Thinking about Field School yet? You should be…

Hey guys, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood struggling archaeologist, here with a public service announcement: START PLANNING FOR FIELD SCHOOL NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY.

I know in the podcast world we don’t usually talk about field school until spring or summer because, duh, that’s when they happen, but in reality if you are someone looking for guidance on field schools the time to talk about it is now. Maybe not minutiae like what you should pack or whether to go with the wool socks or the cotton (eh, I know everyone says wool, but I hated mine so I stuck with cotton and the world didn’t end). Rather, it’s a good time to decide if you want/need to do one at all and figure out 1. what field school to do 2. if you can get into it 3. how you’re going to finance it, and 4. if it’s what’s in your best interest at all.

Think about where you are right now and what you want. Are you already in school? Have you made your mind up about pursuing archaeology professionally? Do you have a career focus or are you just rolling with whatever the program you got into is doing? Does your school have or require you to go to their own field school? Do you need college credit that will transfer to your home school? Can you finance your own way if you decide to go to a remote field school and if not, what options do you have? Does the program have scholarships or aid available to you? Do you even want to go to field school? I know this seems like a lot to think about, but trust me, you’ll be glad  you did it now. So sit down with a notebook and write out the answers to these questions. Then let it guide your next steps.

Personally, I think if you are seriously considering a career in archaeology and you have no experience actually digging then it might be a good idea to do some volunteer work at a local excavation to see first hand what archaeology is really like. It’s no joke- there aren’t motorcycle sidecar chases- there are lots of shovels and heavy buckets of dirt and awkward equipment to haul around- and there aren’t always bathrooms nearby! I’ve seen people go straight to college and sign up for an archaeology degree and get to their first field school and… hate it. By that point there has been a lot of wasted money, energy, hopes, and time spent to learn a lesson they could have figured out long before. You can usually find out about local digs from nearby universities, historical societies, museums, the National Park Service, archaeology magazines, and many other websites and organizations like the Archaeological Institute of America. The AIA is a great resource for finding volunteer work, field schools, scholarships, and jobs.

If you aren’t even sure if you need a field school or not then check the requirements of your school’s program; most will require one to be completed by a certain point in your degree. If you’re not sure if it will help you- it will. You will lean HOW to be an archaeologist in field school, you will probably learn what kind of archaeologist you want to be, and you will learn what kind you don’t want to be. If you plan on working during or after college a field school will be incredibly important to have on your CV. If you have little experience, an employer will be looking to make sure you have learned the skills needed for the job, and that field school is what’s going to sell it to them. If you want to specialize in a specific area it will give you a lot of credibility going forward to have studied there, and a field school can give you a leg up and introduce you to people within that field who will give you guidance going forward and create an important network for your future career. These are only some of the reasons why I recommend a field school to everyone who is serious about working in archaeology.

Think about it. Talk to your trusted professors, mentors, or friends in the field. Tweet your favorite professional a question about where they recommend you find the right field school. Go to blogs and the websites of professional archaeological organizations. Do your research and I know you will find exactly what you need.

Also, I forgot to mention it, but field schools rock. There’s really nothing like the experiences, friends, and lessons you will come away with. Just be ready to commit yourself to working hard, learning all the things, and getting really, really dirty. You’ll be fine.

McNiven out.

Field School is Fun!

Is Online or Distance Learning right for you?

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Hey guys, so I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. Largely because that’s just how I roll, always and forever thinking about learning, but also because I get asked a lot of questions about education and careers in archaeology. A good number of these are from people who are non-traditional learners. I totally understand what you guys are going through, as I have also been a non-trad student in need of some magical way to make getting a degree work with my life. Not always so easy, depending on what you want to do, and anthropology and social science-based degrees are unfortunately not as easy to acquire when the education has to come to you and not the other way around.

Luckily, there has been a virtual explosion of online and distance learning programs in the last few years (get it?!) I have been a part of the evolution of this educational paradigm as a student and intend on continuing my role in it as an instructor and instructional designer. So let me share with you a few things you should think about if a traditional collegiate experience may be difficult for you.

  • There are quite a few reputable B.A. and M.A. programs offered online these days. Many brick and mortar schools are expanding to include online courses and programs in anthropology and related fields. Very few PhDs are available online, but that may be changing soon!

  • A degree is a degree is a degree. You don’t have to “fess up” to having a distance degree on your resume, all that matters is that you get the credit due for your academic efforts no matter if they were earned in a classroom or your couch.

  • The most commonly offered anthropology courses are generally the core requirements for advanced degrees. I applied to graduate school with a distance certificate in archaeology and an unrelated B.A., and I was accepted with a requirement to first finish my core undergraduate courses. I could have done this online if I had to, hence the beauty of more and more schools offering these courses online!

  • Distance learning offers you the chance to pursue your degree remotely while working your day job, staying home with the kids, living in a place with no local program, traveling, disabled, or unable to get your butt to school otherwise. An online M.A. could be attained while working in the field after your undergraduate program. It’s not only for young people either, folks of any age can take advantage of these classes with only an internet connection and moderate computer skills.

  • Online courses may be a great way for the hobbyist to finally get credit for studying something they love. You don’t even have to be a degree seeking student to take part in online learning. Have you always wanted to take archaeology courses just to learn more about a subject your passionate about? Done. Don’t know if it will ever be more than just a hobby? That’s okay, take a course here and there, get credit, and then if in the future you decide to go for it you will already be on your way to a degree.

Personally, I was so grateful to discover I had another option when I decided to pursue a career in archaeology. My situation has not been very conducive to the traditional route (I’m a military spouse, I move every two to three years, I live in the middle of nowhere, the list goes on and on…). But thankfully I was able to get a distance certificate that set me on my way to graduate school, and have been able to continue my education by taking online courses and receiving professional certifications online in my post-grad life #addictedtolearning.

So what does distance learning look like? Well, when I started at the University of Leicester (one of the first and best schools for distance programs in archaeology) the programs were all asynchronous (they required no real-time communication, instruction, or chat). I received my course materials and books every module (a 3 month course, 6 of which made up a certificate) in the mail. Then I proceeded to read the appropriate materials and prepare my assignments to be sent to my teachers in the UK. We communicated through email and forums (which I regretfully did not take advantage of enough). This seems a pretty antiquated way of doing it now. New online learning tools have made interaction between classmates and teachers so much easier.

Many distance programs are now blended to include some form of synchronous instruction, where the class meets to listen to a lecture or work together via a virtual classroom interface. Methods and technologies vary between programs, but online courses can now be completed entirely from home through the dissemination of video lectures, powerpoints, assignments, tests, and forums on a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas or Sakaii. These programs are fairly intuitive, so no need to be too intimidated by having to navigate the system if you aren’t the greatest with technology. It can be a great way to get comfortable with learning for those who would rather type a question in a chat box or forum post than raise their hand in front of a class, or discuss a topic over a headset in a virtual classroom where no one can see that you’re in your pajamas and have your head stuffed into the textbook. There are many reasons why taking part in a course online may be beneficial for you, which is something to consider when thinking about whether you would prefer to earn your degree in a classroom or online.

But what about FIELD WORK? Ah, yes, the most complicated factor in getting an anthropology degree online is that education in the field usually includes an applied element such as a field school. This is true not only of archaeology, but often bioarchaeology and cultural anthropology as well. Fear not, there are schools all over the world that offer field schools for credit that can be transferred to your online program. Hopefully your online program will also have options for attending their summer field schools as long as you can get yourself there. Unfortunately, if you live in a remote location this may require a little extra money and inconvenience, but if you are planning on a career in archaeology you might want to get used to having to go where the digs are… The Archaeological Institute of America has lots of great resources on field schools and scholarships that might be perfect for you!

So that’s all for now. If you’d like a head start on some good distance programs in anthropology here in the U.S. check out this list, though a thorough online search will give you more options. Also, I might be biased, but look into the University of Leicester’s Distance Learning programs in archaeology and ancient history. They’re smashing, and they offer several options like a certificate, B.A., M.A., or even Ph.D. I found them quite affordable and they have been one of the most respected names in archaeology and distance learning for quite some time. If you have questions, email me at and I’ll help the best I can.

Good luck, friends. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of learning online. It may just be the perfect fit for you!


Day After the Day of Archaeology Musings

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Well, here we are, the day after the day of archaeology. I’m writing on the day after the day of archaeology because I spent all of yesterday in planes and airports wrangling a ten month old, and the week before on a remote Canadian island with no computer or internet. So there you go. This year I bet you’re wondering what the Struggling Archaeologist is up to and if she’s, well, still struggling. To be honest, the short and most honest answer to that question is: yes. In a manner I suppose this career is one which we are all likely to struggle in from time to time. As needed and important as archaeology is in the world, it’s still a small and competitive field and there are more brilliant minds (and trowels) in it than jobs. Or at least it feels that way. This day of archaeology my mind is preoccupied with my future, continuing to build my skills and experience, and staying relevant two years out of grad school with a new baby. I’m not in the field this year. I am doing as so many archaeologists do repeatedly through their career, sitting at a computer working on what I hope will help me keep my career growing for many years to come. Definitely not the sexy part of the job. I guess it’s more like the morning after a great party part of the job– when you wake up feeling foggy and wondering whether whatever you did all of last night was worth the headache you have right now.

You know what my problem is? I’m a sedentary woman in a nomadic world. I won’t bore you with the details of my personal life or play a tiny violin as l lament what choices brought me to this weird and unfulfilling time in my career (I have a full-size violin which I do play, incidentally. Not to brag, but I could play the violin and lament all day if I wanted to). The point being, in order to find more fulfilling work and a job in which I feel I would be much happier it would behoove me to leave my current home and go wherever that work is. This, sad to say, is not an option for me at the moment. Call me crazy, but being a 35 year old nomad is not as appealing as it was when I was a 25 year student embarking on my archaeology career. I have a family, my husband has a good job, and giving up that stability seems pretty darn stupid to me. Alas, there are very limited job opportunities in my current community for academics and archaeologists alike. So here I sit, updating my linkedin, taking online skills development courses to improve my wretched history with technology, looking for jobs and research opportunities, preparing a paper for submittal, reading blogs and planning a new podcast, unpacking, making dinner, and enjoying the giggles escaping my son as he wobbles across the house to explore some new wonder.

I feel perhaps, as usual, there is something here than I am missing. Some hidden spring of employment that other M.A archaeologists are swimming in. But I think the truth is that this field is so varied, random, diverse, and the opposite of normal that there is no one path to success. What kinds of jobs can archaeologists do? Where do they work? There are about as many answers as there are archaeologists. Finding not only a job but knowing where the opportunities for jobs are is an added challenge in our field. I have come to a place where, much like with my podcast, I am almost convinced that for me the answer is to create the opportunity for myself. I consider myself, first and foremost, an educator, and so today I am also thinking of designing online educational materials about archaeology and history. I am tweaking the design on an infographic I have been working on to accompany my next podcast episode. I am also considering the creation of new media projects aimed at introducing young people to anthropology. As much as I love to dig, this is what is really exciting me right now.

As I reread it hits me that this post is a major downer. Sorry about that. Well, not really, as I have never wanted to be anything other than my own genuine self in all of my Struggling Archaeologist related materials. The truth is that we all struggle, and today– this day after the day of archaeology– this happens to be my reality. I know we’re all supposed to look brilliant and successful and have it all figured out all of the time, but the truth is that we don’t. Not most of us anyway. Still, I end this blog and this day feeling hopeful for my future. I get to be a part, in some small way, of a world that seeks to preserve the wonders of the past and to do good things for humanity. I think of my son and the things he’ll get to learn and the awe it might inspire in him as a result of what we do. It makes the giggles outweigh everything else. That’s all that matters in the end.