Careers in Archaeology and Archaeological Science: an Introduction

On 11th November 2020, TORCH Heritage Programme and the Oxford University Heritage Network (OUHN), in partnership with the School of Archaeology and with the support of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) co-convened ‘Practising Archaeology’, a career development event for graduate students and early-career researchers of the University of Oxford.

This lunchtime webinar served as an introduction to career pathways in Archaeology and Archaeological Science. Four experts in the fields of heritage, historic environment, commercial archaeology, and forensic archaeology were invited to draw upon their careers to inspire and encourage participants to: – gain a better understanding of the sector and its entry level requirements – form realistic expectations about their career prospects – think creatively about their future career – plan their next steps – identify and access various career development resources available within and beyond the University of Oxford – get familiar with the main institutions that advocate for professionals in archaeology – explore how their research experience and expertise can contribute to organisations – shape future events through participation and feedback – develop and enhance networking abilities with internal and external colleagues.

Kate Geary MCIfA (Head of Professional Development and Practice, CIfA) opened the event by presenting on the role and purpose of CIfA. She discussed the Institute’s code of conduct, regulations, standards and guidance for professional archaeologists and organisations that ensure high ethical and professional standards in archaeology, the benefits of membership, entry-level expectations as well as the current challenges of the sector.

Dr Jacek Gruszczynski MCIfA (Freelance Commercial Archaeologist and Heritage Consultant; Senior Archaeologist, PCA Heritage) drew from his own experience to discuss the skills (transferrable, not-so-transferrable and outright new) that academia can (and a few that it cannot) equip young researchers that take their first steps into the world of commercial archaeology. He highlighted the benefits of field-work and encouraged participants to seek real-life experience alongside their academic research.

Dr Karl Harrison MCIfA (Director and Lead Forensic Ecologist, Alecto Forensics; Reader in Forensic Sciences, Cranfield University; Visiting Professor, University of West London; Honorary Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University; Visiting Research Fellow, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford) offered a brief introduction to the world of forensic archaeology. More broadly, he highlighted flexibility, adaptability, and creativity as key skills that enable young professional to seize opportunities that might lead to often unexpected career pathways, beyond a five-year plan.

Dr Oliver Cox (Heritage Engagement Fellow, University of Oxford) introduced the attendeeds to the range of skills-development opportunities that are currently available in Oxford. He focused on the various ways in which the Heritage Partnerships Team and the OUHN can facilitate students and early-career researchers to explore careers outside of academia, while still enrolled in the university. He also discussed ways to build a consultancy profile and position one’s academic expertise in a way that is marketable and accessible to different sectors.

The presentations were followed by Q&As and participants were warmly invited to participate in the discussion. Prof Ine Jacobs (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Associate Professor of Byzantine Archaeology and Visual Culture, University of Oxford) gave the closing remarks on behalf of the School of Archaeology, inviting the participants to submit their suggestions for future events and career development opportunities by completing a feedback survey for the event.

‘Practising Archaeology’ saw high registration and attendance with equal numbers of graduate students and doctoral candidates of the School of Archaeology participating. The session received excellent feedback with all respondents rating it as ‘useful’ or ‘extremely useful’ and stating that they ‘would recommend this session to someone else’. When asked to identify the steps that the participants would take because of attending this session, respondents followed closely the speakers’ advice whilst adapting it to their personal needs, indicating high levels of meaningful engagement. Amongst the skills and training needs identified by the respondents, the most frequently mentioned were promoting oneself in a business environment, science communication and real-life experience. A demand for a more detailed presentation of existing opportunities within the University of Oxford was also recorded. Lastly, some respondents requested to learn about the international sector and career prospects of international students after Brexit. These comments resonate with the few suggestions for future speakers, even though this was the question most frequently skipped by the participants.

Drawing on this feedback the Heritage Partnerships Team and the Oxford University Network, in partnership with the School of Archaeology, are currently working on two more sessions to take place in Hilary and Trinity terms and on setting up short-term placements in the aforementioned sectors, in close collaboration with Oxford University Careers Service.