#freearchaeology- Great Expectations

Posted on August 16, 2013

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To continue my thoughts on #freearchaeology from my last post, I would like to explore the topic of #freearchaeology and expectations of new graduates. To be fair to all that has been written about #freearchaeology the topic is wide and encompassing. However, I would like to focus on the catalyst that started #freearchaeology, Emily’s post  The problematic topic of the volunteer culture in archaeology and heritage in Britain, more specifically the need for experience to obtain a job. As Emily said,

“In the past few months it has become apparent to me that the subject of voluntary work, in heritage in general and archaeology in particular, is a really rather difficult one. I’ve decided to write this post because the topic has been raised more and more as my classmates and I reach the final stretch of our studies in Cultural Heritage Management and Other Wonderful Archaeological Topics.

It has only become more apparent as I begin to search out jobs and complete application forms from employers who expect a huge amount of experience (both voluntary and paid) from successful candidates. All too often, it is impossible to gain experience in a paid position until you have really rather substantial voluntary experience. Personally I have around 700 hours of voluntary experience, most of which is in field archaeology, and some of which is curatorial or journalistic. But still this does not feel like enough to get the jobs which I have spent the last 6 months qualifying myself to do.”

What I feel has been missing from the conversation of #freearchaeology is the lack of consideration given to new graduates expectations  and universities. In the start of #freearchaeology Emily briefly touches on the topic-

“So one of the issues that comes straight to mind is what exactly qualifies someone to do a job – is it experience or is it a piece of paper? Universities are churning out hundreds of gifted and enthusiastic graduates and postgraduates who are inexperienced but who have all demonstrated an ability to learn and apply themselves to various tasks with which they might be confronted with in the working environment (as far as I can gather teaching transferable skills has become extremely important in most university curricula), but their lack of experience hinders them significantly.”

On this last point I am going to respectively disagree as universities are NOT churning out hundreds of gifted and enthusiastic graduates and postgraduates who are inexperienced but who have all demonstrated an ability to learn and apply themselves to various tasks with which they might be confronted with in the working environment.

Ask any new graduate and they will say I have a degree and I am qualified to be an archaeologists. Emily said something similar herself,

‘But still this does not feel like enough to get the jobs which I have spent the last 6 months qualifying myself to do.’

To be fair this is true but only in the most narrow of terms. A archaeology degree actually gives a person a fair amount experience. Unfortunately, it is not the sort of experience that will get someone a job with the vast majority of archaeology employment, unless your looking for an academic job. The vast majority of experience that one obtains at university is how to write essays, debate topics in very narrow terms, etc. etc. etc. with many notable exceptions. Yet, even those notable exceptions are too little. For example, lets say a student in the US took a three credit hour course on GIS. That is three hours of training a week for roughly sixteen weeks (some variation between universities) which is roughly 40 hours of experience (48 but minus a few for intro days, tests, etc.). Maybe with homework you might double or triple this time which comes out to a whopping two to three weeks  of experience in GIS (full time work in US). In the UK this might only be 40 hours (10 weeks x 4 hours).

Students or people with newly minted degrees have the expectation that their degree will qualify them for a job but the math proves otherwise. Moreover, looking at the numbers is quite depressing. Lets assume you need 360 credits to get an English (as in a degree from a University in England) archaeology undergraduate degree and 10 credits roughly equals 1 hour of contact time with an instructor a week and maybe 2-3 hours of study. That comes out to roughly 1080 hours of work or 27 weeks of experience or roughly 6 months of #freearchaeology (2 ten week terms per year, not counting exam time). Maybe, it is more with a particular student or with a specific course but the numbers are not going to be that great. At an average of £9000 a year that comes out to roughly £27 per hour of “experience”, the majority of it being self study. That does not count the time lost to being employed, even at minimum wage, which could triple that amount. #freearchaeology is actually £50+ per hour of “experience” at university.

Back to great expectations, students believe that a degree has given them the tools needed to be an archaeologists, the math says otherwise. In fact, chances are they may only have a few weeks of relevant experience. Relevant experience being key as how many of those hours actually are applicable to most archaeology jobs? Heck, most essays do not even give a student the experience needed to write a peer reviewed article. A student might, MIGHT, have a few weeks of relevant experience. Moreover, what you might think is relevant experience might not be what an employer thinks is relevant. Essentially, most new graduates have zero or only a few weeks of relevant experience but the belief that they are qualified.

On that note I will end this post and in the future discuss more on the quantity of #freearchaeology needed to get a job, what employers are actually looking for (hint- experience has very little to do with it), and other issues on the topic.

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