[Podcast] Kirsten Lopez: Ancient Textiles and Work/Life Balance

When I first started off in archaeology I was told, “it’s a good thing you’re unmarried and childless, because you can’t have a family in archaeology”. Kirsten Lopez joins this episode of the podcast to bust that myth.

Cover photo by Kirsten Lopez

Kirsten Lopez was the first archaeologist I met when I moved to Oregon. She got me linked up with the Oregon Archaeological Society (the public-facing outreach and advocacy group), the Association of Oregon Archaeologists (the professional group), and Portland State University’s First Thursday Talks. Equivalents of these groups are present in most urban centers, or at least state-wide, and are highly recommended for early career archaeologists to make productive connections for work or study.

Lopez is one of the hosts of the Women in Archaeology podcast and contributor to the Women in Archaeology blog, an important project sharing important perspectives in archaeology. She’s also a grad student at Oregon State University. Her area of study is paleoethnobotany – the study of baskets that were made by people in Oregon’s northwestern corner of the Great Basin at the end of the Ice Age, the plants that made those baskets, and the environments where those people and plants grew. Lopez’ path to this research, like most paths in archaeology, took the scenic route. As she recounts in the podcast, her early field school experiences shaped her research interests in the early prehistory of hidden ancient landscapes. She has worked in Malta, almost moved to Edinburgh, and done countless field investigations throughout the Great Basin and Pacific Northwest. Her current research takes her into the Alford Desert, a physically and logistically challenging place to study on many levels.

Lopez’ academic and professional flexibility is balanced by the stability built by purposeful time with her family. This, she says, is key to both her relationship with her teenage daughter and to her partner. Stability is important in everyone’s lives at every stage, but is often difficult to find in a career that requires quick planning, frequent travel, and unpredictability. The way Lopez builds stability with her daughter through her ritual of breakfast; every morning she wakes up early enough to enjoy a hot breakfast together before she embarks on her long commute from Portland to Corvallis. She makes regular time a priority with her partner, who is a hospital nurse with challenging schedule as well. They enjoy a drink together at a pub down the street from their home, where they catch up with each other.

Financial stability is another challenge endemic to archaeology. Lopez places the trials and tribulations of her path through archaeology in the context of the American financial crash of the late 2000s. Like many college students who graduated around the last economic collapse, she’s weary of recent political rumblings. Lopez worked in real estate when the last recession hit. The ensuing months nuked her savings and took her home, her car, and her furniture. She describes some of the larger factors undermining the job market, like job scarcity and people staying in long-tenure jobs well past retirement age. She presciently argues that archaeologists should unionize as a means to stake out some stability in a job market that too often sees professionals scrambling to react to volatility. Indeed, just as other organized trades have prescribed professional standards, archaeologists have standards outlined by the Secretary of the Interior and each state’s State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO). On the podcast, discuss some of the goals and perks of organized labor – be it though unions or through the Democratic Socialists of America. Childcare, healthcare, retirement, and protection from the volatile employment conditions most archaeologists face in the private sector. A major take-away for managing financial and professional stability is to be proactive, rather than reactive.


Kirsten Lopez on Twitter (@ArchyFem)

Women in Archaeology podcast

Women in Archaeology blog

Gebeloff, Robert.
2017. “Generation Grumpy: Why You May Be Unhappy if You’re Around 50” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/30/upshot/income-us-generations-survey-satisfaction-wealth.html (accessed December 2, 2017).

Democratic Socialists of America

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