I am wrapping up my first year in graduate school at the University of Florida (UF). I hope some of my thoughts will assist you undergraduates who are wondering if an anthropology or archeology graduate program is for you.
I received my BA in anthropology with a concentration in environmental sustainability, focusing on climate change, severe weather, and water systems. I’m currently pursuing my MA in anthropology with a certification in public archaeology and focusing on Cultural Resource Management (CRM), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), rescue archaeology, and climate change.
Going into this graduate program, I felt prepared for the work. I lacked, however, archaeology-focused skills. I had read about bifaces and hearth features in textbooks but had not seen them in person. Going into a graduate program helps identify both gaps in knowledge and academic strengths. Fortunately, I knew I wanted an archaeology degree so I determined my focus beforehand. Master’s programs are short, so the more time you concentrate on your area of interest, the better.
The courses were not too different from previous undergraduate studies and no great structural changes existed (outside of a lack of midterms. Yay!). Overall, I have less homework than expected, but fewer assignments, which means each one is worth a larger percentage of my grade. Without general education classes like English or Western Civ. at this level, classes concentrate on areas of interest and research.
Graduate school is more intense, and for some, harder than an undergraduate program. For me it has meant dealing with different expectations. A higher academic performance is required of grad students at UF, where a C counts as a failure.
The other students in my department have been welcoming and friendly. With a department smaller than, say, the business school, we all know each other. The UF professors encourage collaboration and interaction, so we can learn from each other.
Time management and scheduling are crucial. For my own schedule each week, I work a part time, eight-hour shift job, three-to-four days; have four two-and-a-half-hour classes; and one two-hour choir rehearsal with four shows in the spring and fall. I spend seven hours at archaeological dig sites every weekend. And that’s not counting household obligations and homework. I make liberal use of calendar and reminder apps. Sometimes at my job I have to read journal articles on my lunch break and ride the bus working on a paper.
Much of my learning so far has been applied to the weekend digs and to a research project on water usage in the Holocene, focusing on one particular site. On digs, I’ve become the semi-expert and informal instructor regarding field paperwork, which records the context and provenance of our finds. For the research project site, I once presented a short lecture on its background to undergraduates who accompanied us before we started digging. Learning about the site helped with both my projects and teaching. Of all the skills I’ve acquired in that class, GIS has become the backbone of my research project due to the spatial nature of my research question on least-cost path analysis.
In my Public Archaeology classes, we speak through informal Zoom chats with different archaeologists involved in Public Archaeology such as the State Historic Preservation Officer’s team, private archaeology firms, government offices, and others. Through these meetings, I have learned how these sectors relate to each other and how each sector addresses day-to-day archaeological work. This experience has been invaluable since my career will be outside academia.
So lastly, a little advice before I conclude.
- Apply to graduate school, even if you are uncertain. You never have to accept an offer, and it’s better to have offers in hand than try to apply at the last minute. See the Anthropology Career Resource Network for a tool on making decisions about graduate school.
- Start your applications early—even earlier than seems reasonable. I started my applications in earnest in late July–early August; I found that was far too close to the December deadline. Get as many schools lined up as possible, to maximize the choices. Waiting for acceptance over several months is a given.
- While waiting, look for housing, so that signing a lease is possible after deciding upon a school. By the time I received my acceptances, few housing options remained, and I had a mad scramble to find something.
I hope my thoughts on graduate school here have been helpful. Graduate school can be a fun time of learning, teaching, growing, and ultimately graduating with the knowledge needed to pursue your career and life goals. I highly encourage those of you considering graduate school to go ahead and apply—a decision I’ve never regretted.