Is this the time to pursue a course in archaeology? The word from the field that reaches the Current Archaeology offices is that graduates are disillusioned with their prospects: jobs are scarce, competition is fierce and projects are poorly funded. What’s the point?
Archaeology is a fascinating and diverse subject that is hugely enjoyable to study, and can lead on to a multitude of employment opportunities. There is an increasing pressure on students to choose a course at university that will lead directly into work, yet there is much more to university life and education than simply establishing a foothold in the job market. Study should be creative and stimulating; so, choose a subject you find absorbing and fulfilling, not merely a means to a pay-packet.
Obviously, with the financial commitment required to spend three years studying, no-one is underestimating the importance of finding paid employment at the end of it. For graduates in the current economic climate, there are no guarantees in any field of study, and an archaeology degree does not limit a graduate to a career in archaeology. On the contrary, it demonstrates to future employers a multitude of valuable attributes above and beyond the ability to attain a degree level of education, such as transferable skills in data analysis, computer proficiency, technical expertise, research and presentation.
Of course, there are some students who are certain that a career in archaeology is what they want. Approaching your education with imagination and flexibility is the key. Careers related to archaeology are varied and far-reaching. For example, forensic archaeology (see p.44) can lead to a career in modern criminal investigations; conservators can work for commercial units, in museums or as consultants; archaeobotany and environmental archaeology can be applied to research into climate change in both the public and private sectors. Our own Editor in Chief trained as an accountant before pursuing a career in archaeology, and encourages others to consider their options in a similar fashion.
A full-time job outside archaeology does not preclude enthusiastic amateur involvement. Many major excavations survive because of the dedicated volunteers who return year after year, and work every bit a hard as their professional peers. See our website www.ilovethepast.com for excavations in Britain and abroad. Digging as a volunteer is a great way to discover what aspects of archaeology you like most, and even whether or not it’s really for you.
Finally, finances allowing, if archaeology is your passion, why not consider sitting out the current recession and study for a Masters, even a PhD? The job market will surely be better in 2012 than in 2009. Additionally, there are ways to boost your income by entering awards competitions (see our Awards section on pages 10-11).
According to Professor Graeme Barker, Chair of the Archaeology panel for the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, the quality of archaeological research as a whole across UK universities is outstanding: ‘During the review period, archaeology has enhanced its position as a core field of research that is indispensable for the study of the human past … the panel came away from its deliberations confident both in the creativity of the archaeological profession in the UK and in its high international standing.’
There is a future in the past, and there couldn’t be a better time to study it.