Navigating the Field: Education and Employment in a Changing Job Market

This year the Student Subcommittee of the Academic and Professional Training Committee (APTC) and the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA) Student Council are cosponsoring a forum dedicated to helping students navigate the current job market in archaeology. Thanks to the efforts of my co-organizer, Barry Bleichner, the forum will host six engaging panelists, and it will be held on Thursday, January 10, 2013. For location, time and a list of panelists, click here.

The global economic downturn has shifted government funding priorities away from cultural and historic resource preservation, and jobs have been lost. However, the enthusiasm and dedication of archaeologists across the world has allowed public programming and archaeology education initiatives to grow with exceptional speed and direction (see list of organizations at the bottom of this blog).

Image from the Archaeological Institute of America’s website for the second annual National Archaeology Day [NAD] held on October 20, 2012; each blue marker represents a separate event organized in honor of the day (image courtesy of American Anthropological Association).

This image exhibits the passion and devotion of the professional archaeological community and their beloved volunteers who engendered over 280 archaeology themed events on National Archaeology Day 2012. Without the work of volunteers and interns, many of these events may have been understaffed or inadequately prepared for the hundreds of visitors who participated in the day of celebration and education. Many of the volunteers were students who are being trained as the next generation of archaeologists.

I conducted a small informal survey to gain a better understanding of student perspectives about the current job market. According to the results, the insecurities that archaeology students have about the pressure to find work in a depressed economy are abundant, but with a network of support, students will find jobs! Remember, the insights to follow serve only as an introduction; the forum in January will host several professionals who are prepared to tackle these topics in-depth.

“Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!”
Fewer paid positions at archaeological venues has meant an increase in the skill requirements of new hires as well as an increase in the amount and type of work produced by volunteers and interns. The anxiety of making yourself the ideal candidate for a job can seem overwhelming, but it is important to stay calm and work on acquiring new, resume-bolstering skills.

I asked respondents of my survey, “Beyond acing exams and essays, what can students do to prepare themselves to be great candidates for jobs in archaeology?” The overwhelming answer from students and professionals, alike? VOLUNTEER. One participant responded with fervor, “Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Entry level jobs can be hard to come by for students looking to gain experience. Volunteering allows you to not only fill up your CV and gain skills, but also make professional connections that could help you land that job.”

Employers are looking for people who are able to engage the community and solve problems with creativity and innovation. Volunteering can help you practice your skills while showing potential employers what you have to offer.

As a graduate student at the University of South Florida’s Applied Anthropology program, Becky O’Sullivan began her career by volunteering with Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN). Soon, this volunteer position became a paid graduate assistantship. This experience gave O’Sullivan an opportunity to practice what might not have seemed natural to her, “Presenting at a professional conference can be nerve-wracking, I’m naturally adverse to getting up to talk in front of large groups, but the benefits of sharing your work with others and in turn learning from their work far outweigh those drawbacks. A good presentation can make you rethink even your most basic assumptions about what archaeology is and should be and make you a stronger researcher as a result!” This excerpt, written by Ms. O’Sullivan in January 2012, is taken from FPAN West Central Region’s blog. Ms. O’Sullivan is now the outreach coordinator for FPAN’s West Central Region office.

Flexibility can be useful when you are looking for a paid job, but whether you are in a small town or a big city, there is a cultural organization willing to train you as a volunteer. Start by donating two hours a week; this allows you to keep your “after-college bill-paying job” while you start to build professional connections in your field. Once your schedule opens up, you can invest more time in a project to which you already contribute.

Keep an Open Mind
In response to my questionnaire, one student reports about her experience using her degree outside of archaeology, “As far as alternate job routes go, I am looking at teaching positions from a wide range of disciplines. I find that my type of scholarship will probably fit in better in an American Studies department, so I am looking at jobs in American Studies, history, and American Indian studies departments along with anthropology.”

Try reexamining your own career goals and consider different ways to use your educational background in archaeology. This exercise invites you to think about ways to make archaeology skills useful to employers outside the discipline. See the list at the bottom of this blog for ideas about where to find jobs.

When you are working on your CV or preparing for an interview, mention your special skills. Sometimes your “hobbies” (theater, photography, painting, archery, singing, film-making, poetry, basketball, etc.) can be a great asset to employers. Many successful archaeologists and anthropologists use such hobbies to enhance their projects and outreach programs.

The following excerpt comes from a book edited by John H. Jameson Jr. and Sherene Baugher called Past Meets Present: Archaeologists Partnering with Museum Curators, Teachers, and Community Groups,“In the face of an increasing public interest and demand for information, archaeologists are collaborating with historians, educators, interpreters, museum curators, exhibit designers, landscape architects, and other cultural resource specialists to devise the best strategies for translating an explosion of archaeological information for the public.” This book (and many others) provides examples of how archaeologists collaborate with people from other disciplines or work within other disciplines to help protect and share the cultural resources of our nation.

Communicate, Stay Involved and Believe in Yourself
Consider how large your support network is when you are looking for work. University students have many resources, but as a professor once told me, “Your most valuable tool is the connections you make with the people around you.” When you graduate, many other students will be at your side, and it is invaluable to keep in touch with friends and colleagues who may one day be able to help you land a new job.

You can acquaint yourself with people who are working as professionals in archaeology by attending and presenting at conferences. I am amazed by the kindness of professors and other professionals who I have met at various conferences. Reaching out to the people I admire has given me the confidence to continue working towards my goal of being a paid employee in the field. Social-networking sites like LinkedIn, Academia.edu, or Facebook can be great tools for keeping up with people you have met.

Becky O’Sullivan, Rita Elliott, and Roz Crews (author) at SEAC (South Eastern Archaeology Conference) Public Day 2011; thanks to Jeff Moates, director at FPAN WC,  for taking the photo

I met Becky O’Sullivan and Rita Elliott as an intern working on my undergraduate honors thesis about archaeology education and outreach. Talking with them gave me the courage to present my ideas to a wider audience. Rita Elliott and her team from the Society for Georgia Archaeology created ArchaeoBUS, a mobile learning classroom, and they have since shared Georgia archaeology with people across the state.

If you would like to reach me directly, my e-mail is rozalyn.crews@ncf.edu.

Archaeology outreach programs:
Project Archaeology, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Arkansas Archaeological Survey, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Northwest Cultural Resources Institute, Hawai`i Junior Archaeology Outreach Program

Job opportunities:
National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, your local Sate Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO) or Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THIPO), a local museum or visitor center, a local university lab or ethnography department, or a state archaeology or history society. Don’t forget to check USAJobs for archaeology jobs around the country.

Works Cited

  • Jameson, John H. and Sherene Baugher (eds.)
    • 2007 Past Meets Present: Archaeologists Partnering with Museum Curators, Teachers and Community Groups. Springer.

How to Communicate about Your Work

Students at all levels are looking to develop skills that will serve them as they make that next step. The SSC Social Media Liaison, Mary Pertich-Guy, proposed an occasional blog that would discuss professional development issues for students and encourage contributions of ideas and experiences through their comments. Oral communication skills seem to be on everyone’s short list. Whether it is reading a conference paper on someone’s behalf or introducing yourself to classmates at the beginning of a semester, archaeology students are asked to talk about work often. There are many opportunities to improve oral communication skills.

Call Your Mom

Or call an uncle or an old friend; it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s someone who knows nothing about your work (likely easy to find), and is willing to listen (possibly a bit harder). The questions they ask can help you hone in on things you might make clearer.

Elevator

The elevator doors shut and you have until they open again to describe your project or research interests in a compelling way. This exercise helps you to eliminate unnecessary details and focus on the interesting parts.

Teach…. anyone

Many teach as adjuncts in anthropology departments. Few things will improve your communication skills quicker. However, not everyone is in the position to teach courses. Speak to your local schoolteachers, they often welcome presentations, and students can ask challenging questions. Adult education programs may also welcome a guest speaker. These opportunities force you to organize materials, think about your audience and do not require a semester of your time.

Go to the Library (or local historical society)

Libraries and historical societies commonly have programs that invite guest speakers. These presentations can be great opportunities to present preliminary work. Those in attendance can encourage you to think on your feet.

Grab a Cup of Coffee

Make plans to meet with classmates and take turns presenting problems you are encountering. This is practice both for asking productive questions and fielding them.

Department Get-Togethers

Many departments offer students the opportunity to present work. This is a great way to get feedback on a work in progress at any stage. If your department does not do this, it is easy enough to organize. All you need is the approval from the Chair and a student listserv.

Talk to Yourself

Many people are hesitant to throw themselves in front of a crowd. With today’s technology a bit of self-critique is easy to do. Record yourself and watch it later. Audio is good but video might be better; you never know what odd gestures you might make unconsciously.

Getting to Know the 2012 Ed and Judy Jelks Travel Award Winners

As a professional organization, the Society for Historical Archaeology promotes the participation of student members and supports the advancement of their careers. Students, in turn, may see the SHA as a resource in their professional development. One way the SHA encourages student participation in the annual meeting is through the Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel Award, discussed on the SHA blog by both Paul Mullins and Charlie Ewen. Graduate students may apply for the $500 award to defray the cost of travel when presenting research at the annual conference.

What kind of students and research win the award? Mullins concisely described the work of last year’s two recipients and we were curious to learn a little more about Corey McQuinn and Adrian Myers as students. We interviewed McQuinn and Myers and the following is a summary of their responses.

Corey McQuinn, a master’s student concentrating in Historical Archaeology at the University of Albany, researches enslavement in the Northeast, an understudied topic. He examines the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam, New York, and how different archaeological models of enslavement and racialization apply to the Northern context. Through another project focused on the Underground Railroad in Albany, New York, he studies how the construction of a community that supported the Underground Railroad relates to New York’s earlier history as a slave state and its continued economic dependence on enslaved labor corps.

McQuinn working with students at the Schoharie River Center archeological field school in Montgomery County, New York. Dragon site on the Schoharie Creek (2008).

In addition to this academic research, as a project manager for the cultural resource management firm Hartgen Archaeological Associates, Inc., McQuinn says he must be flexible and cover a broad range of time periods and historic contexts. He has worked in a variety of historical contexts, including cemetery excavations, tavern sites, Shaker village sites, farmsteads and industrial contexts. He has also helped to run Hartgren’s youth archaeological field school summer programs, getting students involved in community archaeology.

McQuinn and students screening at Stephen and Harriet Myers house youth field school in Albany, New York, last summer.

The Ed and Judy Jelks Travel Award helped McQuinn attend his first SHA conference, where he presented a paper, met other professionals in his field, including authors of papers and books he has read. A highlight of the conference was getting to know people and learning about work in progress. He finds both the annual conference and quarterly newsletter valuable resources for identifying potential partnerships and opportunities in the future.

Though his three kids, Remember, Beatrix, and Jasper, are his greatest successes, McQuinn also received the New York Archaeological Association’s William Beauchamp Student Award in 1998 and the 1997-1998 Dana Student Internship Grant from Ithaca College. He is looking forward to completing his master’s thesis next semester and his PhD in the future.

Myers excavating at the PoW camp in Manitoba.

A PhD candidate at Stanford, Adrian Myers, learned of the Ed and Judy Jelks Travel Award through attending the SHA conference, SHA business meetings, and from the HISTARCH email listserv. The award enabled him to present a paper, “Dominant Narratives, Popular, Assumptions, and Radical Reversals in the Archaeology of German Prisoners of War in a Canadian National Park” in the session chaired by Michael Roller and Paul Shackel, “Reversing the Narrative.” The paper was about all the surprising and counterintuitive things he encountered while studying the history of Nazi soldiers in a prison camp in Canada during World War II. Long interested in the history of the Second World War, his dissertation research is a historical archaeological study of a prison camp in Manitoba, Canada. Over three seasons of work he and colleagues surveyed, mapped, and excavated portions of the camp. Myers also travelled to Germany and met with three men who had been prisoners of the camp.

Myers has participated in a variety of other projects, including the “Van Project” at the University of Bristol, the Stanford Gymnasium Dig, and Bonnie Clark’s field school at the Granada Relocation Center, a World War II Japanese internment camp in Colorado. He also used free Google Earth imagery to map the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, assembled and co-edited a book on archaeology and internment camps, did a study on 20th century porcelain electrical insulatorsand also manages to work part-time in CRM archaeology.

Myers interviewing German PoWs in Germany.

Also a recipient of the National Geographic Society Waitt Grant (2009), Myers suggests undergraduate students pursue ideas for projects, even if it seems impossible and incredibly far off, especially if they are passionate about the subject. He suggests finding a supportive graduate program and, with effort the research can probably be done. He also says having an awesome adviser helps.

Both McQuinn and Myers sound passionate about their research and actively pursue opportunities to participate in projects and make connections with their peers in historical archaeology. They recognize the SHA as a resource for students and advise them to participate in the organization by speaking or corresponding with other archaeologists and presenting at conferences. The Academic and Professional Training Student Subcommittee (SSC) is starting a group discussion on student professionalism and the Society for Historical Archaeology. Please become a member of the conversation by joining the SSC Yahoo! group. Email your request to JCoplin@gc.cuny.edu and include your email to join.

We look forward to hearing from you!