#freearchaeology- How do you know you really want to work in Archaeology?

Posted on October 8, 2013


If you have a spare moment I recommend reading  ‘& Even More Thoughts on Getting a Job in the Cultural Heritage Sector‘ over at Archaeology, Museums & Outreach (http://rcnnolly.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/even-more-thoughts-on-getting-a-job-in-the-cultural-heritage-sector/). It is an interview with Carol Ellick about getting work in the Cultural Heritage Sector. It is an excellent piece to read.

Full disclosure- I took the Avenues to Professionalism course she talks about and know Carol personally. That being said, that class was the best class I took in my entire University Experience (BA, MA and PhD). I told Carol that once and she thought I was joking…. I wasn’t and still am not. You can be taught everything there is about archaeology but if no one teaches you how to get a job, you won’t get a job. Ok, I half exaggerate. There was a time when they were so desperate for archaeologists that anyone could get a job by just answer a call for field techs but those days are five years ago. Furthermore, it doesn’t look like it is going to improve much anytime soon.

I am digressing, the reason I am pointing you to this post is because of this great question and answer:

“You write about the importance of internships and volunteering as preparation for applying for jobs. What steps do you suggest that someone take to maximize the value of an internship or volunteer experience?

I always recommend that students volunteer or do an internship.  How do you know you really want to work in this field, if you never try it?  To me, financial compensation is the bonus, what the internship provides as the base pay is the experience itself, exposure to working professionals, expansion of one’s network, something for the résumé, and a reference for future employers.  Whether it’s a paid position–internship or job–or a volunteer position, it is up to the individual to put the limit on the amount of time they can put in.  I suggest that students write a contract that clearly states what they can commit and what they would like out of the internship.  The contract writing experience helps clarify the expectation not only for the student, but also for the sponsor.  My other suggestion is that the intern take full advantage of the experience.  Ask questions.  Offer to help.  Also, be happy to do small chores like answering the phone or filling envelopes.  If you make yourself indispensable, it may even lead to a real paid position.”

A little while ago I wrote about why I undertake #freearchaeology and some of the reasons other people might want to. I would add to my list Carol’s remarks, “How do you know you really want to work in this field, if you never try it?”. This might come off as a stinging remark to those who do volunteer and still can’t find a job. However, it is still very important advice. Moreover, if you have volunteered you might already know that you want a job in archaeology and so the advise is not aimed at you.

I am always amazed at the number of students who get out of university with almost no idea about job conditions and what is expected of them. There is always the field school experience in which half, or more, of the students realize that archaeology is not for them. However, out of the half, or less, of the students who do think they want to do archaeology or museums or heritage management or (insert career) 95% of them have absolutely no idea what it is about. Field school IS NOT CRM/commercial archaeology. I was incredibly lucky in that the crew chiefs at my field school were CRM guys and we worked at that pace, at least some of us did. That was the exception and as far as I can tell, one of the only ones (except for a few I hear about here or there).

I am always amazed at the archaeology students who think they want to work in museums. First off, an archaeology degree in almost no way prepares you for museum work- there is such a thing as a museum studies degree. Second, most of them think that they will spend their whole time in collections, you won’t. With a BA/BS at best you will get a visitor services job. These are the sorts of jobs that actually dominate museum work. Visitor Services can best be compared to retail work, you sit behind a desk and answer questions and ring up merchandise. This is not what most people expect.

I think everyone should actual try real jobs before committing a good portion of their lives to a profession they may not actual like. This is were Carol’s second piece of advise comes in- write up a contract. Having given work to thousands of volunteers I can tell you there is real need for volunteer work. I can also tell you almost no one turns down volunteers even if there is no work. Lots of volunteer jobs can end up being busy work without any real benefit to you or the organization for that matter. So make up a contract- it does not have to be anything formal other than a statement saying what you will do and what you want to get out of it.

Finally, I would add you don’t even need to volunteer, you can actually just shadow people to see what they do. Spend a few days at a CRM firm, Museum, etc. just following people around and you will get a very good idea of what sort of job you might be doing. I have done it before and it was a very valuable experience, it might even be more valuable than most volunteer work.  Yes, you are spending your time watching other people but it could save you 10,000s and years of your life, so time well spent.

Anyways, Carol gives other bits of great advice and I recommend you read the rest of the interview