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.

Archaeology and the Community

Over the past two years, I have been responsible for creating a wide variety of educational outreach programs for the Exploring Joara Foundation, a small public archaeology organization in western North Carolina.  This summer has been particularly scorching, and as we slowly stew in the thick heat of summer it is easy to forget that our role as archaeology educators goes well beyond our responsibility to stress the need for the preservation of archaeological resources and the understanding and appreciation of past cultures.  We may be the only real face of archaeology that the public sees, and it is our responsibility to not only make an impression that breaks the stereotype of treasure hunter, but to also inspire children and adults to ask more questions about the past and to become directly involved with its preservation.  This is the only way the public will not just know the importance of preservation, but leave with the belief that it is their responsibility to make that a reality.

The Exploring Joara Foundation is a perfect example of what results from putting the past in the public’s hands. The non-profit was formed in 2007 by members of the Morganton community with assistance from head archaeologists at the Berry Site.  The foundation’s goal was to help support professional archaeological research at the site. It has since grown to incorporate a public education program dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of archaeological resources. This has put the organization in a fairly unique position. It is not tied to any specific school, institution, or state. Instead, the foundation was born from the local community’s desire to share the archaeology of their hometown and to preserve its history. Though we are over an hour away from any metropolis, our wide variety of outreach has provided us with a steady stream of students, scouts, teachers, homeschool groups, campers, and community members that are eager to learn more about the region’s archaeology. The foundation now functions as a year round resource for the community, offering free and paid programming to the public, while still helping to support professional archaeological research at the Berry site.

Public Field Day at the Berry Site.

Before 2010, the foundation only funded one public open house at the Berry Site each year. During those public days we heard numerous suggestions and requests from the community on what they felt we should offer. By building our outreach around their requests, we have been able to accommodate a broad range of ages and interests. The foundation now supports talks at local schools and organizations, teacher workshops, summer camps, and field and lab experiences for all ages. We added each of these programs only after listening carefully to the public on what they wanted or felt was needed for the community. This is essential to creating a public archaeology program that really works. It’s certainly a trial and error process, but knowing what the public wants is crucial.

Middle school campers learning to screen at the Berry Site.

One of the requests we heard most was for archaeology experiences for kids too young to participate in the Berry Site Field School. With direction from Dr. Theresa McReynolds Shebalin, the foundation is now able to offer camps for both middle school and high school students in July and August. The campers have a similar experience to field school students at the Berry Site as they work alongside professional archaeologists to uncover the remains of a 16th-century Catawba town and Spanish fort. Campers revel in knowing that they are contributing to research and that their interpretations may find their way into the professional archaeologists’ dialogue. During the hotter part of the day, campers take part in experimental archaeology projects, artifact analysis, archaeology games, and crafts. The camps are designed to be discussion based in order to give kids the opportunity to ask questions and pose hypotheses so that they can feel directly involved with the research. This year those discussions led the middle school students to ask questions such as: can you tell the difference between carbonized corn that has been cut or eaten off the cob? The question resulted in a blind experiment to determine if the campers could tell the difference with corn from the store burned behind the field house. At the end of the week, students leave the camp with the feeling that archaeology is a field that is accessible and possible to pursue as a career. It is necessary to make sure each person leaves not only with a better understanding of the past and an appreciation for preservation, but with a feeling that they participated in adding to ongoing academic research.

Caldwell County Public School group celebrates after a day in the field.

Since we can’t reach a large number of students through camps, the foundation also runs workshops geared toward 4th-8th grade teachers. On the first day, teachers learn about North Carolina prehistory and the science of archaeology through hands-on activities that they can adapt for use in their own classrooms. During a make-and-take session, teachers are encouraged to come up with their own practical applications with guidance from Exploring Joara staff. Over the past three years, we have observed that this flexible approach results in a better success rate of the material being used in the classroom than when teachers are simply introduced to standard lesson plans. On the second day, the teachers go out into the field to work at the Berry Site. This hands-on time is critical and even resulted in one teacher bringing her high school class to the site for an excavation workshop the following fall. To me, this is a perfect example of community action resulting in a more educated public.

Exploring Joara is a relatively young foundation, with an even younger public archaeology program. It was built by the community and therefore has strong public support and interest. This support is evident in the continued respect and protection of the Berry Site. The well-known site’s only security is the watchful eye of neighbors and community members who are proud of their local history and the site’s significance. I continue to be thankful for that support and know that without the public, the foundation and its unique programming would not exist. I hope to see programs like this continue to form out of the public’s desire and encouragement. If the small town of Morganton, North Carolina can garner enough interest to create a year round educational program, could this be the future of public archaeology? Have you seen a shift in public interest and concern in other areas of the country? Are there other avenues that we could pursue as archaeology educators that would reach a broader population or have a greater impact on the community?

Critical Heritage, African Diaspora Archaeology and the Moment When My Eyes Were Opened.

I am a blogger. Blogging has become an extension of how I process complex thoughts and ideas. Composing a blog entry is like creating a work of art, allowing me to release myself from the constraints of academic boundaries and just write my inner thoughts and feelings in ways that are liberating and therapeutic.

So, this entry is about a recent shift in the way I think about the archaeology that I do, the methods I employ to engage with multiple stakeholders, and the ability to compare my experiences across time and space. This all started when I began to notice that many of the archaeologists around me were starting to talk about this thing called heritage.  I presented a paper at an annual conference sponsored by the UMass Amherst Center for Heritage and Society (CHS) about the recent trends in African Diaspora archaeology. I had incredible exchanges with heritage professionals, archaeologists from around the globe who were using unfamiliar language like tangible and intangible heritage, polylogues (as opposed to monologues), and concepts like sites as extensions of public value. I was shocked to learn how different this new heritage differed from my archaic understanding of what heritage was. It was no longer simply the idea of preservation, the built environment, or a tool for nation building, it was about all people, even those who were often marginalized, neglected and underrepresented.

My formal relationship with CHS began when I became a part of a larger project on Eleuthera, an outer island in the Bahamas. Initiated by a local organization, One Eleuthera Foundation (http://oneeleuthera.org/), CHS became a partner in an effort to identify projects and opportunities to “strengthen Eleuthera’s communities and further the economic, environmental and social development of the island” (http://oneeleuthera.org/). This partnership, already going on for a year, involved community engagement, focus groups with a variety of stakeholders, and historical research. There were several viable components to the project, one of which was the possibility for some archaeology of an abandoned 500 acre plantation on the southern tip of the island. I was drawn by the lure of plantation archaeology outside of the Southern United States. However, I quickly discovered that this trip was not about me initiating excavations at Millars plantation, this thing I now know as critical heritage opened my eyes to see realities of lived experience that had to be addressed before a single shovel or trowel ever touched the dirt.

What I found was an island that did not benefit from constantly docking cruise ships or “all inclusive” resorts scattered across the landscape. I found an island impacted by severe un/underemployment, the invisibility of a Haitian labor class, the negative imprint of failed tourism, steady outward migration, and the political and social involvement of second-home owners. I arrived thinking I was there to help the “community,” without knowing what that really meant. Eleutherans were easy to talk to, I learned a great deal about history, family, connection, in many ways I felt like I was returning to a home I had longed for, but never knew existed. The people looked like me, I could relate to the frustrations of the empty promise of tourism and how it fostered apathy in the minds of young people. I was not the archaeological expert, standing in the center of town as an empty vessel to be used to recuperate the buried past. My role was seeing myself as a facilitator between the elder and the youth, the Eleutheran and the Haitian laborer, the community organizer and the second-home owner. The fading history of the island was held close by those who stayed, those who looked to heritage as the means for a sustainable collective memory. Archaeology could tell a story that chronicles the history of an abandoned plantation, the experiences of post-emancipation life, and possibly provide a narrative that can be powerful enough to reclaim a fading Eleutheran identity, but this project was more about dialogue, about reaching a larger audience on and off of the island. As one informant said plainly, “we need you to help remind us all that we have, because we are sitting on it and take it for granted” (Roderick Pindar, personal communication, 2012). And then I went back home, to Western Massachusetts.

On my return I was invigorated and confused. I had to process the trip, knowing that Eleuthera was forever in my system. I had just scratched the surface on my first trip and I continued to delve, very slowly, into this thing called heritage. It was some months later as we were conceptualizing the 2012 UMass Amherst Heritage Archaeology Field School (http://umassheritagearchaeology.com/), that it struck me. I was starting to see my current site, the W. E. B. Du Bois Homesite, differently. I began to think critically about how I had been defining “community” in Great Barrington. Who were we trying to reach through our interpretation and archaeology? I wanted to employ the idea of local and associated stakeholders, mark the contrast and follow where it took us. I was reminded of how Anna Agbe-Davies articulated the reality that many historical archaeologists enter into engagement with very weak theoretical understandings of community (Agbe-Davies, 2010). And then I had one conversation that would again shift the very foundation of my thinking.

That “local” community I was searching for was not as distant as I had imagined. They were witnesses to a transformed landscape that no longer reflected their generational memories. There was a sense of disconnect from what Great Barrington had become and there was a sense of loss and apathy. Although, it does not involve an African descendant community, in the traditional sense, the Du Bois Homesite is surrounded by a rural, descendant group of people that are not invested in the site that occupies a space in their neighborhood. This local community has experienced a steady outward migration of young people, a politically and socially active second-home owner community, the effects of New England seasonal tourism, and massive un/underemployment. The needs of this local community are different than I initially expected or even considered. This community did not look like me, we didn’t share a collective past, but there is a need for their voices to be a part of the dialogue of how we understand the Du Bois Homesite. Therefore, I am beginning to see the possibility of facilitating a conversation, developing a longer relationship to the site and its surroundings and expanding the story/narrative of life in Great Barrington, in the past, present and future.

From critical heritage I have learned that I am no longer just the expert. I have learned that I can serve as a facilitator for the needs of local and associated communities, use an archaeology that includes dialogues that exposes students to the complications of human interaction and conflict. And how these messy situations can become teaching moments, the means to create sustainable relationships between communities and sites, and how, for the first time in my career, my ability to put those lofty theoretical ideas I have about engagement into practice. Whether it is on an outer island in the Bahamas or a small, plot of land on the South Egremont Plain in rural Western Massachusetts, critical heritage has opened my eyes wide enough to see a lasting value in the work that I to do.

  • Agbe-Davies, Anna
    • 2010 “Concepts of community in the pursuit of an inclusive archaeology,” In International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(6):373-389.
  • Pindar, Roderick
    • 2012 Personal Communication, Governor’s Harbor, Eleuthera, Bahamas.