Despite the growth and success of feminist archaeology, women in archaeology still face issues not necessarily encountered by their male counterparts in the 21st Century. Legacies of past discrimination, particularly the perceived and/or actual demands of family life, have resulted in disproportionate fewer women working at research institutions in many disciplines, including archaeology. This disturbing trend has profound implications for not only the direction of current archaeological research, but also the training of future scholars.

This blog is a forum for advocating for women archaeologists so that we can move beyond legacies of inequity to a future that strengthens a feminine voice in archaeology and a feminist perspective. We contend that the very practice of archaeology is skewed towards a masculine and hierarchical perspective that excludes consensus building and “minority opinions” when interpreting the past. We argue that the feminine voice brings unique and necessary elements to the discipline of archaeology, through values such as mentoring and collaboration. We also clarify that a feminist perspective is not limited to any one gender, class, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Rather a feminist perspective is a radical point of view; one that recognizes that women’s success professionally and personally is integrally tied to larger socio-political movements dedicated to the eradication of homophobia, racism, and androcentrism.

Our hope is to solicit advice, perspectives, and experiences from all realms of the archaeological profession- including tenure-track and adjunct faculty, CRM professionals, and those not currently employed or underemployed. The ultimate goal of the blog is to shift the realities of power experienced in the daily lives of women archaeologists by discussing, inventing and offering solutions to the challenges of professional life.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Relationship between Jobs, Curriculum, & Mentoring

When Dr. Jackson and I established this blog slightly over a year ago, one of our goals was to use it as a platform for finding better ways to mentor and prepare women for careers in archaeology. It is my belief that there are many factors that impede successful mentorship, most of which are beyond our individual control. However, it is important to identify and have an  honest discussion of these factors, if we ever hope to overcome them. Several recent and seemingly unrelated articles have come to my attention that all touch upon the importance of mentorship in some way. I will draw upon them here to help illustrate and highlight some of the ways that, in my view, we are sabotaging the success of our discipline.

There is a growing sense that many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (and archaeology arguably straddles both worlds) are increasingly become irrelevant in the modern world. It is no secret that many universities are scaling back anthropology and archaeology departments in the United States and elsewhere. Often this occurs because universities seeking ways to streamline in the current economic climate are likely to cut those programs for which there is little perceived need or direct economic benefit. This has led some in the academy to question whether it is ethical to continue taking and training graduate students when there are simply not enough jobs for all of them. Some have suggested that a solution to this problem is to limit the number of students admitted to graduate programs.

In truth, I grapple with this issue every time I talk to my students about their education and career plans. As a recently minted Ph.D., my struggles to find fulltime and steady employment are still fresh and I talk to my students candidly about them. I do not, however, think that limiting opportunities for graduate education is the answer. No one goes to graduate school unaware of the immense costs involved and the potential difficulties of finding a job afterwards. If they do, then we are not doing our jobs as mentors. Cutting back on graduate opportunities will hamper the success of our undergraduate majors, since a graduate degree is necessary for just about every career pathway in our discipline. Such a strategy will also result in fewer undergraduate majors, which only feeds the cycle of decline as universities struggle to support costly programs with few students. Rather than cutting the number of graduate students, I advocate for a critical approach to graduate education and mentorship. We must carefully evaluate our graduate programs and ask the question: What type(s) of careers do we want to prepare our students for? To answer this question, we must examine what careers are experiencing growth and success.

The job market is, in reality, much more complex than we recognize. We have to research and understand this complexity if we are to effectively mentor our students and help them find the career options that best suite them. While academic jobs may be declining, there is some evidence that the decline is not as large as we perceive. The proportion of PhDs who work in the academy has always been small, and has only declined “a few percentage points in 20 years” across disciplines. In the social sciences, this drop has been only 0.4% from 1991 to 2011! In the last 20 years, however, only around 26% of PhDs in the social sciences end up working at universities.  Clearly, the bulk of our students are not going to follow us into the academy. The much more important question is what types of academic jobs are available? As discussed previously on this blog, tenure-track jobs are becoming more scarce as temporary adjunct positions are increasingly becoming the norm at many universities. This trend has real implications for the discipline, as pointed out in a previous post, because adjunct faculty experience unique challenges and difficulties that undermine higher education. This problem deserves attention and discussion, but this post is not the place. (I invite contributions to this blog that address this issue! Please contact us.)

I want to focus on heartening statistics that indicate that some types of jobs in archaeology are on the rise! The National Science Foundation tracks such statistics and projects an increase of 21% in anthropology and archaeology related jobs. This increase is greater than expected for the social sciences in general. Where are these positions? These jobs are primarily found in non-academic career tracks in archaeology, such as CRM. If this segment of our discipline is experiencing so much growth, then why isn’t the outlook of our discipline rosy? More importantly, why aren’t our students getting these jobs?

Part of the problem lies in the fact that because there are so many qualified individuals looking for jobs that there is substantial competition for jobs. Similarly, I would also argue that most undergraduate and graduate programs are not designed to prepare students for applied careers. I feel fortunate to be part of an initiative at my university to develop a unique interdisciplinary Master’s program that is focused on applied graduate training. This program is specifically designed to provide students with the credentials necessary for government and private sector jobs. I can already hear complaints that not all programs should be applied programs. And I would agree with this criticism. But, we also cannot assume that all of our students can or want to work in the academy.

Beyond the lack of applied-focused curriculum, I also think that there are cultural factors within the academy that may drive students away from applied careers. Primarily, we must acknowledge our own biases if we are to be better mentors and help our student pursue successful careers. Those of use working within the academy often push (often unintentionally) our students to follow the same career path. Of course we want our students to become our academic colleagues, because we love what we do. However, we have to acknowledge the career realities mentioned above. The biggest obstacle to overcoming this problem is the biases against so-called “applied” archaeology that have long plagued our discipline. Since the advent of CRM legislation in the 1960s, our discipline has been divided. Anecdotally, I have experienced prejudice towards my applied experience, even advised to hide it on my CV over concern that it was a liability in certain spheres. I’m sure that many of us who have worked in government or private sector jobs have similar experiences. One of the reasons that this division exists is because there is little interaction between the academic and applied areas of archaeology, although this has begun to break down in recent years with the success and prestige of the Register of Professional Archaeologists . The recent election of Jeffrey Altschul as president of the Society for American Archaeology may also help bridge the gap between the academic and applied worlds.

However, we cannot pretend that this divide does not exist. We must acknowledge that an applied career rarely carries the same level of prestige as an academic career. It is precisely this stereotype and bias that causes our students to steer away from applied careers. “We should not be surprised when students internalize our attitudes (implicit or explicit) and assume that the 'best' students will be professors and that for everyone else ... well, 'there's always public history.'” Ironically, “the people who feel most betrayed by the idea of "alternative careers" are the people closest to finishing their dissertations and going out on the academic job market”. This is clearly an issue of mentoring, coupled with a lack of recognition of the potential avenues and contributions of applied careers in undergraduate and graduate curriculum. If our discipline is to thrive in the future, we must recognize that the academic cannot exist without the applied, and vise versa.

After this brutally honest discussion, I’d like to end on a positive note. I do not believe that archaeology will become a thing of the past, as some forecast. Rather, as prominent stories of amazing archaeological discoveries flood the news and internet, archaeology will continue to be something that catches the imagination of the public. However, it is our responsibility to connect in real and concrete ways with the public, administrators, and policy makers, so that they can understand the value of archaeology beyond monetary measures. Savvy universities are realizing that archaeology has an important role in connecting institutions of higher education with the communities in which they are situated. It is up to those of us working in the academy to positively influence academic programs to illustrate the relevance and need of what we do to outsiders, as well as our students. In general, I am optimistic about our discipline’s future. But we must acknowledge present realities and enact real changes if we are to alleviate current and future suffering of those seeking to make a career in archaeology.
~Sarah Surface-Evans


  1. Our students want academic jobs partially because they are so familiar with the academic lifestyle and academic research. If we can incorporate more non-academic archaeology into our classes and bring in guest speakers from government and contract archaeology jobs I am sure we would see a decrease in the competition for academic lines and more interest in applied archaeology.

  2. Excellent point! I wholeheartedly agree, April. Part of the problem is a lack of exposure. If students only see academic archaeology in the classroom, they do not know that there are many career paths in archaeology. This is one reason that I frequently invite archaeologists working for state government, tribal governments, private firms, and museums as guest lecturers in my upper level courses. I also use examples from my CRM experience as case-studies in all my classes, so that they can see the sorts of interesting and amazing projects being done in CRM.