Saturday, 27 June 2015

Some observations from the careers roundtable discussion at ASA3, Edinburgh (useful to any student wanting a career in archaeology)

At the end of the second day of the 3rd Annual Student Archaeology conference in Edinburgh, there was a careers roundtable discussion. This included 5 guest speakers (who for the sake of argument will remain nameless) who were from a variety of archaeological sectors, from commercial, research/academic and community archaeology. This provdied a great insight for the students at the conference how these archaeologists got to where they are now. On the way back form the conference I realised there were a couple of interesting underlying themes that all of the archaeologists agreed on, and students should take note (and they are all related to each other)...

1. Foreign work opportunities appear to enhance your CV to no end. From working in bioarchaeological contexts with UNESCO (in laymans terms, identifying genocide victims in the Balkans) to recording Middle Eastern buildings, getting this experience demonstrates your enthusiasm for your subject and gives you the experience of working in a very different environment from British excavations, often in more dangerous situations. Additionally it gives you an excellent range of contacts and referees for future work and friendships as well as experiencing different areas of the world in general.

Personally I can relate to this as well (without sounding pretentious!). I got into my current job as a direct result of getting some geophysical work with the British School at Rome in Tunisia last year, working alongside snakes, boars and some locals who couldn't even speak French (it looks like it will be even harder to get into Tunisia for work given what has recently happened in Sousse)! Sadly this was down to sheer good fortune. I was very much in the right place at the right time with the right skills to exploit the situation.However, there are ways and means around this, such as applying for a funded placement for an excavation abroad at the Grampus European Archaeology Skills Exchange at I did a placement out in Italy with Grampus and it was the single best excavation I did during my student days. The best part for my CV is that the methodology used in these areas wasn't that different from British archaeology, such as using the standard MOLA context sheets (although there are some minor differences which will differ depending on where you go and who you work with). 

2. Working for multiple companies (in the commercial and academic contexts) is no bad thing. If anything it gives you an idea of how the sector works by seeing how different companies and charities work.  However, there is no problem with working for just one company either. It is whatever is best for you personally and whether the company or charity concerned is doing the best it can for you. One of the biggest issues for students is the catch-22 (also highlighted at the roundtable discussion)- you need experience to get employed but you need employment to gain experience to get into that job! The best way to remedy this is to basically be lucky and find an opportunity (see point 1 above) or try to find an opportunity at University or a local society/local commercial unit.

This may lead to being in positions that don't relate to what you want to do (like menial office jobs), but often you will pick up valuable transferable skills, or even some job-specific skills that can be used in an archaeological role! With an archaeology degree you demonstrate to employers that you already have a large number of transferable skills (as they tell you at University).

3. Take every opportunity you can. New skills are easy to come by (if you have the money). All the panel agreed that the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists will become increasingly important, where you will gain a lot through networking (if you go the conferences and training events). However, you DO NOT HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF CIFA TO BE AN ARCHAEOLOGIST. Additionally the panel generally concluded that no University can prepare you for everything, so much like the Grampus charity, be prepared to put in some legwork to fill in any skills gaps you can identify yourself. You can use the skills passport advocated by BAJR (British Archaeological Jobs and Resources).

On a slightly worrying note, there are not enough archaeologists with the right skills in the workplace at the moment (mainly post-processing). If you think this is something you want to do, you will be in demand in the commercial world, although sometimes this may require a PhD (or lots of experience). The main things that will help you most in getting a commercial job (aside from a Uni degree) are a driving licence, a CSCS (construction skills certificate scheme) card and the CIFA. More than this though, archaeological employers want commitment, enthusiasm (optional, but generally a given) and some demonstration of relevant experience.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Examples of Archaeology Society outreach projects- get volunteering!!

Having just returned from the 3rd Annual Student Archaeology Conference (ASA) at Edinburgh, it was amazing to see so many enthusiastic undergraduate and postgraduate students presenting on the subjects they are doing out of love. A number of papers presented at ASA were based on student projects. As a former president of a student archaeology society (Arch Soc) I am keen for students to show their enthusiasm for the subject by channeling their passion into community projects, run by the societies, that can help disadvantaged communities and empower them with their archaeology and heritage. Anything is possible with your time at university, so at least some of it should be spent constructively! It may surprise a number of students, but there are often disadvantaged and deprived communities right on the doorsteps of Universities across the country. In these communities, they have no knowledge of how to empower themselves, but often have willing volunteers who simply don't know about how to research archaeology, or even have access to these resources.

Therefore, as a follow up to the ASA3 conference, I am collating as many projects as I can get my hands on to inspire future student archaeologists to deicate their time and enthusiasm to these worthwhile projects! I know there are individual students who have done amazing outreach projects in their dissertations. Other projects are also run within other Universities which fall under this category and some volunteer projects that aren't necessarily archaeological in their scope (for example, see my article in the Post Hole Journal). However, a number of these aren't advertised either. If you want to suggest some project for me to include here, leave a message below!

Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project (thanks to Katie Roper for presenting this at ASA3!)

The Edinburgh Achaeology Outreach Project (or EAOP) began in 2013 and has the unique distinction of being the only project to have been presented at the ASA more than once! Any Edinburgh Arch Soc student can join up for free. The project aims to "provide children in the Edinburgh and wider communities with a free experience and insight into a subject that before may have been closed to them. We hope that through the Project an interest in their local heritage, history and archaeology will be ignited". This involves giving training sessions to student archaeologists so they can go into primary schools in some of the most deprived areas of the Edinburgh and Lothian areas, giving practical sessions using archaeological themes, including digging for artefacts using real archaeologists tools, aerial photography and even mummifying pieces of fruit to demonstrate the basic idea of mummification! One of the more unexpected boons of the project has been the realisation that many teachers are not confident in teaching archaeology to their pupils, even though there is a wealth of information about it in their local area (although sadly it doesn't include dinosaurs!). The project has been perfomring consistently with 20 volunteers over the 2014/2015 academic year, established links with Edinburgh City Council and at least a dozen schools, local museums and the DigIt!2015 project. They have also obtained funding from Edinburgh city council and Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) to assist with travel and so far they have won 2 awards from EUSA for their work.

Liverpool School and College Liaison

The major difference between EAOP and this project is that this is run by Liverpool University. This has a more broad approach to community outreach, giving students from many subjects (from politics to archaeology) the opportunity to give pupils of all ages the chance to experience archaeology in the classroom. With access to the Garstang Museum of Archaeology and experimental archaeology labs at the University of Liverpool, it gives pupils an idea of the variety of things that archaeologists do, from practical reconstructions in the classroom to seeing how artefacts are preserved. There are also summer schools and the Liverpool Schools Classics Project, which allows schools the opportunity to learn ancient languages like Greek and Latin (useful for understanding ancient texts and plays like Homer's the Illiad).

But it's not just about going into schools and labs! Many Universities allow schools and groups to visit their sites, but this one has been chosen as it came up first in a Google search and personal interviews with friends about the opportunity (although never having worked on it myself).

Operation Nightingale

Operation nightingale is an initiative that allows ex-servicemen with war injuries (particularly Afghan veterans) to go to excavations across the country. Many organisations, including Wessex Archaeology (of Time Team fame) and some Universities have contributed access, money and resources to the project, including Barrow Clump in Salisbury Plain. Students were also allowed onto a number of the excavations to help out, although I'm not sure if that's still the case.

There are loads more student projects out there, but I hope this provides students the inspiration to go out there and show their enthusiasm by setting up an exciting archaeology project that not only benefits them, but those not so fortunate as themselves!