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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

True Confessions: Why Archaeology?


I began Ancient Digger as a hobby. I wanted to share archaeology and history news with all of you, and yet, it’s turned into a platform for me to share my path to becoming a Doctor of Archaeology. Every once in a while I have to step back and ask myself if I’m making the right decision. I have these moments. Moments in which I reflect back on my restaurant days and the passion I had. It’s a deep seeded fire which, every so often, lurks around the corner, starring me down, as if to say, “why archaeology”?

It’s important for me to share my doubts and fears about the field of archaeology, because honesty about your future goals makes the path so much clearer. As I move closer to graduate school, I’m starting to think that I have too many interests within the field. I abhor the fact that I have to choose one such path. One subject. I think that’s ultimately the underlying reason for my apprehension.

People always ask me what area of archaeology I want to study and I tell them a different answer every time. This scares me! Over the past year I’ve started to really appreciate anthropology as opposed to archaeology. The outlook of Herbert Spencer and Karl Marx and the honest and forthright opinions of Margaret Mead, have led me to question as to whether I have a voice, and will archaeology ultimately stifle it? It’s a tough situation when you hit that time right before graduate school. You start doubting yourself and your abilities. You start thinking your 4.0 GPA is a façade and you are not really worthy of it.

Why all of this crazy talk Lauren? Well, I had a moment today. I asked my fiancé whether I should go back to restaurants and he just looked at me with bewilderment. These past years of hard work would be for nothing. Well, not entirely nothing. That’s a strong statement. I suppose I feel as though the fact that I can’t choose an area of expertise makes me a weak candidate for the field. Is this true? On the other hand, as an archaeology blogger, this has given me a niche, or rather an area that sets me apart from other students.

One of my anthropology professors remarked to me that having an expertise, and being recognized for it, would set me apart. However, choosing an area is essential for graduate school, so he also told me to just choose. Sometimes this fact is impossible to face. I feel as though I will be tied to this discipline, archaeology that is, and I won’t be able to stretch my legs. I suppose I want to have a voice and shake things up, and my question to all of you is, is archaeology the right choice? Or should I stick with anthropology? I’d love to hear some opinions.

4 Comments:

Marcus said...

I think you have to be honest about job prospects. I know you probably hear this a lot (as you should), but job prospects are bleak. I work with a PhD who can only find work as a field tech right now despite his degree and years in the field. I was in a place like you when I graduated, so I decided to spend a year in the field to figure out what I want. It's been a little longer than that now, but my time shovel bumming has let me see how archaeology works in the real world, and has allowed me to find my passion. I've also met a lot of talented archaeologists who share my passion, and this has helped me find the right grad programs for me and helped me develop relationships with the people who will be my advisors and mentors. I know a lot of people say go straight into grad school so you don't get distracted, but if you're worried you won't go back then this its probably for the best that you don't go at all. I've worked with plenty of people who went straight into grad school but were useless in the field because they had no practical experience and no idea what they were doing. My professional experience that I've earned now makes me more confident in my chosen profession and field, and I'm both aware and capable of moving forward now. The perspective change of a few years in the field has been worth it, despite the difficulties my wife and I have faced due to the time apart and the scary unreliable job market. It's all part of the job, and you better make sure you truly love it by working in it for a year or so before you spend the money on grad school. No matter how prepared you think you are, the life of a professional archaeologist is a lot different than you think it is, and it's better to find out now if it's what you truly want than to find out in 10 years when you have a PhD. Good luck! I have no regrets with my choice!

Lauren Axelrod said...

@Marcus

Thanks so much for your comment. I decided to take a year off, instead of applying to grad school this Fall. I wanted time to perfect my languages and do some more fieldwork. The only thing that concerned me about my wait was my age. Many of the students in my classes at the moment are ten years younger than I am, some younger than that. I'm only 34, and I know the average grad student, especially at the schools I'm applying to, is over the age of 35. I think it gives me edge. Having more experience, both in life and the field.

You're right though. You have to love it, and I do. But I don't want to regret the time I have to put into it, so I am waiting to apply. My mentor went straight from his BS to Ph.D at PENN. He said he wold never do it again. Go straight there without a break I mean.

Thanks again for your opinion. I truly appreciate it!

Dave Sullivan said...

I'm glad I stumbled upon this post. I have about a year or so left for my BS, so I'm spending a lot of time figuring out which area of archaeology specificaly that I want to get involved in. There are so many areas that I find interesting, but like Marcus said, I do plan on doing a fair share of field work before I get more involed in a specific niche. However, the more I think about it, I do like the idea of working on multiple digs across the country or globe that would give me a great world scope and allow me plenty of opportunities to experience different cultures and environments. But thats all stuff that falls inder the catagory of " cross that bridge when I get to it." Thank you for this post by the way. We're all together in this journey, so it's nice to bounce some ideas off of one another.

Lauren Axelrod said...

@Dave

Thanks so much for your input Dave. I'm of the mind that just reading about cultures in our classes is hardly representative of how they actually were. Why? There's so much bias in our readings. I want to experience the cultures firsthand, albeit the civilization I'm interested in is long gone. However, I think visiting the site and talking to the locals will give me a greater understanding and appreciation for the history.

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