First, I will just let you know that our Open Day at work went well. We had lots of people showing up, and there was rarely a quiet moment in the room where I was. Admittedly not because people were overenthusiastic over animal bones, but because we also had one of the executed Vikings from the massgrave on the ridgeway on display. I clearly played second fiddle there.
Over on some Swedish archaeology blogs
, there have been a few posts on tips for future archaeologists
. So I thought I’d make my voice heard as well.
The first, and perhaps most important advice is: you must love archaeology
. If you merely like it, get a different job and be a volunteer archaeologist on the weekends. Because if you don’t love it, how will you put up with poor pay, having to move around a lot, very hard physical work and the frequent (and/or long) unemployment periods? It will hardly come as a surprise to my readers that there are lots more archaeologists than there are jobs, and therefore you will need skills and luck in order to get where you want to go.
First (and I sort of wish I knew this when I started): check out your university options. Not all educations are the same, and one university might favour the theoretical approach, while another focusses on field archaeology skills. Likewise, if you are into a specific geographical area, search for universities that cover those. All of this might not be obvious from their webpages, so contact students and/or lecturers. Naturally, it helps if you know what you’re after, before you start asking.
As there are more archaeologists than jobs, you need to specialise
. Some people go into specific find categories (bone, pottery, coins). Others try to make their career in field archaeology, and other go academic and try to get tenure. A tip would be to see in what fields there might be upcoming shortages. But again, make sure you like those options. It doesn’t matter if two of the three insect specialists in the country are in their 60s if you have a phobia for beetles. Likewise, if you’re squeamish, forensic archaeology is not for you (as one of my teachers said: ”Forensic archaeologists write those books where you don’t look at the pictures.”).
You will probably, unless you go straight into Ph.D. studies and then keep going on the narrow path of academia, be a field archaeologist for some years. It helps a lot if you are a) single, b) childless and c) not a packrat. Trying to work a field archaeologist career while having a family is difficult. Particularly if your spouse is also a field archaeologist. If you are a book worm like me, I recommend you to get an e-reader. Books are heavy! Especially when you have to move house.Make your name known
*. It sort of helps if your name isn’t the equivalent of John Smith, but that goes for all jobs, not just archaeology. Go to conferences and attend courses in areas you are interested in. Ask the teachers/lecturers if they have any jobs - even data entry or skeleton washing will look good on your CV, and you might make some good connections in the coffee break. Good connections are always important
. I got my present job in fierce competition with another applicant, both of us championed by our respective referee (coincidentally, both well regarded in the field). In the end it turned out ok for both of us. I got the job, and a few months later they realised they needed another bone specialist and they hired him. But if my referee hadn’t been so well regarded or hadn’t championed me that well (to this day, I have no idea what she told them of me, but it must have been something good), I would probably not had got that job.
There are loads of tips in books and on the internet on how to write a good CV, so I won’t bother to go over that here. You can get lucky by sending out a CV even if the company hasn’t advertised a job. I have got two jobs that way (admittedly, I send one out for bone work, and instead got a job as a digger for a month), but here luck plays a big role
, since if there are no jobs in the foreseeable future and your name doesn’t ring a good and clear positive bell, your CV might get filed in the trash can straightaway.
*: and in a positive way. Don’t be well known as that person who always does a shoddy job or the one who gets embarrassingly drunk and once threw up on the big conference’s guest of honour.**
**: These are fictional examples. I hope there are no readers who recognise themselves in them.