Earlier this week Go Dig a Hole wrote an article on the two major career paths of archaeology.
I re-wrote this post a couple of times, because I kept reading it through and I thought it sounded pretty negative. Finally, I just gave up and decided that maybe the slightly negative, but honest truth was OK. The truth is, colleges are pumping out bachelor’s degrees every year and these students have almost no idea where archaeology can actually take them. Or even worse, heading straight to graduate school and spending another 2-7 years in the classroom without even knowing if they like being in the field.
Choosing a major in college is difficult, especially when career information is often nebulous at best. Being honest with yourself about what activities you enjoy and the things you are passionate about will really help if you are considering archaeology as a career.
First, my biggest advice for you, no matter what stage you are in in your undergraduate career is to attend an archaeology field school. Even if your school doesn’t require one to graduate (although many do) it is incredibly valuable to your résumé, and helpful in just deciding if you even like being in the field. Keep an eye out for an upcoming article on the blog on Picking a Field School. You need to be lining up your summer fieldwork plans by March.
If you’ve completed a field school, and you enjoyed more than just the exotic places and beverages, then it’s on to the next big question: Do you really even like being outdoors that much?…. Like all day long?…. I mean, even when it’s raining and cold and stuff? Oh, you do? Great! Cool… So, uh, guess where your first tick of the season is going to be? No, really, just take a wild guess. Yep, heh-heh… right there.
Whether you’ve chosen the career path of academia or you’re ready to venture into CRM, I highly recommend working as a CRM field technician for at least 6 months. Contact a local firm or check out job message boards like Archaeology Fieldwork, Shovel Bums, or USA Jobs, and beef up your experience and resume before attending graduate school.
Working as a field tech means working outside, being on the road, and living with a lot of uncertainty about where your next job will be. There is a lot to deal with as a field tech, some of it is really challenging and potentially negative. Depending on who you are, these challenges could be a huge part of your growth process in your early career as an archaeologist. Learning to be happy on the road, and call each hotel “home, ” becoming part of a team, and building leadership skills, and getting real hands-on experience with archaeology fieldwork.
I calls this period of an archaeologist’s career “serving your time in the salt mines”, and if you do this and still feel like a bulletproof tiger, then you can use it to take your career to the next level. Graduate school can help both academia and CRM archaeologists, as you will need your PhD to be hired as a professor, and a master’s to reach higher positions in CRM companies. If you’re reading this and thinking that there is no possible way you’ll ever want to go back to school, after you finish your degree—that’s okay! Don’t rush to go to grad school before you’re ready for it. But, you need to understand that the trajectory of your CRM career will peak out fairly quickly, with very little chance of moving upward without higher education.
It’s easy to view the more challenging aspects of an early career in archaeology as negative factors, but your hard work will take you far if you’re able to see these as opportunities to learn and grow – even if it’s more personal rather than professional. Here are some things to stew on:
- CRM almost always entails some instability – whether that’s hunting your next field tech gig, trying to win the next contract, or spending hours on the road and months in hotels living out of a duffel bag. If you remember the 10 Commandments (of archaeology, duh), you’ll find strength in rules 2 through 4: “be flexible”.
- You can’t lone wolf it through archaeology. Sure, academic research in later stages of your career might be somewhat isolating, but in both academia and CRM you rely on a team of people at all phases of work to get anything done. Recognize the value in this, and foster good teamwork.
- Get used to being uncomfortable. Conditions in the field often hit extreme temperatures and varying levels of precipitation. If we waited for optimal conditions, we’d never get anything done. You’ll also get your share of scrapes, rashes, bruises, and bug bites. All of this makes it even more important to take care of your body and your well-being as much as you can.
This post is just a very basic run through of some questions you need to be asking yourself, and thinking about when pursuing a degree in archaeology. In the end, don’t worry about committing to CRM or academia, just leave your options open, and always look for a way to build your skills. Don’t take this post as fact, ask questions from everyone you know in archaeology, and attend meetings at your local organization of profession archaeologists to create more contacts.
Archaeology • Undergrad Guides
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