Topic the month: Academic Departments. Over to Brian Leiter:
... [S]tudents are well-advised to talk to current students at the programs they are considering. There are often things you will want to know that you won't glean from familiarity with the excellence of the faculty's work, even if that remains the most important, if defeasible, reason for choosing a particular department. Here are some examples of information that no ranking, no departmental brochure, and no "official" departmental representive will tell you about; all of these are drawn from stories I've heard from students over the last few years about ranked departments (the departments will remain unnamed, obviously). You can think of them as representing "types" of problems you should be aware of before enrolling. I've tweaked some of the details to protect identities.
While Leiter's post is largely about philosophy departments, I'm sure the kinds of shady practices he describes are field-agnostic.
* * *
Around this time last year, I had an opportunity to tell potential grad students to avoid choosing jerks and assholes as their advisors. Leiter's post takes a broader look at dysfunctional departments. In both cases, it's important to be armed with as much information as possible, so use all the resources at your command. If possible (unlikely, for foreign students), visit the departments that have accepted you before choosing the place that will be your home for five years or more. In any event, make sure that you talk to students who are already studying there through e-mail, chat and online forums.
All this is pretty common-sense advice, but it's useful to have it spelled out.
* * *
Thanks to Kieran for the pointer.