The Ranty Bit

So far in this blog, I have tried to focus on what heritage does. My interest is in how heritage can be useful. But I am often distracted by how the heritage sector works. I’ve started posts on #freearchaeology and employment precarity but they just don’t seem to fit. I thought of starting another blog for these things, but given how sporadic my posts are here, that didn’t seem sensible. So I’ve decided to put these things here.  And I’ll begin today with

Career Advice

Watching the interesting  #ArchT seminar in Leiden today I saw some traditional advice about careers in archaeology.

I responded,

Now, I as I said, I am actually quite happy, and even generally happy with the way that my archaeological career has and is developing. But I am aware that I did not receive, nor did I follow good careers advice. Watching colleagues advance through a system I still don’t quite understand I offer now advice to people starting out about how to get a stable, well recompensed and well regarded archaeological job in which you get to pursue at least some of your interests and make a difference.

  1. Be white and male. If you can’t be white and male do your best to act white and male. I don’t say this from peevishness. White men are employed in senior positions in massive disproportion to the number of people starting out. Acting like a white male is a toughy, but its a strategy that many women in STEM subjects have perfected over the years. I don’t mean to be essentialist here, I don’t think that there is natural male or female behaviour, or worse, natural white behaviour, watch what the white men are doing (in their personal lives as well) and do that. Of course its not fool proof because there are double standards, but its worth a shot.
  2. Decide to pursue your career early on and really work on it. Don’t be distracted by what you find interesting, affairs of the heart, wanting a stable life as a young person, having children etc etc etc. Society supports this attitude more in white men, which is one of the reasons Number 1 is relevant. But you will need to be driven and unstable for much longer than in other careers, probably at least into your 30’s, maybe your 40’s.
  3. Number 2 will be easier if you choose a specialism or research area that you really enjoy (this is where the original advice comes in handy)
  4. Get to know powerful people in your field and make sure they get to know you. This is not just a cynical toadying, you need to get known for your work, not only for your great drinking stories (though sadly with some of the powerful people that can help).
  5. The best way to accomplish Number 4 is by publishing. Write everything you’re thinking about. Every time those things have any weight at all, send them to a journal.

     I remember being really irritated as an young woman when I read weak papers. ‘I could write better than that!’ but it isn’t what you can do, its what you do do that counts.

  6. A big thing that holds people (especially women) back from Number 5 is fear of rejection. So, develop a thick skin. Put your work out there and learn to take the knocks. Resubmit, submit elsewhere. Some people seem to get places without rejection, that is because they don’t share their rejections with the world, not because they don’t have them.
  7. Be prepared to move, a lot. You probably will not get to choose the city you live in, you may not even get to choose the country you live in. And you will keep moving until your 30’s of 40’s as in Number 2. This usually means no house, no spouse, no children unless you can keep them moving with you. But if you keep your eyes on the prize, this can be a benefit as you get much more travel. This seems to work well for most people when they are young, if you can keep it going longer, you’re onto a winner.
  8. Put yourself forward. Say yes to things. But remember number 2 above, say yes to the things that will aid your career, not to everything that looks, interesting, fun or socially useful. When you write and do things, make sure that people know it. When you work for free, make sure you get credit for doing so.
  9. As you get any power at all, be generous with it. Archaeology is a team discipline and while there are plenty of social problems in all of this advice, people advance quicker when they help other people.
  10. Keep an eye on the money, both your own and in terms of grants, big contracts etc. Power in our society is mediated by money. The candidate with brilliant ideas and publications off work done on a small budget will lose to the candidate with less interesting work, but bigger grants. This is also about some of the ideas in Number 5 and Number 6, you need to put your work out their to grant giving agencies and risk rejection.


4 thoughts on “The Ranty Bit

  1. Very salient points and possibly even more relevant for anyone looking to archaeology as a second career (particularly if they already have things like a mortgage, other half, kids, etc).

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