Katy Meyers is an Anthropology PhD Student at Michigan State University and a founding editor of GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @bonesdonotlie.
On average I get about an email a week from an undergrad who is thinking about going into my field or looking to attend Michigan State University and wants some advice on the process. The conversations quickly turn from archaeology specific to grad school in general.
I've attended three grad schools and looked at about a half dozen when I was searching for my school. I met with lots of different grad students and have gone to three department mandatory "introduction to grad school" seminars. I heard a lot of great advice as well as a lot of bad advice when I was in the process of looking and getting introduced to this grad lifestyle. I'm definitely not an expert on what you should tell someone who is interested in grad school, but I've picked up a few good tips from both getting and giving advice.
1. Don't scare them: There are some grad students out there who tend to be angry, whether its because they didn't get funded or their proposals weren't accepted or something else. Having an undergrad ask your advice is not the time to vent your frustration at a personal problem with grad school. It is fine to warn them about certain things, but don't try to scare them away. The worst interaction I had with a grad student who was giving me advice was when she spent an hour at a coffee shop with me complaining about how awful her life was in grad school. Vent frustration elsewhere.
2. Be positive but truthful: It's great if you love your department and want to share this with someone asking your advice, but also be honest. Don't sugarcoat the experience too much. We don't want to scare them, but we don't want them to be shocked when they find out that this isn't an extension of undergrad, and that their free grad student lunch was just a fluke while they were visiting. Be enthusiastic, be positive about your experience, but its important to be realistic as well.
3. Don't gossip: I remember walking up to a grad student at a university that won't be named to ask about their experience with a professor who would have been my potential advisor had I gone there. The student rolled their eyes and proceeded to give me a massive list of reasons not the involve myself with the professor and why all the students who worked with this professor weren't as good as the others. Don't do this. You don't need to share insider knowledge or gossip about the department. Like #2, err towards being positive and truthful about interactions. Never start a sentence with "well, I heard that Prof X did this..." You are a representative of your department and grad school in general, so a little professionalism is always good.
4. Take the time to give advice: This is someone who may be your colleague and peer one day, so take the time to answer questions and meet with potential grad students. It really doesn't take up that much time, it looks good for your department and your personal image with the department, and it may pay off for you in the future. Visiting grad schools and asking questions can be a little intimidating. Remember your experience, and try to help out those just starting the process.
I also always suggest that they take a look at GradHacker. It's not just self-promotion; it is a great way for them to see what grad students are worried about, thinking about, dealing with and trying to accomplish in their professional and personal lives. Grad school is a complete lifestyle change, and helping them understand that it has both positives and negatives is something our authors illustrate extremely well!
Do you give advice to future grad students? Do you have any advice for grad students who are asked about their experience, their program, their department or grad school in general? Let us know in the comments below!