The turn of the season, and a move away from archaeology

Wow, it’s been a while hasn’t it? A year and a half! Gosh. My bad.

So, what’s been going on, you ask?

Well, you can see from my previous post that I handed in my thesis at the end of March 2015. I passed my viva in June 2015. I got’minor corrections’, which was basically an A4 page of typos and a misplaced decimal point. The viva itself was easy enough, so no trauma there: I might post about that at some point. Owing to how niche my thesis was, I had what were effectively two external examiners, who I picked in conjunction with my supervisor. The senior of the two said (I paraphrase) “I didn’t think anyone could do another PhD in Roman iron, but you proved me wrong”.

I handed in my final copy at the beginning of December 2015, and I’m not going to lie, it felt damn good to be done with it.

Prior to this, I picked up a couple of jobs: one as a youth worker in Brighton, and one at the University of Sussex, administering taught postgraduate courses. Neither were academic posts.

I did look at postdocs, and research assistants, and project assistant positions, and all the other things that ‘early career’ research positions are called. But honestly, I just couldn’t face doing the same thing again. The PhD was great, don’t get me wrong. Learning everything I needed to, to complete such a complex multidisciplinary PhD, was brilliant. The space and time to explore so many different disciplines, read so much research, do so many experiments, was fantastic. But I just wasn’t feeling very inspired. I didn’t want to just get another job doing the same analysis techniques and same experiments, just with a new set of material.

There was also the old ‘two-body problem’; having a partner. My husband was in Brighton, and he was also experiencing a debilitating physical illness. I didn’t particularly want to be away from him, and definitely not for the long periods of time necessary to take a post in the EU or further abroad. This is particularly problematic in archaeology (particularly particularly in my very niche area of scientific archaeology) because there are so few jobs that you really do have to look abroad if you want to succeed as an academic.

In the background, I’ve also come to the realisation that I feel archaeology is quite an indulgent activity. I don’t want to offend any of my colleagues, but there’s a lot wrong with the world, and I don’t think that archaeology is really helping much. Some archaeologists, the really passionate ones, can make a difference in some ways. But I’m not one of them at the moment. Just ‘getting by’ in a discipline that, without specific focussed intention, doesn’t make much good impact on people’s lives isn’t enough for me. That’s why I worked as a youth worker for a year or so, and it’s why I am still volunteering with people in crisis right now.

Ultimately, I realised that these three points mean that I’m not particularly interested in a conventional academic career at this time (let’s leave whether there even is such a thing for early career researchers anymore for another day). What I do like, is the HE environment, particularly in science; supporting the work of people curing cancer and diseases right now, and supporting people who will be those scientists in ten years time. So I’ve stayed on at the University of Sussex. The difference in academic culture between Life Sciences at Sussex and the Institute of Archaeology at UCL is also frankly astounding, but that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice to say, it’s a good place, and I’m pretty happy.

What does the future bring? Well, right now I’m not sure. I love working in HE. When my contract supporting PGT ran out, I moved into a completely new post. It’s been great, as I have developed the local processes for implementing central University policies, developed reports and data processing methods, talked to people across the university to bring together different data sources, and helped students access the help and support they need when in crisis. I get really fired up in that kind of work, and it gets my brain churning through problem-solving, data gathering, analysis and solutions. And I still do a little research on the side – though this time into things that affect my students, with an eye to one day potentially making their lives just a tiny bit better. Just about the only thing I miss from my PhD days is the teaching, honestly.

As you can imagine, my passions and interests have changed quite a lot since I started this blog, back in 2008, and I’m not actively pursuing archaeology for the moment. As a result, I did think about taking the blog down entirely. However, I’ve been writing here for more than a quarter of my life, so I can’t quite face deleting all of this content, particularly as I still get hundreds of people reading it every week. Instead, I am toying with the idea of posting again, probably in the direction of my current interests.

I hope you’ll stick around to see that, and thank you for your support over the last few years. In the end I worked in archaeology for about eight years, and right until the last year or so I really did love it. But everything has its season, and I do feel like my passion for archaeology has faded. Perhaps I’ll work in the discipline again, but right now I’m enjoying using all the skills I learnt, in both research and local government, to stretch my wings a bit. Let’s see where the next season takes me, eh?

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