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Changing Career Paths and the Training of Professional Archaeologists: Observations from the Barnard College Forum
Part I

Joseph Schuldenrein

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Nowhere was the disjunction between academic and private/public sector archaeology more keenly apparent than in the latter's responses of high dissatisfaction with their academic preparation for their current careers, and the discrepancy between their career expectations and their actual careers...
M. Zeder in The American Archaeologist: Results of the 1994 SAA Census, SAA Bulletin 15(4)

Melinda Zeder's article in the SAA Bulletin underscores the often divergent trends in contemporary archaeological training and practice. A recent forum on this theme was organized for October 1997 by the Professional Archaeologists of New York City (PANYC) as a sounding board to sample the range of opinion from varied segments of the archaeological community on the issue of graduate education and professional employment. This is the first in a two-part article summarizing the results of the forum and polling contemporary thinking about the direction of archaeological training at the dawn of the new millennium.

The focus of the session was the disjuncture between expanding career niches in cultural resources management (CRM) and shrinking opportunities in more traditional academic tracks. The greater New York area was an appropriate locale for the forum, since it is a microcosm, perhaps even a harbinger, of national trends. New York is a major center for all sectors in archaeology: academic research (Old and New World); public education and museum venues; government compliance archaeology (federal, state, and especially municipal); and for private-sector opportunities (preservation and heritage management).

The forum took nearly a year to plan and involved the collective efforts of PANYC committee members representing each sector. Invitations were extended by post and electronic mail to institutions, organizations, and individuals in the metropolitan archaeological community. An overarching objective of the forum was to sample student sentiment and response to the changing employment picture at a time when formal graduate training has become more costly, time consuming, and demanding than at any time since the emergence of the traditional four-field curriculum. A measure of the compelling nature of the forum was that it was attended by 50 archaeologists, approximately half of whom were students.

The program was divided into two segments: a formal session with invited speakers and an open floor discussion affording participants the opportunity to question speakers and to air particular concerns. The balance of Part I of this article summarizes the issues articulated by the speakers in the formal presentation. Part II will address the themes that emerged from the open discussion. Not surprisingly, passionate and often unanticipated responses were registered from all quarters of the archaeological community, converging on several core themes that, irrespective of individual or collective attitudes, appear to be paramount in fashioning longer term discourse. These are currently being synthesized by PANYC's steering committee in a position statement to conclude Part II.

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Formal Presentations

Speakers were selected from a cross-section of archaeological perspectives and work settings in the metropolitan New York area. Included were academic archaeologists (Nan Rothschild, Barnard College; Anne-Marie Cantwell, Rutgers University); a CRM-based academic (David Bernstein, SUNY-Stony Brook); a museum archaeologist (David H. Thomas, American Museum of Natural History); a government archaeologist (Louise Basa, New York Department of Environmental Conservation/retired); CRM consultants (Joel Klein, John Milner Associates; Joseph Schuldenrein, Geoarcheology Research Associates); and two advanced graduate students (Chad Gifford, Columbia University; Susan Dublin, City University of New York).

Academic Perspectives

Anne-Marie Cantwell's opening remarks set the tone for the forum emphasizing that since preservation concerns and the law are the main forces currently driving the archaeological profession, educators must ask themselves if traditional training is adequate to meet the needs of those students filling newly created jobs. What will the new generation of archaeologists need to know? Are we concerned that students not only be equipped to fill positions but that they remain true to the stewardship of the resources under their charge?

Rothschild underscored the significance of the information explosion as a double-edged sword; on the one hand, the expansion in archaeological knowledge opens up new vistas in data collection, analysis, and interpretation, while, on the other, tight university budgets are shifting the onus of teaching increasing amounts of material to fewer faculty. Given the need to train students for "real world" issues, the challenge to university professors grows progressively more daunting. Her solution to the "overload" in the academic system is to encourage students to pursue their own interests and to integrate these with formal principles in method and theory acquired in the classroom. She noted that this track is being followed by most North American archaeologists who buttress their training with summer work in contract settings and/or more formal internship programs. She also identified the need for occasional formal instruction in CRM by practitioners.

David Bernstein offered insights into the fast-fading world of CRM programs housed under the university umbrella. Paradoxically, while no formal CRM courses are currently offered at his institution, most graduate students will end up in CRM irrespective of initial regional or methodological specialization. He bemoaned the fact that since most practitioners will probably begin their careers outside their chosen expertise, their initial work attitudes would be--wittingly or unwittingly--partially negative. It is therefore imperative that university departments be candid with entering students about career expectations and options. Bernstein sees a general decline in the future of university-based CRM programs with the exception of the western states. On the immediate horizon, the greatest opportunities for CRM growth are in the international arena. Training programs must stress the paramount role of writing--doing it rapidly and well--as the main tool for success in either CRM or academic spheres. Further, the demise of the university field school leaves students without the basic empirical and adaptive skills to work as archaeologists in challenging settings. Universities will not add "CRM specialists" to faculty, because of financial constraints, and he proposes that larger CRM firms network to fund training programs and faculty lines. "On-the-job" training appears to be the most immediate solution to bridging the gap between CRM employment and the conclusion of academic training.

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The Museum in Transition

David Hurst Thomas pointed out that the dynamics of museum-archaeology interaction has undergone a full-scale metamorphosis over the past 20 years. He reviewed the history of the American Museum of Natural History, recalling that institution's pre-modern vision of the Native American as "vanishing savage," a perspective that once motivated contributions and museum-sponsored excavation across North America. Progressive paradigms of preservation and the ethic of multiculturalism have completely altered the model, while the emergence of CRM, the Section 106 process, and most instrumentally, NAGPRA, have completely overturned the museum's mission. Generally, museums are no longer owners of the past; they are, at best, its stewards. Such institutions now find themselves on the defensive, struggling to control collections that have been warehoused for decades. With respect to employment, he noted that archaeological excavation has nearly disappeared as a centerpiece for museum activity, in part for the reasons cited above, but also because the institutions have been technologically outpaced by private industry that can run excavations more efficiently and with fewer constraints. Thomas praised the explosion in high quality data reporting--the "gray literature"--noting that its broad reach has facilitated a transition in the role of museum archaeology divisions from data collectors to data synthesizers. Most significantly, the museum's charge may serve a growing demand to educate the public in new ways.

The Government Window

Louise Basa reflected on the unique transition between academia to the workaday world of government archaeology. Her experiences span the past 25 years, a period when the regulatory environment was actively evolving. The pace of change has been dynamic, but the anthropological perspective on cross-cultural exchange facilitated communication between a "wet-behind-the-ears academic" and the government bureaucrats who had no idea how their duties would be transformed as a result of environmental and preservation laws of the late 1960s and 1970s. Basa argued for maintenance of the four-field approach tempered with a healthy influx of empirically relevant courses. This will ensure that contemporary practitioners can tackle delicate planning issues armed with a working familiarity of the compliance process as well as a grounding in well-formulated research designs.

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Private Sector: The Buck Stops Here

Private-sector concerns were perhaps the most controversial, contrasting the urgency of business performance with the more deliberate pace and scope of university training. Joel Klein intimated that either an overhaul in curricula or a significant complement of CRM courses might help rectify the discrepancies between private-sector demand and more typical university syllabi. Realistically he proposed a comprehensive and thorough course in CRM, which stressed the topic of ethics above and beyond other concerns. He expressed fears that the expanding reach of large engineering firms threatens to endanger cultural resources whose stewardship will become a sacrificial lamb to larger ticket items on the firm's agenda; unsavvy (i.e., CRM-deficient) archaeologists could be unwitting victims of these trends. A CRM course must also disabuse students of the notion that there is always a research topic under every project umbrella. The conservation ethic stresses conservation; preservation in place is the objective of most projects and cannot be compromised in the interests of an archaeologist's pet research topic.

Klein also highlighted the changing business climate in CRM, echoing Bernstein's observation that international CRM may emerge as the main growth sector for the industry. Klein concluded with an examination of the emerging employment hierarchy in the CRM world, noting its advantages and pitfalls. There are three nested employment levels ranging from archaeological technician, to field director/principal investigator, and project manager. Archaeological technician is the most transient position, although recent unionization threatens to limit mobility and access to new graduate students. Ironically, the field director slot may be most palatable to younger Ph.D.s because it still affords direct research contact and publication and research opportunities. The highest rung, project manager, necessitates increasing distance from the research front, since the position entails more managerial and marketing responsibilities. The transition to "Archaeology as Big Business" is a lesson that must be imparted to graduate students even if they proceed to academic careers.

Joseph Schuldenrein's presentation placed the emergence of CRM archaeology in historic perspective. He demonstrated that demographics and economics accounted for the emergence of archaeology as a profession. The late 19th- and early 20th-century archaeological pioneers were rich, leisure-class white men (Carter, Flinders-Petrie, Wooley, Putnam, Mercer) and women (Kenyon, Caton- Thompson, Garrod) who pursued an antiquarian interest. Between the 1920s and 1960s emergence of the middle class and the postwar boom in the United States created an equilibrium in the university and government sector, wherein those few individuals disposed to archaeology could be accommodated by a wealthy and expanding economy. This period peaked in the 1960s and 1970s (Vietnam war era) as the early baby boomers pursued "sexy" topics in paleoanthropology, Mesoamerican studies, and origins of agriculture. Academic departments and funding agencies financed these ventures, prolifically at first, but by the late 1970s this brief surge came crashing down. Once well-funded programs dried up and the onset of the depressed financial cycle had serious ramifications on research and university training programs. The only subsequent boost to archaeological work was the tandem emergence of the environmental and preservation movements. However, the financial fortunes of university programs have remained in relatively steady decline, thus creating a crisis in traditional university employment. Courses, programs, and, most significantly, career choices are being offered by tenured faculty who were weaned, trained, and matured in the boom years; their trainees are students who are coming of age in an archaeological environment light years removed from that of their mentors. Schuldenrein argued that with CRM driving 85 percent of the domestic funds designated for archaeology, the industry must play a more active role in revising university curricula. Empirical skills--including high technology, sophisticated sampling, heritage preservation, and public education--should work their way into comprehensive archaeological programs. He emphasized that the sophistication of the CRM profession is such that on-the-job training is no longer practicable for freshly minted Ph.D.s beginning their careers on a CRM track. Recent informal surveys have shown that well-structured internship venues may be the most palatable solution for university and CRM programmers alike.

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And What about the Kids?

The two graduate student presenters assessed their graduate training experiences with an eye toward future employment. Contrasting perspectives emerged from each. Susan Dublin proposed that much of the conflict between academic and CRM sectors may simply be a "habit of thinking"; the reality is that most students incorporate the methodological and theoretical stances of their mentors but acquire empirical skills in the CRM sphere. CRM is a necessary stepping-stone in the graduate school experience for both pragmatic (i.e., economic survival) and training reasons. Because of the need to work in the private or public sectors, the duration of post-B.A. through Ph.D. training has soared from eight to 14 years between 1964 to 1994. Dublin noted that the adjunct teaching tract was notoriously exploitative, consuming inordinately high levels of energy and time for low pay. She credited private-sector archaeology for honing her own proposal-writing skills and singled out contract firms for instruction in high-tech and public information skills, benefits not readily available in the classroom. Dublin underscored the need for "fluidity" for young professionals who will be constantly shuttling between academic and CRM settings for much of their careers. She is supportive of dialogue between academia and the CRM world, suggesting that "hands on" archaeology begin as early as the undergraduate level. Internships and apprenticeships must be explored. While unqualified revamping of curricula is unwarranted, Dublin sees a need for practical knowledge (i.e., CRM skills, preservation law) to be imparted in the classroom.

Chad Gifford, a specialist in South American archaeology who has never been involved with CRM, offered his perspective. He has completed a traditional education, recognizing the uncertainties of an academic future. In support of the tenuous position of contemporary graduate students, Gifford cited examples of three freshly minted, relatively well-published New World colleagues, all of whom were doggedly holding out for academic positions and biding their time in non-CRM environments. Despite his recognition of the changing employment landscape, Gifford took issue with the forum's prevailing undercurrent that "graduate training in archaeology today is not as relevant as it should be." He contended that a less academic training would render him even less qualified to pursue his ideal job. To accommodate CRM concerns, Gifford proposes terminal M.A. programs. Should contemporary employment trends continue, he suggests a CRM component would eventually be forced into Ph.D. curricula. Given his purely academic credentials, Gifford wondered how qualified he would be for a CRM position, although he thought that with some training he could function in that context. Gifford remains a stalwart holdout for an academic track position.

What Next?

The divergence in student attitudes was surprising to some of the seasoned speakers, although the significance of the crisis in employment was recognized by all. The responses elicited by the presenters produced an array of opinions, limited consensus, and heated debate. Details of the ensuing discussion and recommendations for future action will be presented in Part II in the next SAA Bulletin.

Joseph Schuldenrein is president of Geoarcheology Research Associates, a CRM firm based in New York. He is also a visiting scholar at New York University.

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