What Happens at a Virtual Postgraduate Open Day – And Why Bother Attending One? | FindAPhD.com
Posted on 4 May '20

NB: Virtual open day events may not actually involve virtual reality. Yet.

What Happens at a Virtual Postgraduate Open Day – And Why Bother Attending One?

So, you're considering a university for your Masters or PhD, but you have a few questions:

Are the resources you need for your subject actually located in a library on a different campus on the other side of the city? Does 'dedicated postgraduate workspace' really just mean 'some desks at the end of a corridor'? Have the other students in your research group ever seen their principal investigator anywhere near the lab? And is the coffee any good?

Traditionally, the best way to answer all of these questions is to get yourself along to a postgraduate open day, explore the campus, chat to current students and review the catering options.

But this isn't always possible for some people – and, right now, it isn't possible for anyone.

Instead, universities are running virtual open days. But what actually is a 'virtual' open day? And can it really substitute for a proper campus visit? Let's take a look.

So, how do virtual postgraduate open days work?

A good virtual event replicates the main features of a traditional open day (just without the part where you can't find your way from the train station to campus and then get rained on whilst waiting outside the wrong lecture building).

You'll need to register in advance for a (free) ticket and make sure you log on whilst the event is 'live'.

During the event you'll get a chance to chat online with course tutors and probably some current postgraduate students, whilst also learning more about the university's set up and facilities for your subject area.

Chances are that information will be quite particular to your subject. Postgraduate open days are often tailored to specific subjects and going virtual can make these smaller scale events easier to schedule and organise.

This means you'll get much more insight into the degree/s you're considering and hopefully hear from related academics and students. It's a good idea to double check the details for each event though: signing up for virtual MBA open day at the business school probably isn't going to be much use if you actually want to hear about PhD research opportunities in History.

What can you do during the event?

You can probably expect a virtual postgraduate open day to include things like:

  • Presentations and information webinars – The online equivalent of an introductory talk, but without the hassle of having to find the right venue or worrying about asking a question in front of all the other people there.
  • Fee and funding talks – Similar to the above, but focussing on the financial side of things. These often provide details of the university's own fees and scholarships for your course, as well as more general postgraduate funding information.
  • Staff and student chat sessions – These are delivered in various ways: as Q&A following a presentation, as panel discussions (again with Q&A) or simply as direct one-to-one chat opportunities. The details will depend on how a virtual event is set up and how busy it is expected to be.
  • Virtual tours – Obviously you can't visit the actual campus during an online open day, but there are ways to get a feel for it. The most 'high tech' events will include a video tour of the campus and facilities, perhaps with a live compère. It's also possible to do this with a presentation (again accompanied by some good old Q&A).

Sadly, no one has yet worked out how to let prospective postgraduates sample the wares of the campus coffee shop over the internet.

And why bother?

Here are a few simple reasons why virtual events are worth your time right now:

#1 You've got far more choice than usual

Universities are making a virtue of necessity and taking their physical events online. Chances are good that at least one of the universities you'd consider for your degree has an upcoming online event.

#2 Asking questions can be more comfortable

Online chat isn't always a great substitute for an in-person conversation, particularly when you're trying to get a feel for a prospective supervisor. But it is a lot less pressured. You don't feel the eyes of an entire room on you, or have to worry that your question will come out wrong.

#3 They're much cheaper

All university open days are free, but on-campus events obviously involve some travel expenses (plus a budget for coffee sampling). The only cost for attending a virtual open day is the price of the internet access you're paying for anyway.

#4 This is one of the best ways to understand what's happening in 2020-21

The truth is that, whilst postgraduate study is still very much a thing, there are probably going to be some changes for next year. Talking directly to a university is the best way to get a sense of what those changes might be and what they mean for you.

In conclusion. . .

Right now, a virtual open day is the easiest, cheapest and most flexible way of getting information that's become even more important than usual. If you're genuinely interested in Masters or PhD study then it's well worth your time to check out an upcoming event.

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Last Updated: 04 May 2020