As a recent graduate entering the summer months, I was still emerging from the fog of finals and the excitement of commencement when reality struck: I am in serious debt due to my student loans and I do not have a job. Yikes, this was a smack in the face, but I felt confident because I knew when I got that first job, it would be great. I absolutely love, love archaeology, and I felt certain that my hard work in school, an amazing internship, and good people skills would quickly pay off. Let’s keep in mind that this economy has made things tough for archaeology in general, and with limited funding, I was getting ready to face a potentially shaky cultural resource management (CRM) world. Knowing I had to be competitive, I did not walk, I ran, to my college career center and immediately sought their help. After a good month of working on my curriculum vitae (CV) and doing mock interviews with the fantastic “career developer”, as I like to refer to her, I was ready to enter the job market.
Armed only with my bachelor’s degree as my shield, a year of lab experience as my sword and a positive attitude as my armor, I sent my CV everywhere. I began with every governmental agency I could think of, then private CRM firms, museums, and so on. I went to archaeology and anthropology conferences to network, and I tried to get connected locally to archaeology related activities occurring in my community. I began to network like crazy, starting with Statistical Research Inc. Foundation (SRI). Two of their best people, in my opinion, teamed up with my alma mater, University of Maryland (UMD), and taught a CRM summer class coupled with an internship. Besides providing invaluable information, that class gave me the opportunity to listen to a panel of specialists involved in some way with CRM. I asked the SRI instructors if I could attend the panel as a graduate and I came prepared with my CV in hand.
After sending out what seemed like 1,000 copies of my CV to anyone linked to cultural resource management and archaeology, I now had to wait for the responses. The waiting game was tough but the sea of rejections that came in, flooding my email, was worse. Reasons ranged from “you’re not qualified, you do not have enough experience” to “we are not hiring at this time, however, we will keep your CV on file”. Now the discouragement began to set in. And it really set in! I don’t understand; I am a fast learner, I have a great work ethic, and I am a team player. I had great grades, am a member of honor societies and dean’s list. Why couldn’t I land a job? I was so disappointed and frustrated. I had worked so hard to graduate and I just wanted to start my career. After some needed self-medication with wine and ice cream (not together), I picked myself up and, with even more determination, I sent out more copies of my CV, this time to places beyond my immediate geographic area: Guam, Hawaii, North Dakota, Louisiana, Colorado, Florida; anywhere that might be hiring.
While waiting again for responses, I received job offer. Could it be? Did the archaeology gods actually hear my prayers? The email was asking if I was available to work on a coring project with a firm that was represented at the SRI/UMD panel discussion. FINALLY!! I was so excited; I immediately accepted the position as a paid archaeology field technician.
The job was everything I thought it would be, and more. My office was a nature preserve on a marsh, filled with wildlife. We used a boat to transport us and our gear to and from the sites. My coworkers were fun and patient, willing to answer all my questions. The work was dirty and physically demanding, exactly what I had been looking for. Each day was similar; we used an auger, in teams of two, to extract various meters of core soil samples. These samples were measured, documented, photographed, Munselled and sifted. My team didn’t recover any artifacts, however, another team found two stone flakes.
The author on site.
On the last day of the job, I took a moment for myself to watch and listen to the life of the marsh. While breathing the cool fall air, I could see and hear the geese flying south for the winter. I looked around me, through the cat tails, and at that moment I realized that it was all worth it. I was finally doing what I had been dreaming of. Moral of the story is to work hard, network harder and work hard again, and it will all pay off.
It did take about six months to get this first job. Now we are in winter, so again, I am unemployed. I am using this time to send out updated versions of my CV and to continue to network. I am also studying for the GREs. Having a Master’s degree will enable me to be qualified for a long-term archaeological position. I was hoping for one solid year of hands-on experience before I went down the graduate school route so when I graduated, I would be qualified on paper and in the field; however, gaining that experience prior to a Master’s has proven difficult. With student loans and general bills pressuring me, I am feeling very tense, but I just keep in mind that spring is right around the corner, and I need to keep a positive attitude that work will come.
Written by: Nina Scall
Nina Scall, originally from Washington, D.C., now a resident of Long Island, NY, graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Her love of history coupled with her strong attention to detail made archaeology a natural focus for her. With spring coming, she is looking forward to securing employment as a field technician. Future plans include a return to school for a Master’s degree and volunteering with the Garvies Point Museum. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org