Topic ID #32741 - posted 5/23/2014 6:21 AM

Archaeology Grad School Advice


Hi all,

Seriously considering going to get a Masters or PhD in archaeology. I have an unrelated BA (liberal arts) but I do have some field experience and Anthro coursework, as well as conversational Mandarin Chinese. My interest would be Chinese Archaeology. I'm doing a field school this summer to get more experience.

My questions are pretty standard:
1. How to get funding for school?
2. What is the likelihood of my acceptance to a program and/or how to improve it? 
    2a. Is a post-bacc in Archaeology an option? What schools (if any) offer these?
    2b. I would prefer to get into a PhD program, for funding purposes. Is this possible with an unrelated BA? 
3. People on this site seem to be moaning about the lack of this generally the case? 
4. The median income for Archaeologists looks pretty good to me ( A Masters degree in the UK is like $30K total for one year. Why would something like that NOT be worth it? 

I'll also take general advice, I know a lot of you are probably pretty pessimistic about this stuff having perhaps not got what you wanted out of the field. For me, it's a question of doing something I'm interested in, vs. what I have been doing, which is a long line of soul-sucking entry-level jobs that I hate. If I have to go into more debt to do something I like, that's worth it. But I want to make sure I can actually get a job afterwards! 

Thanks in advance, looking forward to your replies.

Post ID#20500 - replied 5/23/2014 9:45 AM


1. Most funding comes through the school you apply to so you would have to research that on your own but contact the schools you are interested in and see what they tell you.
2. Depends where you apply- What were you undergrad grades like?
2b- yes but might be a little more hard
3- YES, and no. Depends on the area. Archaeology mainly follows the construction industry and the general economy. There are boom years pre-2008 and bust year - last five. Right now it is picking up but like with everything it is hard to get a job now.
4- Those numbers are wrong, wrong, wrong. i have written some things on why they are but long and short of it is don't ever trust those numbers. There are 12000+ archaeologists in the US they think there is only 7000 archaeologists AND anthropologists which tells you how off they are.

Chinese Archaeology- well you should research a little more into what archaeologists mainly do- Cultural Resource Management- 95% of the jobs are in that and that is local archaeology. To do Chinese archaeology you would need to be an academic.

In which case my answer to number 3 changes to- Damn near impossible. Spend 30k living in China for a year. You will be more happy and have a better chance of doing Chinese archaeology. There are no academic jobs in Chinese Archaeology. And when I say no I mean ONE comes up every 7-10 years and you will be fighting with 100-200 other people to get it.

I would recommend looking more into the different career paths of archaeologist to see if it is actually something you want to do- bearing in mind you won't be able to work in Chinese Archaeology.

Post ID#20501 - replied 5/23/2014 10:15 AM


Thanks DougRM. Most of the people I have talked to are academics so it makes sense that that would be my focus/line of thinking. I guess websites like this are geared more toward CRM work, which I don't know THAT much about but would still be interested in looking into. 

Maybe those numbers are off because they are only counting Archaeologists with Masters degrees? 

My undergraduate grades were pretty good -- probably a 3.6+ GPA cumulative. But again, I did liberal arts and only some anthro/arch work + Chinese. It's my understanding CRM is huge in China -- perhaps it's mostly Chinese-run companies that get the jobs? 

Interest-wise, I'm definitely an academic. I'm into specific stuff like Neolithic hierarchical stratification...  Job-wise, it looks like the best bet is CRM? Do people specialize in CRM the same way they do in academic arch or is it more skill-based like GIS or remote sensing etc? 

Either way it seems the best way to prepare for jobs and/or grad school is to work in CRM for a while? 

Post ID#20502 - replied 5/23/2014 10:36 AM


Your undergrad degree does not matter that much. If you get the chance do a field school and you shouldn't have too much trouble. (I say this in a general sense. One school might only accept anths but in general most schools accept all degrees).

If you apply to US schools you will need to take the GRE. That determines a lot. You GPA is high enough to get you into most programs but it might be harder to get funding.

CRM- tends to be done by locals in almost every country. A few exceptions are places were CRM is still developing. Then they will bring in American CRM firms to help develop the system. That means CRM is mainly done by the Chinese in China. Also, I have not heard that CRM is huge in China. My understanding is it is pretty weak BUT I am not there so my knowledge is second hand.

Job-wise- yes 95% of archaeology jobs are in CRM.

Specialize- yes, you can do GIS, remote sensing, lithics, pottery etc. etc. there are many different things you can specialize in. Though even if you specialize you usually need to spend a little time as a tech before you can get one of the more specialized jobs.

"Either way it seems the best way to prepare for jobs and/or grad school is to work in CRM for a while" - YES

Post ID#20503 - replied 5/23/2014 3:30 PM


In that case, I have a new set of questions. (Or could you point me where to find answers)

1. How do you get hired in CRM ? As I said I have an unrelated BA and I will also be doing a field school this summer.
2. What's it like being a technician? Crew chief? Other titles I hear tossed around? I mean day-to-day actual work. 
3. How long does it take before you can specialize? Is there a point when you can run your own projects or are you pretty much always at the whim of construction projects happening here, there, wherever?

thanks much

Post ID#20504 - replied 5/24/2014 5:01 AM


1. Apply to jobs- Jennifer does a really good job of posting most of them here. There is also There are certain things to put on your resume. Check out Bills book on it-

His blog has lots of advice on networking to get a job to, read it!

Listen to some of the CRM podcasts too-

That will give you an idea about life in CRM.

Also, read Chris' book-
It has great advice on getting started and making it through.

What sort of BA do you have? Is it related at all? You mentioned you had experience- what is it? For entry level CRM a degree is so-so. Lots of people still in school get hired on during the summers. A field school is usually considered higher than a degree in archaeology when it comes to getting an entry level job. I say usually but everyone is different in their hiring practices so it is not a hard fast rule.

2- So it differs from company to company and region to region. If others want to jump in and say what it is like in their part of the country?

3. Depends how fast of a learner you are and how many opportunities there are. For example, osteo experience is dependent on how many bodies are found. You could get on a grave yard moving project and get tons of experience or you could never see a body in your life.

3b. For the most part everyone is at the whim of construction in terms of paid work. Though you can turn that work into your own projects. I know lots of guys and gals who use their CRM work to write papers and books. Its a skill but doable. There is also volunteering to undertake the projects you want to do. I know lots of people who take a month off CRM to go manage a field school in an area they like.

Post ID#20505 - replied 5/24/2014 5:56 AM


Great, lots of good info I am looking forward to digging into (no pun intended. Actually I am sure those jokes get really old in this line of work...really old...there's another one, oops.)

My BA is considered "liberal arts" although in reality I concentrated on anthro, literature, and Mandarin Chinese. My experience is basically a 16-week "field class" in college in which I participated in an excavation at a historical zanja or irrigation ditch at Penasquitos Ranch in San Diego county. It was a mix of lecture, excavation, cataloguing, pretty interesting since the Spanish builders had used Native American (forced?) labor to build the ditch with stone and mortar so there were cores and partial projectile points/scrapers/tools mixed in there as well. There was a suspected grave site there but we didn't get to dig it. This was all back in 2007 so I am just now getting back into this world.

I will have the field school under my belt after this summer. Plus general coursework in physical anthropology, ethnography, sociology, world history, and (if I went the academic route this would be relevant) some Chinese history. 

Do you think this is enough to get into the CRM field right away? 

Post ID#20508 - replied 5/26/2014 11:55 AM


Yes BUT it will be hard. The field class- which just sounds like a term time field school will help. The field school this summer will help too.

Not having a degree will hurt a bit (some people won't even consider you, other will) but there are lots of great archaeologists who don't have degrees. What will hurt more is not having CRM experience. I know, chicken and the egg problem.

Probably your best bet is to make contact with potential employers. Attend you local history/archaeology society and talk to the CRMers there. People will hire someone they know over someone they don't. Get a good reference from another archaeologist. When you do your field school make sure you have someone who can vouch for your working abilities. A good reference is like gold when you are starting off. Most companies call around to see what sort of worker you are. If there is no one to vouch for you it will be hard.

Cold call- get a list of companies in your state from the State Archaeologist- known as SHPOs (look up that term and read up on CRM so you understand what I just said about SHPOs). Call everyone and see if they have any jobs coming up BUT don't make yourself a pest. 1) ask if they hire (some are one man bands who don't hire so don't bother them) 2) at most call around once every month or two NOT weekly. Lots of jobs aren't advertised and cold calling can land you a job. Really read Chris and Bill's books as they have advice on this.

If others want to jump in with advice.


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