide you with a variety of lab options to explore. Investigate the best departments in your area of interest and always, ALWAYS ask for advice and suggestions from your network (mentors, colleagues, professors).
What should you look for in a PhD program?
Look for the best learning opportunity. Your PhD in sciences will be less about becoming an expert in a field and more about learning how to think science, how to do science, and how to broadly thrive in this field. Look for programs that also offer opportunities for career development. Find a department where you could have multiple choices of advisors who have great track records as scientists and mentors.
What questions should you ask in your campus visits?
Ask your potential advisors what their current and potential research projects are (the website might be outdated); if they are interested in taking students on that particular cycle; about their mentoring style (and whether it matches your needs); and what one needs to do to be successful under their mentorship. Also, talk to people working in their laboratories and read between the lines. Remember, it is your chance to interview the professors as well, and assess your fit in their lab.
What are some common pitfalls to avoid in the application process?
Your undergraduate research experience is important, but do not forget to connect the skills you’ve learned to your research vision and future goals in graduate school. We are recruiting YOU and not the work you did in the past. Also, make clear the reasons why you are applying for that particular program/institution. Write a tailored statement. The committee will always look more favorably if you have a legitimate interest in joining their program.