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Student Affairs Committee Update

The Bigger Picture:
Becoming a Professional Anthropologist

Jane Eva Baxter and Deborah L. Nichols

Professionalism in Anthropology

The majority of archaeological training in America heavily emphasizes archaeology's historical ties to anthropology and archaeology's integral role in a four-field approach to anthropology. However, archaeology students today are operating in an intellectual and professional climate that differs dramatically from the time when most of their faculty mentors received their four-field training. Today many archaeologists work outside anthropology departments and museums, the sheer volume of current anthropological research has become too large to stay well informed about all four subfields, and the separation of the subdisciplines within academic departments is growing.

Despite these trends, when archaeology students from across the country were recently asked to voice their opinions on the relationship between archaeology and anthropology, students overwhelmingly embraced four-field anthropology (J. E. Baxter, 1999, Does Archaeology Need Anthropology? A Student Perspective. Anthropology Newsletter 40(4): 40­41). Students believe that anthropology provides the most fruitful theoretical basis for interpreting the archaeological record, and that archaeology can make significant contributions to anthropological concerns of understanding long-term cultural phenomena.

More pragmatically, it also is important to consider that few archaeologists get their first job in a situation where they will only interact with other archaeologists. Even in large academic departments or contract firms, you are likely to be the only archaeologist with your particular specialty. You are more likely to be successful and to enjoy your work if you can relate your interests and expertise to others. One way to prepare for these future intellectual and professional challenges is to make an effort to become a professional anthropologist, looking beyond the confines of archaeology toward the other subfields and anthropology as a whole.

Archaeologists as Anthropologists

We asked faculty members from various institutions to respond to three broad questions about the role of archaeologists within anthropology departments, and how students could best be prepared to be a good anthropological colleague. Responses came from faculty from a variety of institutions, ranging from large research-focused universities to small teaching colleges. Most responses emphasized that archaeologists should have a good foundation in the holism of anthropology. It was noted that few departments offer the luxury of purely specialized teaching, and that the ability to teach introductory courses in other subfields is important for all those on the job market. In addition, an exposure to and appreciation of research in other subfields enables the development of colleagial relationships based on shared interests across the subdisciplines. Many topics, including ecological anthropology; long term historical studies dealing with the rise of capitalism, state formation, urbanization, and colonialism (among others); hunter-gatherer studies; human origins; and social organization and behavior, including studies of class, ethnicity, and gender, were all cited as potential intersections of archaeological and nonarchaeological research within anthropology. Others noted that the best archaeological research is that which focuses on people in the past, and that specialized technical analyses without an equally strong emphasis on human behavior did not have a broad anthropological appeal. Many anthropologists also cited knowledge and application of current social theory as an important factor when they evaluate current archaeological research.

How to Become Involved in Anthropology

Most graduate students in archaeology wait to become professionally involved in anthropology until they are ready to enter the job market, at which point they join the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to receive the AAA Newsletter and to participate in interviews at the Annual Meeting. Becoming involved sooner in your student career, however, has both intellectual and practical benefits. Reading American Anthropologist and the AAA Newsletter is a good way to be aware of developments in the other subdisciplines. The American Anthropologist has undergone important changes with Robert Sussman, a biological anthropologist, as the new editor; the recent issues on race and ecological anthropology emphasize the holism of the discipline and should be of considerable interest to archaeologists.

"Students believe that anthropology provides the most fruitful theoretical basis for interpreting the archaeological record, and that archaeology can make significant contributions to anthropological concerns of understanding long-term cultural phenomena."


Make an effort to attend an AAA meeting before you go on the job market and participate in sessions in archaeology, but also attend sessions of interest in the other subdisciplines; this is an excellent way to meet other anthropologists with common research interests. On an organizational level, the AAA's recent major restructuring has created many new opportunities for archaeologists to become involved professionally. Students also have the opportunity to become involved with the National Association of Student Anthropologists, an organization that helps students to develop relationships and connections with anthropologists from the other subdisciplines.

The AAA leadership and the Archeology Division Executive Committee are taking steps to make belonging to AAA more affordable to graduate students (and to nonstudents). The Archeology Division has reduced its dues for student members by $15; all other members will receive a $10 dues reduction. Additionally the Archeology Division is offering to new student members on a one-time basis a $10 reduction in the regular dues, which means that your first year of members in the Archaeology Division will be free. To get this one-time reduction, you must reference this announcement in the application to AAA and include a photocopy of your student I.D. card. Dues restructuring and the one-time student discount for membership begin in January 2000. For information about the AAA, Archeology Division, or National Association of Student Anthropologists, visit the AAA website ·

The authors would like to thank those who responded to the request for information in preparing this article.

Jane Eva Baxter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, is chair of the SAA Student Affairs Committee. Deborah Nichols is a professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College and a member of the AAA Archeology Division Executive Board.

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The Register of Professional Archaeologists:

A Student Section?

Victoria D. Vargas

The SAA Student Affairs Committee (SAC) is interested in the possibility of establishing a student section of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA). The SAC is interested in obtaining student input regarding the structure and service that such a student section could provide. Your suggestions and comments are very important in helping the SAC formulate ideas and establish a course of action. Before responding to the feedback questions below, you may wish to visit the RPA website to familiarize yourself with the organization: Also, outlined below are some possible benefits of a student section of RPA.

Who Would a Student Section of RPA Benefit?

If you are a student already holding a master's degree in archaeology or one of the eligible associated disciplines and meet RPA's other criteria, you are encouraged to register with RPA as a full professional. However, for those students who do not yet hold a master's degree, but wish to be registered as a student, a student section may be a positive step in professional development.

Why a Student Section of RPA?

The exposure of students to ethical standards of research and practice of archaeology is a critical step in the training of the future professionals in the discipline. It is important for students wishing to pursue a career in archaeology to recognize the amount of training and experience necessary to become a professional. Membership in a student section of RPA may be an excellent way to expose students to the professional standards, qualifications, and ethics that are the hallmark of RPA. It would also be a good way for students to proclaim their acceptance of these standards.


These ideas are certainly not the only possible benefits of a student section of RPA. We need to hear your ideas as to what other services and benefits a student section might provide. Please take a moment and read through the following Feedback questions and respond to them via the email or snail-mail addresses listed below. Keep in mind, benefits of a student membership in RPA should not only include benefits to students, but to the discipline of archaeology at large. Once the SAC has feedback from students, then we can enter into discussions with RPA on the possibilities for creating such a student section.

Feedback Questions

(1) Do you think a student section of RPA would be useful? Why or why not?

(2) Do you think a student section of RPA would provide useful professional development to students? How?

(3) Would you be willing to join such a section?

(4) What would be a reasonable RPA registration fee for students?

Please email your response to these questions to Victoria Vargas,, or P.O. Box 10148, Kansas City, MO. 64171-0148. Please include your name, institution, and your degree program (e.g., undergraduate in anthropology/archaeology). ·

Victoria D. Vargas, a member of the Student Affairs Committee, is a graduate student at Arizona State University.

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