By Dominic Bush
ACUA Graduate Student Associate Member
For the past several years, the ACUA Graduate Student Associates (GSAs) have organized panel sessions at the annual SHA Conference for the benefit of students and early career professionals interested in underwater archaeology. The panels tend to focus on subjects germane to the targeted audience, and thus, have included academic programs, publishing, mentorship, and community/public archaeology. More recently, the 2020 SHA Conference featured a panel discussion centered on diversity within the field of underwater archaeology, while the virtual 2021 SHA Conference included a session on “Digital Media and Public Outreach in Underwater Archaeology”. Interested readers can check out blog posts by Aleck Tan and Kirsten Hawley, two former GSAs, for recaps of the 2020 and 2021 panels.
Early in the Summer of 2021, the other GSAs and myself began to plan the next panel discussion, which was to take place at the 2022 SHA Conference in Philadelphia. While brainstorming topic ideas, we kept coming back to the subject of employment and the current job market. As graduate students, we were all too familiar with the dreaded question, “What is the plan for after graduation?” That cursed refrain; one echoed by countless friends and family members. While seemingly innocuous, it has unintentionally stirred up feelings of anxiety in each of us. We had a sneaky suspicion we were not alone. So, it was decided that we would curate our discussion around careers in underwater archaeology. We were keenly aware, though, that this topic may be of interest for not only students, but those who have, either, recently graduated or transitioned to the field of underwater archaeology. With both students and those who fit within the latter designations in mind, we crafted our list of panelists and questions. Invitations were sent out and six professional archaeologists generously agreed to serve on the panel. With acceptance of our session by the conference’s organizing committee, we were all set for Philly.
Omicron, however, had a very different plan. In the final days of 2021, it became readily apparent that the conference’s attendance would be severely limited due to the global spike in Covid-19 cases. Without the proper infrastructure to facilitate a hybrid/virtual session, we made the difficult decision to postpone our panel discussion. While attempting to make the proverbial lemonade, we recognized that we were no longer beholden to the scheduling of the conference. In the micro, that meant the session would not be at 7:45am on a Saturday. Thank Goodness! This undoubtedly came as a big relief to, both, our panelists and prospective audience. But at a higher level, presenting the panel as a standalone event meant that the GSAs would have ample to time to advertise it, creating the potential for a larger attendance. This would go on to entail numerous social media postings, an article in the ACUA Student Newsletter, and a multitude of emails, for which I apologize to anyone whose inbox felt bombarded.
Internally, the change in venues created a, for lack of a better word, interesting situation. Two of the GSAs who originally planned the panel with me, Kirsten Hawley and Therese Westman, would be cycling out. They would be replaced by the two new GSAs, Lindsay Wentzel and Stephanie Sterling. While such a transition could pose a challenge, clear communication and a willingness to go beyond their job expectations by the two outgoing GSA, combined with an eagerness and fresh approach provided by the two incoming GSAs, ensured a high level of continuity. The original question prompts were built upon, and again, we found six professionals kind enough to donate their time to our event. The panelists included: Dr. Dave Conlin (National Park Service), Bert Ho (San Francisco National Historical Park), Joe Hoyt (NOAA Office of Marine Sanctuaries), Madeline Roth (NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program), Dr. Amanda Evans (Gray & Pape, Inc.), and Dr. Jason Raupp (East Carolina University).
On the night of the panel, April 21, 2022, we had over 50 attendees; much more than could be expected had the panel remained a conference session. This increase in viewership was greatly aided by the fact that the panel could now be 100% virtual, and thus, accessible from anywhere in the world. In the lead up to the panel, the GSA fielded requests for the meeting link from a global audience, which included people from the U.S., Spain, Italy, Taiwan, Slovakia, U.K., Egypt, Pakistan, Australia, Israel, Greece, Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, and Poland. The apparent widespread interest in events such as this, combined with the digital ability to reach internationally, has been one of the main takeaways from this entire experience. It has shown that this panel format and subject matter need not be restricted to formal conferences, but instead, could be periodically hosted as standalone events. The success of this panel and the ease of putting it on has sparked interest among the GSAs regarding a future, follow up discussion that includes a panelist roster with more of an international flare.
The limited geographical scope notwithstanding, our panelists provided over an hour of insightful, candid, and honest commentary on the state of careers in underwater archaeology. From the onset, it was made evident that our panelists came from a widely diverse set of backgrounds, each choosing a unique career path. Introductions consisted of current job duties, educational history, and the ever-humanizing answer to “What got you into underwater archaeology?” It was wonderful to hear the array of interests and experiences, and I am sure comforting to our audience to see that they share some of the same igniting passions as those who are firmly entrenched within the field of underwater archaeology.
Following the introductions, the first set of discussion questions centered on the role of education, and specifically, advice for what current students could do to increase their chances of success in the job market following graduation. While participation in field schools and pursuing a degree in archaeology or closely-related field stood out as obvious answers, the panelists correctly acknowledged that these may not be available to everyone. Networking and seeking out either volunteer positions, or if available, paid opportunities with federal agencies and CRM firms were promoted as supplements to the formal academic route. In terms of developing a “hard skill”, a familiarity with GIS technologies was perhaps the most frequently cited answer. Our panelists, who represented the government sector, CRM, and academia, were all in agreement that being adept with GIS, including the incorporation of remote sensing surveys, was a vital component of their job duties and an important criterion for prospective hires. The panelists also emphasized the need to be a clear and concise technical writer. While a vast majority of us are drawn to the fieldwork aspects of archaeology, specifically the diving parts, much more of our professional lives will be spent report writing; a fact that was not sugarcoated by our panelists.
When the conversation shifted to the different job sectors, the rarity of academic jobs was pointed out, with one panelist comparing the odds of an archaeology student eventually securing a professorship to those of a college football player making the NFL. This created an opportunity to discuss the government and private sectors as viable alternatives to staying within academia. The panelists spoke to their experiences, and many revealed that they had worked within both sectors throughout their career, highlighting the value of diversifying one’s employment history.
Categorised in: Deep Thoughts