Let me start by telling you a little about my assignment and my department. I am a third-year PhD student in the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS) department and the University of Colorado at Boulder, otherwise known by it’s reversed initials - CU. The APS department at CU is home to 22 tenured or tenure-track faculty, 2 senior instructors, 4 research faculty, roughly 25 post-docs, and currently 43 grad students. Additionally, there are three on-campus research institutes affiliated with our department, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), JILA, and the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA), which employ roughly 200 non-faculty scientists, engineers, and support staff with whom many of our grad students work as either research assistants or colleagues. You can see a reasonably up-to-date departmental directory here if you want to know more.
Our department is unusually broad. We cover topics that in other universities fall into geology, atmospheric sciences, astronomy, physics, and applied math departments. That means we have people working on everything from the ionosphere to martian craters to the interior of black holes (seriously). As such a broad department, we admit people with a variety of backgrounds, although those with physics degrees tend to be the majority.
Our department also has a somewhat unique level of student involvement in departmental governance. Graduate students serve with faculty on the committees that handle admissions, comprehensive exams, faculty hires, and so forth. While I cannot say the the students on these committees are regarded as equal with the faculty members, at least we have seats at the table and can, through simply being there and voicing our views, influence the way the department functions.
So for the 2009-2010 school year I was a member of the admissions committee. The committee was made up of 4 faculty members and 4 post-comps (our lingo for “Doctoral Candidate”) graduate students. As one of the students I was in on all the meetings, read the applications, helped make admissions decisions, arraigned the prospective student weekends, and generally was up to my elbows in the sausage-making process that is graduate admissions.