Topic ID #33059 - posted 7/6/2014 3:53 PM

Beginning a Career in Archaeology or Anthropology


I'm a 25 year old who is looking at attaining a degree in Archaeology. However, I have no idea how to begin. I'm unsure if this is where I should be posting this topic but it never hurts. If anyone can give me some tips as to where to begin, I would greatly appreciate it.

Post ID#20522 - replied 7/6/2014 6:00 PM


 The advice will depend upon the country that you are in, where in the world you wish to work, the type of employment you imagine for yourself in the future, etc.

  If you are in the United States, the starting point is generally coursework leading toward a degree in Anthropology. Only a handful of universities offer a degree in Archaeology. This is different than much of Europe.

  I know much more about the academic path. I have a Ph.D., am tenured and so on. I was also a first-generation guy from a poor background, and I wonder if that gives me a pretty critical view of the field. Academics, however, probably don't make up more than 15-20% of archaeologists in the States.

 Here is a quick summary of the very frank talk I have with my interested undergrads:

1. The job market is horrible and, if you even get a job, you will never be wealthy. In fact, you will probably struggle financially more than everyone else you know with college degrees. You will, however, go to interesting places, meet interesting people and do lots of interesting things.

2. As a result, have a Plan B career (not History or Women's Studies, but something where you become technically proficient in something) and plan your coursework strategically.

3. You will need to eventually get a graduate degree of some sort. The Master's averages another 2-4 years after your Bachelor's, the Ph.D. another 4-6 after that. People usually get their grad degree at a different school than their undergrad. Plan to move and to embrace a monk-like existence. Kiss your twenties goodbye!

4. Grad school is very competitive, you will need top grades plus some other stuff. You will typically need a combo of practical experience and a field school completed by the end of your Bachelor's, ideally followed by glowing letters of rec, ideally from one or two from recognizable names in the discipline. None of this is ever worth 50-100K in student loans (see #1).

5. Field school is a hidden requirement. It is almost equal to the Bachelor's degree in importance nowadays. It is a double whammy (expensive and time-consuming), meaning you paying for time when you are not otherwise making money. International archaeology therefore remains a rich kids' discipline in my opinion (this desperately needs to change).

6. Get out there and knock on your professors' doors, call up CRM firms, pursue volunteer opportunities, ask the local museum if they need help with anything, etc. Start doing these things now. Archaeology really does favor creative people doing creative things, the discipline will otherwise owe you little and give you nothing.

7. If you have the luxury of a choice, pick a place with active people that will make #4 possible.

8. Down the road, you will almost certainly need to be geographically flexible to chase a dwindling supply of jobs. This can be very hard on marriages and families. Think ten years ahead. If that will not be possible, consider not burdening the people you love with a bad decision now.

 I cannot say I've taken every piece of advice myself (I have lots of student loans) but,if you can sort this all out, archaeology is a really WONDERFUL career. Better than anything else out there.

Post ID#20534 - replied 7/19/2014 12:28 PM


Spalumbo has already provided you with some great advice.

A few things to keep in mind: 

Since you're already in your mid-twenties it may be beneficial to pursue a degree in a more lucrative field. If you do the math you will almost be 30 years old by the time you complete an undergraduate degree (assuming you are not currently enrolled in college).  With a B.S. or B.A. you will land seasonal work that pays $14 - $18 an hour (fast food places pay $12 - $15 an hour where I live and are benefited permanent positions). This comparison is meant to show how pathetic the pay in CRM is vs. unskilled or uneducated labor.

To land a permanent position at a CRM company you almost always have to have a MA, MS, or PhD. Private companies only want people who can be permitted at the State and Federal level. Even then you still only make $35,000 to $55,000 a year with run of the mill benefits if you are lucky! Thats a lot of schooling and a huge financial burden for that kind of money, especially if you don't have academic funding or a scholarship. Plus, the job market for archaeologists is shrinking on a yearly basis. Since 2008 jobs postings have been down and this trend is likely to continue.    

If you don't have past military experience or a family member who works for the federal government you will never land a permanent Fed job. I have been trying to break into the Federal job market for 6 years now, others who post on this website have been trying for decades.

I would recommend taking a few archaeology courses in college and volunteering at archaeological digs to get your fix. This will help you decide if this kind of career and lifestyle is for you. I don't mean to discourage you from pursuing an anthropology degree, I just think you should know what you would be getting into.


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