Topic ID #38759 - posted 9/22/2017 12:01 PM

Short Term Field Work - any ideas?


Hi all - long story short (aren't they always) after three long years of pretending I don't want to be a prehistory-changing scientist who travels the world, I am planning to apply to doctoral programs in the fall of 2018. However, I never completed field school during my undergraduate. I graduated 3 years ago and have done absolutely nothing anthropologically minded since then. I am currently pursuing the one opportunity to volunteer at a museum in my area, but my undergrad advisor suggested that I find some way to get field experience for my grad applications. 

The big catch - I have a great job which I (almost) love, which also happens to pay exceptionally well. I'm talking enough savings over the two years before I start school to cover two years of living expenses once my my humanities-sized puddle of a stipend dries up. 

I don't want to quit my job, spend $5000+ on field school, and then try to find another job that pays as well (and I also don't hate) - so a friend suggested finding short term field work opportunities that I could do during vacation time instead of giving up my income.

I'm having a hard time finding such opportunities after about a month of research - does anyone have any leads? I'm looking for weekend-weeklong options that would allow me to keep my job and save money. I figure a few sessions would be almost as good as field school as long as I promise to do it for real (with scholarships!) the first summer of my program.

Post ID#20904 - replied 9/25/2017 9:53 AM


First, if whoever you work for has to do a fair amount of basic training, they are probably going to want a week long commitment, at a minimum (though this could be several weekends). You are also going to have better luck finding someone who will take volunteers for survey work, rather than excavation.

You could try contacting the archaeologist for your local federal land management agency (National park/national forest/BLM district). They often don't mind an extra pair of eyes and feet when they have to go survey a small block. However, they usually don't work weekends.

Avocational groups are more likely to organize weekend events. Some places to look include your state's archaeological association, your state's SHPO website, your state museum, support groups for federal lands (e.g. Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument), and, if you live in the west, a local branch of the Oregon-California Trails Association.

Contacting individuals at a local university who do research in your area and asking if they want volunteers (or know someone who is looking) is also an option. While many people do the bulk of their fieldwork in the summer, there are always the exceptions (especially grad students) who are doing blocks during other times of the year.

Post ID#20905 - replied 9/27/2017 6:59 AM


I'll come out and say it:  not all field schools are 5,000 dollars, and it baffles me why anyone who hasn't even been to field school would be willing to make the commitment to a doctoral program.
Field school is more than learning how to dig a unit, fill out a level form, and operate a total station, although all of these things are important.  Field school is where you learn whether you're still interested and engaged in archaeology after your 10th consecutive day of waking up sore and covered in mosquito bites in a tent.  Field school is where you learn whether archaeology is, in fact, something you can do.  Field school is also where you pick up the ability to identify material culture on the surface or in subsurface excavations.  I can teach someone to do pedestrian survey- which makes up the great bulk of fieldwork- in a morning.  But the knowledge that doing excavations requires is something that you need to have developed at greater length and with someone whose sole focus is teaching you and your fellow students, not trying to sort out the budget and the land agent and hotel rooms and the thousand other considerations that pop up in an archaeologist's day.
If you want a chance to actually develop your skills and learn about how the practice of fieldwork articulates with archaeological theory, you aren't going to find it volunteering for a weekend here and there.  And if you actually care about the resource, then you owe it more than a slapdash "well, I guess I'll learn what I can when it's convenient" approach.  The use of trained archaeologists in the field is more than just convention, it's an ethical consideration. Additionally, in every Memorandum of Agreement I've ever seen for a Phase III excavation, it was explicitly stated that the excavators would be trained professionals.
The reason you're having trouble finding weekend or weeklong fieldwork opportunities is because no one posts those.  Most companies have a whole list of technicians they're used to working with who they can contact for short-notice, short-term projects.  

Post ID#20906 - replied 9/28/2017 2:23 PM


I have an idea for you--keep your day job. In fact, forget archaeology altogether. There are too few jobs for techs now, and even MAs are becoming a dime a dozen. And universities keep cranking out more Indiana Jones wannabes. More and more I see jobs looking for one or two techs. Companies have also discovered it's cheaper for them to not pay for motel rooms, so EVERY project is camping, whatever the season. The big projects that would employ dozens of us are no more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my many years in this field, but every year it gets harder to make ends meet. We are already the lowest-paid professionals out there, and a bachelors degree in anthro is worth about as much as a HS diploma. Even a master's is what a beginning tech used to be. Get out while you can.

Post ID#20969 - replied 8/18/2018 8:12 PM


Hey, just saw this post after coming back from a couple of months hiatus.

I actually can relate to your situation, as I'm in a good-paying job as well and not really interested in swapping out my current paycheck for nothing stable. So trying to mesh field school with a full-time career is a challenge. But some kind of experience is definitely needed regardless to move ahead.

I've taken advantage of the Passport in Time Program with the USFS  ( ). Last summer I had about 35 hours working on artifact analysis and cataloging. This summer I picked up another 40 hours of direct excavation work. It does require you to travel, but you can plan these commitments with your vacation time, and the costs can be tax deductible (you are in fact volunteering your work for the government). So there's a bit of a win there. If you plan well you could pull off two or even three projects in a summer.

You work with bona fide archaeologists and get exposure and training. No it's not as perfect as field school, but if you're not planning to retire any time soon, using the Passport program every summer is a slow build towards field experience while keeping your day job.

You may want to take the approach I'm using which is planning for a second career in archaeology when I retire. You already have a good job, per your post; use that to take care of your career and building your retirement. Then you can arch all you want and don't have to worry about the job chase in your second career. Your retirement covers the bills.


Post ID#20970 - replied 8/23/2018 12:49 AM


The original post is almost a year old now, but now that this is bumped up, I'll add my opinion for what it's worth. 

I second Passport in Time as a good program for some quick, cheap experience. I did one of their projects as a high school kid, and then later ended up helping with one on the opposite end as a Forest Service field technician. Part of the benefits of it include working with professional archaeologists with advanced degrees, who supervise you and walk you through your tasks. They vary a lot in terms of duties and personnel, though, so read the descriptions of what you're going to be doing before you apply. As pointed out, they do require travel, but they're rarely more than about a week. 

If you're really serious about being an archaeologist, though, you'll probably want to go to field school. It's partially for the skills you learn, but also because it's often listed as a job requirement or at least a recommendation. They don't all cost $5000, either. There are a lot of them, including ones that are pretty short term and don't require you to leave the country, which would probably cut down on costs quite a bit. It's really worth it, though, just because it will both give you experience and let you check that box on your resume

Beyond those two things, you should do what others have suggested and contact someone at a federal or local government level about volunteering. My forest service supervisor would occasionally let volunteers join us on survey. It's part of their mission statement to educate the public (public lands after all), so it looked good for the ranger district, in addition to being useful. We had a retired fellow who had never gone to college but knew a lot about historic artifacts and was a big help with our IDs. 

Finally, I just want to say that I disagree with the general tide of negativity on this site. Every time anyone asks for advice on how to become an archaeologist or get an advanced degree, I feel like a tide of people comes and insists that archaeology is a terrible career, etc. Admittedly I haven't done this for that long, but I love it and wouldn't trade it for anything else. It hasn't always been easy. It's true that there's not a lot of money or stability in it. I've moved around a lot, shovel-bumming it so to speak. But I've found a good amount of work, and I haven't starved. I've learned a lot, met some wonderful people, been to some amazing (and some not so amazing) places that I never thought I'd get to, and have experienced a few pretty amazing moments in the field that have made the hardships worth it to me. So while archaeology isn't for everyone, there are people who love it and manage to make it work as a career. If you're sure that this is what you want to do, it is doable. 


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