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Changing Career Paths and the Training of Professional Archeologists:
Observations from the Barnard College Forum
Part II

Joseph Schuldenrein

Author's note: Part I [SAA Bulletin, 1998, 16(1):31-33] summarized the views on changing career paths and graduate training from representatives of New York City's academic, museum, cultural resources, and government communities. Graduate students rounded out the formal presentations. It was striking to observe that the often-heated discourse was largely initiated by the attendees and not by the seasoned speakers, that audience perspectives did not necessarily reflect those elucidated in the formal presentations, and that some of the most pivotal insights were offered by the audience. The direction of the open floor discussion indicated that the disparity between what speakers and attendees felt to be core issues stemmed from demographics. Significantly, it is the student constituency that must help guide the resolution between gaps in training and the working world of contemporary archaeology.


Demographics: Who Attended, Who Didn't, and What's on Their Minds?

When the idea for the forum emerged over a year ago, one of the main challenges confronting the Professional Archaeologists of New York City (PANYC) organizers was the anticipation of response. After the Cultural Resource Management- (CRM) highlighted SAA meetings in Nashville, the increased visibility of preservation and cultural resource interests in the archaeological profession brought to the forefront questions of traditional training, relevance, and a changing job market. The perception of dichotomous relations between the CRM and academic communities also underscored a rift that needed to be resolved for the greater good of the profession. Thus, although the forum's theme appeared to be timely, it was not clear whether all segments of the archaeological community viewed its objectives similarly.

PANYC's publicity campaign paid generous dividends, with an attendance that far exceeded expectations. The forum room at Barnard College was full to overflowing; 50 people registered and at least 20 more were present at various times during the day. However, the most striking element of the crowd, especially to the graying presenters, was its youth. Whereas PANYC had hoped for a broad and representative cross section of local archaeologists, the demographic breakdown reflected from the attendance log was as follows: CRM professionals, 20%; Academic archaeologists, 14%; Unaffiliated, 6%; and Students, 60%.

For tally purposes, CRM professionals include government archaeologists, whereas museum personnel are grouped with academics. The student category includes both graduate and undergraduate cohorts. The disproportionately high student attendance underscored the a priori message of the forum--that the training issue rang most true for future practitioners. As a group, students staked the most legitimate claims in the debate over the viability of university archaeology programs versus the skills and background they were expected to bring to the contemporary archaeological workplace. Although many came to listen and learn, students were forceful in their attitudes about the education they were receiving and the expectations they carried with them as they embarked on professional careers.

The nearly equal representation of academics and CRM practitioners demonstrated the recognition of both sectors of the need, first, to implement some changes in the training-practice trajectory; and second, of a more critical need to tighten collaborative links between academia and the CRM worlds. Interestingly, Old World researchers and paleoanthropologists, who collectively constitute a major component of the New York City archaeological community, were noticeably absent, with only one participant present.

A review of the public discussion showed that the central issues could be distilled into six primary themes: (1) identification of basic skills in anthropological archaeology, (2) updating archaeology curricula in anthropology departments, (3) graduate student survival--academic and material, (4) transition from the dominantly academic to CRM workplace, (5) internships as a vehicle for implementing such transition, and (6) continuing and expanding the dialogue.

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Basic Skills in Anthropological Archaeology

There appeared to be a convergence around the practicality, if not the need, for anthropology departments to house archaeology programs. It was felt that the anthropological perspective still constituted the foundation for archaeological specialists and that the traditional "four field" approach, with core courses in linguistics, archaeology, and cultural and physical anthropology, should remain largely intact.

There was universal consensus that the key role of any academic department is to teach students "how to think." The archaeology faculty's charge is to direct students to synthesize creatively the various data sets constituting the archaeological record. Ultimately, sophisticated thinking will produce well-rounded archaeologists who will also have a clear understanding of the direction the profession is taking, enabling them to select career tracks that best fit their education, experiences, mental templates, and long-term goals. A major impediment, pointed out by CRM professionals, was the shocking inability of even advanced graduate students to write clearly and to present cogently research results. Consensus among all participants--speakers and audience alike--was that the lack of clarity in written and oral presentation was the single most glaring deficiency in freshly minted MA's and even PhD's.

A thornier issue concerned the phasing out of field schools from standard archaeology programs. Several faculty members attributed this trend to declining departmental budgets. They felt that the field school, irrespective of its location, is the most appropriate venue for graduate students to acquire fundamentals of survey and excavation. Students pointed out that the high costs of field schools and the discrepancy between earned credit, effort expended, and costs account for poor field school attendance. Others maintained that many techniques taught in field school are also being acquired by students in summer CRM jobs; "on the job" learning lessens the financial burden on the student. A faculty member noted that some departments are "reinventing field schools" as experiences where budding professionals can develop critical practical skills without the time pressures associated with compliance projects; the experience is therefore better rounded and the student is not left with major gaps in field training.

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Updating the Archaeological Curriculum

Students were concerned that archaeological programs gave short shrift to emerging specializations such as historic and industrial archaeology. Both subfields have been gaining prominence on the east coast and in the midwest because of their potential for interpreting developments in 18th and 19th century urban America. Across the country, but especially in the west, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) issues are becoming central to archaeology, almost in a generic sense.

Both CRM specialists and students agreed that technical skills including archaeological sciences (i.e., geoarchaeology, palynology, bioarchaeology), GIS, and formulation of sampling and research designs were pivotal. The implicit message is that the archaeological world is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and high tech, and that methodological advances should mirror this trend. CRM firms are favorably disposed to students who have acquired advanced technical and analytical skills in graduate school. Although larger CRM entities have advanced high tech equipment, there is considerable variability among universities in the material resources they can provide for students. In many cases, students claimed not to have access to state- of-the-art equipment.

More controversial were several appeals to add courses for CRM practitioners that are nonarchaeological--accounting, public relations and marketing, and law. Although such programs were unacceptable to most, it was agreed that there should be room for specific, even "bundled," courses on preservation and cultural resource management. Wide support was voiced for a course on ethics and preservation, underscoring the urgent need for responsible stewardship of our rapidly disappearing cultural resources. These are topics that cross cut all perspectives and agendas. Along the same lines, senior academic and CRM archaeologists emphasized that heritage management and tourism are fast becoming international concerns, especially in third-world countries. Questions of ethics and preservation must acquire expanded meaning if North Americans hope to work abroad. Here again, broad-based, anthropological training will be beneficial. Many countries view the United States as the model for implementation of a preservation ethic; as the domain of international research and heritage resource management extends beyond North America, the ethics and legalities of preservation must become a foundation for future training programs.

Students must be trained to realize that stewardship of cultural resources is a priority and that their formal education must reflect that objective. This must be instilled initially by faculty in their teaching and then reinforced by prospective employers (i.e., CRM firms) in their practice. Faculty members pointed out that they have gradually opened up their curricula to include offerings on such applied themes, but it remains difficult, and often frustrating to convince departmental heads, often sociocultural anthropologists, to restructure programs because of the shifting foci in archaeology. It was widely believed that very technical courses could be offered according to the expertise of faculty members. Supplementary technical skills are readily picked up over the course of early employment.

Academic archaeologists concluded that their awareness of the need for program innovation is not sufficient to facilitate curriculum revision within an anthropology department. To sell program innovation, it is more effective to maintain formal course offerings but to expand their reach. Course-specific latitude is typically permissible for faculty members. In this way innovative topics are presented within the framework of the existing course regimen. Gradually, external pressures (i.e., university funding driven by the marketplace) will affect curricula on a larger scale. At the same time, baseline modifications will already have been implemented and students will not be shortchanged.

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Graduate Student Survival: Academic and Material

Student characterizations of educational satisfaction and relevance were as varied as they were ardent. In general, students working on regional archaeological projects felt fulfilled that they had access to archaeological resources locally but frustrated over the time and budget restrictions attendant to completion of such projects. Typically, projects are implemented within tightly defined CRM scopes and while students are on semester breaks, summers, or in advanced stages of their training.

Several younger students voiced amazement at the increasing commercialism of archaeology and the "tough economics" associated with project resources. Many students expressed concerns about "surviving the graduate school experience" because of the need to fund their educations and to make ends meet. Some were committed to jobs that simply did not permit them to attend field schools. Many of these students were products of the public city university system, had fairly extensive CRM experience, and were involved in municipal or state archaeology projects. The limited student sample at the forum suggested that those in private institutions are often better funded and pursue research outside the New York City area, very often overseas. They typically have had less CRM experience and do not appear to have the same sets of concerns as students whose archaeological interests are more locally or regionally based.

Ironically, several of the speakers had emphasized that university-based CRM programs are perceived as failures, because university and business agendas often functioned with conflicting priorities and schedules. These programs are on the wane across most of the country. Private sector archaeologists felt that this was a positive impetus promoting an independent niche for motivated archaeologists who find gratification in starting up and running their own businesses and fashioning new trends in archaeology.

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Transition from the Academic to the CRM Workplace

The fast pace, the strict and often limiting scopes, and the direct accountability of CRM projects necessitate major adjustments in the way archaeology is performed in the private sector. Several of the CRM archaeologists pointed out that for many years salvage archaeology, the antecedent to CRM, was perceived as "second rate," a stigma that persisted, and even grew, as CRM developed its own standards and methodologies. A recent survey (M. Zeder, 1997, The American Archaeologist: A Profile, AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, Calif.) suggests that whereas most archaeologists are keenly aware that CRM is the key to expansion in the archaeological workplace, students still aspire to academic employment, knowing that such opportunities are in decline.

This attitude was expressed by several students who characterized CRM positions as "temporary" or "transitional" or even as stop-gap measures until "a real (i.e., academic) job comes along." In a poignant example of the pitfalls of this approach, one of the larger private sector employers noted that she would immediately discount a prospective candidate's application when such an attitude was implied. She stressed that private sector employers are keen to hire motivated individuals who view their jobs as fulfilling in and of themselves. A team-oriented approach is pivotal to success in the CRM environment where multifaceted skills are necessary to produce thorough, comprehensive, well-documented products that still require rapid turnaround. Key attributes also include excellent presentation of self, writing and oral communication skills, and adaptability. Potential employees must understand that when employers finalize a hire they also invest in the training and enhancement of the individual's skills. These are tangible commitments measured in time, money, and effort.

There is a unique challenge to working in the CRM environment because of the time and resource constraints. Imposed limitations ultimately draw out the individual's most creative and productive talents and provide him/her with a unique sense of accomplishment.

Finally, most CRM employers noted that, contrary to some popular opinion, the potential for advancement and earning capacity is highest for those who are best educated. Young PhD's generally have major advantages because of their research skills and writing ability. As noted, additional technical skills only enhance the candidate's desirability in the private marketplace. Employers are especially eager to hire PhD's with extensive CRM experience.

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Internships and Career Development and Transition

The status of archaeological internships generated considerable interest because such programs were judged beneficial to all archaeological sectors. There was a measure of uncertainty about how internships functioned and whether formal mechanisms were in place in anthropology departments and archaeology programs. Structured internships are integrated into professional schools (i.e., law, medicine, journalism), but there are no strict guidelines that cover them in our profession. Nevertheless, there are examples of cooperative arrangements between academic departments and private firms. The objectives are to develop a student's skills while contibuting to the requirements of a contract undertaken by the firm. Internship programs are in a very nascent stage and generally come together as a result of a previous connection between a faculty member and a senior member of a CRM firm. The faculty member will select a student who is engaged in a particular research topic and the firm will match the individual with one of its projects that requires an analogous approach. For example, a student producing a thesis on complex regional settlement patterns can develop GIS skills on a contract that requires GIS to generate a predictive site-location model for a drainage basin scheduled to be dammed by a federal agency.

In some cases, credit is given to the student (i.e., an independent study project), and in other instances the student is paid by the firm. Combinations of credit and wages are also feasible. Wages typically depend on the student's degree of expertise. A current and successful internship program in the New York City area has teamed a geoarchaeological firm with an area university to help hone the mapping skills of students who are about to embark on fieldwork. This program resulted from a joint long-term project between the firm's principal and a senior faculty member, expanding to include students. Both the project and the students have benefited from the relationship. Such partnering between the universities and CRM firms can also produce sustained mutually beneficial relationships.

Audience participants cited other examples of successful partnering involving not only private industry but also the government and academia. In one instance a faculty member was able to place a student in employment situations on three separate occasions, resulting in the preparation of several academic papers that integrated themes of concern for both the department and the federal agency. All costs for this internship were covered by governmental stipends.

Several cautionary comments were generated as well. An undergraduate related an experience, echoed by several others, in which the ostensible objectives of his particular internship were obscured by assignments of unrelated tasks. He felt the internship had lost touch with its archaeological purpose. A more senior graduate student related a similar experience but noted that he was able to benefit from the experience by observing the operation of the facility in which he interned and concluded that even the more mundane, ostensibly unrelated tasks he performed (cataloging pottery), were ultimately related to the publication of a manuscript. He suggested that viewing the internship in a long-term context is critical. Another prospective pitfall was expressed by a CRM practitioner who asserted that issues of liability in the workplace have significantly limited the risks companies can take by adding personnel whose duties and relationship to the company are not formally defined. He suggested that interns should be put on the payroll at minimum wage to avoid problems potentially leading to litigation.

There was overwhelming consensus that internships are one vehicle for implementing the transition from the academy to the CRM workplace. Insofar as they provide practical skills, the experience will benefit practitioners, regardless of the career track they ultimately follow.

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Continuing and Expanding the Dialogue

All the attending archaeologists came away with a sense of urgency to resolve the overarching themes that emerged in the discussion. Although there were many points of contention, there seemed to be a unanimous opinion that the dialogue must extend to the national arena. These issues are being confronted on a larger scale because of the changing nature of the archaeological workplace. In this connection, Dorothy Krass, Education Program manager of SAA, emphasized that her presence at the forum was to assimilate some of the forum topics for an SAA-sponsored workshop scheduled for February 1998. That session planned to bring together representatives of the private sector, government, and academia in an attempt to revisit current undergraduate and graduate curricula and to determine whether revisions are warranted.

The possibility of implementing a series of local workshops was suggested, perhaps under the sponsorship of PANYC. It was felt that because so many related topics and themes had been aired, it would be helpful to explore the issues in depth.

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Position Statement

Although consensus was not reached about many of the themes, there was a general belief that the themes themselves were central to bridging gaps between contemporary higher education in archaeology and the demands of the changing marketplace. On this basis, the following PANYC Research and Planning Committee Position Statement recommends an agenda to be taken up by the broader archaeological community. The statement frames what the forum considered to be the primary themes. In cases where collective agreement was reached (as per the committee's assessment) that position is endorsed. Finally, where there were significant differences among parties, those differences are articulated and their relative importance to the debate is stressed.

(1) Anthropological approaches remain central to the practice of academic as well as CRM archaeology.

(2) The four-field approach offered at most graduate anthropology departments remains the most viable context for learning anthropological method and theory. Core courses should be prerequisite to an archaeological specialization on the graduate level.

(3) Archaeological curricula generally should be updated to reflect the subfields and innovative methods currently in demand in the workplace. Subfields such as historic archaeology, industrial archaeology, and Native American issues (NAGPRA) should be taught. Methods including archaeological science (i.e., geoarchaeology, bioarchaeology, palynology) and high technology (GIS) should be integrated into curricula.

(4) Explicit CRM course offerings are not necessary. However, topics such as preservation, law, and especially ethics should be incorporated in archaeology courses. The latter should arguably be a core course.

(5) Although field schools are a rapidly disappearing institution their importance remains widely accepted. However, their viability is questioned because of affordability, economics, and the role that CRM firms have taken in training students.

(6) Stewardship of archaeological resources must be of paramount significance. This objective must be taught to undergraduate and graduate students, practiced by institutions doing the work, and implemented by regulators.

(7) Expansion and modification of curricula are best left to archaeology faculty, because they alone understand the particular departmental dynamics. In the long term, market forces and faculty efforts will ensure that students obtain the training necessary for success in the changing archaeological workforce.

(8) The most glaring deficiency recent graduates (MA's and PhD's) bring with them to the marketplace is an inability to express themselves in writing and orally. It is of paramount importance to prepare students more effectively in these areas.

(9) University archaeology programs and faculty should assist students in integrating their research efforts with local or regional projects undertaken by private or governmental concerns.

(10) A promising framework for such integration is the internship program, which is typically structured between a faculty member, his/her department, and a private firm or governmental agency. Such programs serve the dual aims of honing student skills and yielding a commercial archaeological product. They also introduce students to the growing CRM workplace, which is a benefit to the student regardless of the future career track.

(11) Internships must be formally structured between universities and the partnering agency to establish supervisory responsibility, and credit and wage scales and to cover potential liability issues.

(12) There must be an ongoing dialogue on the question of changing career paths and education. The dialogue should be sensitive to regional archaeological concerns as well as to the broader dynamic affecting the entire profession.

(13) This ongoing debate must incorporate all segments of the archaeological community, including those whose research or topical interests do not lie in North America.

Ultimately, the changing structure of archaeology in the next millennium will affect all aspects of practice and employment. It is imperative that present and future practitioners appreciate the urgency of these issues at a time when the opportunities for expanding archaeology's reach have never been greater.

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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