I'm in grad school right now. I'm in my second year of a doctoral program in history, to be exact. As I'm sure most of you know (well, of the few of you that patiently follow my sporadic posts), I already have my master'sdegree.
While my PhD will be in history, I will be doing archaeology (I hope) when I graduate. Most people who become professional archaeologists get their PhD in anthropology; it is possible, however, to be a registered professional archaeologist with a degree in history provided one works a fieldwork component into your dissertation and research. Because I go to school in DC, I can take anthro/archaeology classes at any of the schools in the greater DC area through my program (read: free). I'll be taking several classes at other campuses over the next couple of semesters in order to prepare myself for fieldwork.
Anywho, grad school has proved to be interesting. It is sometimes the most rewarding thing I've ever done. Other times, I feel like my brain can't possibly process any more information and it will literally explode if I read anything else. Here are some things to remember before you start grad school.
1. It is a job. Treat it that way. Despite what a lot of people think about grad school, it isn't just a good way to avoid getting a "real job." It is work... like, a ton of work. You will work at least 5 days a week, if not all 7. Depending upon the type of program you're in, you probably will have no energy/time to have a real job.
2. PhD program? With a job? Ha! Seriously dudes, though I can't speak for all PhD programs, having a normal job outside of the university while school is in session is going to be next to impossible. Your work will suffer, and it will be very evident that your energy is elsewhere... which brings me to my next point.
3. No matter what program you're in, GRAD SCHOOL IS COMPETITIVE. Programs like law or medicine can be downright competitive via your ranking in your class, and while smaller programs or departments may not rank you and your colleagues, you will be competing against them. Given the financial situation of most universities (unless you're going to an ivy league with a huge endowment), funding is tenuous. My department lost an entire assistantship this year due to the financial situation of the country, from 8 to 7 assistantships. Guess what? There are more than 8 grad students. Know what this means? You had better work to make yourself the most desirable candidate and work hard to make everyone think you're worth $60-80k per year.
4. Go to all of the things. This works off of number 3. Department celebration? Go to it. Ask if you can help set up. This is in your best interest for a number of reasons. First, you want to make sure the chair and anyone else in a position of authority remembers who you are and that you're nice/personable/motivated come time to decide who gets that assistantship or fellowship. Second, you never know who you'll meet at one. Due to our location in metro DC, my university often has professors from a number of universities. You never know who will be an external reviewer, or who could offer you a job. Three, free food. Remember that part about fiscal problems? If there's any free food, do it. If there's any left at the end, they might let you take it home. FREE GROCERIES! (I've gotten a lot of cheese this way. Mmmm.)
5. Do the reading. If your writing needs work, ask a professor to help critique something you've written. This is sort of self-explanatory, but you'd be surprised how many people in my year or so at this university that I've seen completely bomb (and thus, not get funded) because they didn't do the reading or their writing isn't the best. Now, it's not possible to read every.single.word of most of your assignments. One professor for our required introductory historiography course intentionally assigns 900 pages of reading a week to see if you can figure out how to get the gist of the piece. It would be physically impossible to do all of the reading in those circumstances. However, here are some protips from a pro: read the introduction. ALL OF IT. Generally, it will have the thesis statement, and often nice authors will outline all of the chapters! Read book reviews if you can find em. JSTOR is your friend. It's like someone has done all the work for you! Also, read the first and last pages of all of the chapters, and the epilogue if there is one.
So that's that. Grad school is pretty rewarding, if you can handle the stress. I wouldn't recommend it if you're the type not to go to class or if you're the type to get overwhelmed easily. I love it, but it isn't for everyone. <3