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Pursuing Ph.D in Archaeology with no relevant experience


mmace

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Hi Everyone,

I'm aiming at pursuing a Ph.D in archaeology. I graduated in 2009 with a BS in business administration concentrating in business law. I don't really have any relevant experience. I was a finalist in a business concept competition at Drexel university, currently an research analyst at a financial company on my way to becoming a senior analyst, I have volunteered at homeless shelters and stay active with basketball league. I'm also a former all american swimmer. Sorry nothing relevant but its better than nothing i guess.

I definitely have a passion for archaeology/history/anthropology. I read a lot of cultures, wars, and history. I am currently studying for the GRE's and i am aiming at a score above 1300. My GPA was a 2.33 cumulative. I switched majors multiple times which sucked.

I'm am trying to work on finding an opportunity to work on a dig sometime this year which i will be saving all my vacation days for to build some experience. I am willing to go back and get a post-bac, masters, second undergrad degree, etc. to get into graduate school but i would like to save money if possible on schooling.

I want to pursue East Asian archaeology and so far i have found that Boston University and Harvard has these programs. I have emailed BU graduate admission to schedule a meeting/figure out what i can do to get in.

Is it possible to get in with no relevant experience if i get volunteer dig work, good GRE's and undergrad gpa of 2.33?

Any advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks,

MMAce

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I'm not going to say it's not, but that's a lto stacked against you.

Archaeology is not something you can just wake up one day and go into. It often isn't what people expect. BU and Harvard's programs accept only a few of the top of the top. I believe they both have minimum of 3.0 GPA to apply in addition to field experience.

I can not encourage you enough to go do at least one if not two or three field schools and work for at least 6 months in CRM. Many people do not understand what archaeology entails.

This is honestly, despite the sarcasm and exaggeration of worst case scenario, relatively accurate of many peoples experiences.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/dreamjobs/dreamjobs3.html

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I wish I could be encouraging, but I have to agree with warpspeed--you may be a very intelligent student with great a GRE score and decent GPA, but there are very few grad slots in the field of archaeology, and even fewer PhD slots. They are intensely competitive, and archaeology is one of those fields where you just cannot swing it without a fair amount of relevant background experience. There are many highly qualified applicants every year who have plenty of relevant coursework and digging experience who end up having to enroll in a terminal Masters program (sometimes one after another) because they aren't able to get into any PhD programs. Half of my cohort entered with Masters degrees already*, and of the remaining half, most had strong archaeological or Classical undergraduate degrees and were admitted after multiple years of fieldwork and research under specific faculty members in this department, and the rest of us have solid coursework backgrounds, archaeological undergraduate degrees, field exposure, and unusual research interests that allowed us to circumvent some of the usual preferences for extensive experience.

That said, things are not hopeless for you. It will require a lot of work, and you probably should not expect to be admitted to a PhD program for another application cycle or two (or three), but if you can build up enough of a background to support your commitment to the field on paper, and to demonstrate development of your chosen research direction, you've got a fair shot at success.

Take relevant classes wherever you can. If they have classes at your local community college, take those. If a nearby four-year college will allow you to enroll in courses without jumping through all the hoops of being a degree-seeking student, take classes there too. Archaeology 101, classes specifically about your region of interest, LANGUAGES is a big one. Start taking languages relevant to archaeological study in your region of interest. If that were anything in Mesoamerica or South America, Spanish for sure. In the Mediterranean, French and German plus whichever ancient languages are relevant (Latin, Greek, Akkadian, Middle Egyptian, etc). Since you're hoping to focus on East Asian archaeology, figure out which country you'd want to be working in, and start learning their language. Read a lot of academic articles and start defining what specific questions you might want to investigate in the course of your graduate research. Strongly consider applying to terminal Masters programs so you can pick up a lot of the archaeological research and coursework experience you're missing. Fieldwork is good and important, and I recommend you try to get into a field school in your region of interest** (and while you're there use the time to network with presiding faculty and their current graduate minions), but field experience alone is not enough to get you into a PhD program.

Archaeology is a wonderful field, but it requires a huge amount of dedication and an even huger amount of work. You're going to have to demonstrate to the adcoms that you're willing to put yourself through all that. Being successful in the field of archaeology requires a not insignificant amount of academic masochism. Many people--even those admitted to the top programs--drop out after they complete their Masters degrees, and never make it to PhD. If you want it enough, you will put in the work and you will succeed. Eventually. If you're not willing to do so, you'll probably be much happier in a different field.

I don't mean to be a Negative Nancy about this, I'm just trying to give as realistic a picture as possible. As warpspeed says, many (most, even) people do not understand what archaeology actually entails. I hope you find my advice helpful.

*I should note that one member of my cohort actually completed their undergraduate degree in economics (not too far from business administration). They were able to turn this to their advantage by focusing their research on economic exchange networks of the Mediterranean. Prior to being admitted, however, they spent a year of full-time coursework acquiring the relevant languages followed by a terminal Masters degree in Classical Archaeology. It can be done!

** Shovelbums is a good place to look for names and locations of different field schools and information on applying; the departmental websites of programs you're interested in may have information about field schools that they host, though not all schools bother with or can afford to run a field school in addition to any active digs their faculty may participate in. UCLA usually runs a number of field schools, though it looks like from their website they may not be doing that this year (budget problems no doubt. Poor California!).

Edited by Archaeo_Anon
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I speak very good Mandarin and Cantonese (the two largest Chinese dialects) with very minimal reading and writing skills. My Japanese languages skills are mediocre being I have decent comprehension, below average speaking, poor reading and writing. My Korean languages skills are basic and since the reading and writing are fairly simple i can write and read well (i won't understand what i'm reading or writing without a larger vocabulary). I'm not exactly sure yet what region i want to specialize in but i do enjoy both Korean and Japanese culture but I find Chinese history the most intriguing.

Sadly, i've never actually traveled or been on vacation. I didn't have much money or free time growing up. During my undergrad, i tested the waters in many different majors. I ended up in Business Administration studying business law and minoring in Japanese (did not finish writing my thesis). Every summer instead of travelling or going on vacation i decided to take language classes or classes for me to catch up to finishing on time. Every term i maxed out 20 credits sometimes i managed to slip in up to 23 credits without paying any extra.

I have decided it is a lot more logical to go for my Masters first. One to raise my GPA, two further my education in the field of anthropology/archaeology, and three it gives me to build in field work experience and recommendations.

I'm not looking to wear a cool hat coupled with a bullwhip if you guys think that's the reason i'm getting into this. I have a fascination with languages/cultures/history/traveling/ and finding things that explain the past, present and possibly future. I also am really interested in middle eastern history/archaeology/languages but i can't have it all.

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I speak very good Mandarin and Cantonese (the two largest Chinese dialects) with very minimal reading and writing skills. My Japanese languages skills are mediocre being I have decent comprehension, below average speaking, poor reading and writing. My Korean languages skills are basic and since the reading and writing are fairly simple i can write and read well (i won't understand what i'm reading or writing without a larger vocabulary). I'm not exactly sure yet what region i want to specialize in but i do enjoy both Korean and Japanese culture but I find Chinese history the most intriguing.

Sadly, i've never actually traveled or been on vacation. I didn't have much money or free time growing up. During my undergrad, i tested the waters in many different majors. I ended up in Business Administration studying business law and minoring in Japanese (did not finish writing my thesis). Every summer instead of travelling or going on vacation i decided to take language classes or classes for me to catch up to finishing on time. Every term i maxed out 20 credits sometimes i managed to slip in up to 23 credits without paying any extra.

I have decided it is a lot more logical to go for my Masters first. One to raise my GPA, two further my education in the field of anthropology/archaeology, and three it gives me to build in field work experience and recommendations.

I'm not looking to wear a cool hat coupled with a bullwhip if you guys think that's the reason i'm getting into this. I have a fascination with languages/cultures/history/traveling/ and finding things that explain the past, present and possibly future. I also am really interested in middle eastern history/archaeology/languages but i can't have it all.

[/quote

Most masters programs won't even let you in without a field school or CRM experience (the catch being that most CRM firms won't let you in without field school). A couple of weeks of vacation days will not give you enough experience at a site to constitute being in a field school - most field schools are intensive programs 9-5 6 week or more programs. You could possibly get into a masters program in anthropology and then hope that archaeo. profs in the dept take mercy on you and let you join in on their stuff as well (some schools will let you cross tracks if you can give them an explanation as to why).

Also, as all my archaeology friends tell me every time I think about stepping into their ring - archaeology is not about liking cultures/traveling/or an interest in the past. Its about spending 10 hours a day in the dirt, in the heat of the day at a crappy camping post with no hot water, looking for fragments of a pot, or some charred earth... then taking those fragments and plugging away endlessly into a computer different numbers and mapping information.

If that all still sounds good to you - more power to you. I think its awesome you wanna cross over, and that you're willing to do so much hard work to get into a field you enjoy.

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Most masters programs won't even let you in without a field school or CRM experience (the catch being that most CRM firms won't let you in without field school).

That's not necessarily true. While most masters programs would certainly appreciate field school/field research in your background, for many of them having field experience on your CV is just one of many possible indicators that you have thought about and really committed yourself to your field of interest. Back in my grad app days, I was admitted to several masters programs without any actual excavation experience under my belt. I know a fair number of other people pursuing graduate studies in archaeology for whom the situation was similar. Relevant coursework in combination with other research experience (i.e. to prove you have narrowed down your research interests to something specific that they can work with) should also be adequate. For many programs, proven dedication to your research topic and area of interest is preferable to willy-nilly attending a field school anywhere. Archaeological practice can vary pretty drastically from one site to the next, never mind one continent to the next, and participating in any field school that's convenient may not give you the requisite skills for your research area. Most adcoms will most likely be sympathetic to the fact that not everyone has the resources to dig in their area of interest before participating in graduate research. You will need to pick up field experience along the way, of course, but this is often possible to do during the course of your masters work. I'm not sure I could recommend trying to apply to a PhD program without field experience, but I have seen it done successfully, so you never know.

Also, as all my archaeology friends tell me every time I think about stepping into their ring - archaeology is not about liking cultures/traveling/or an interest in the past. Its about spending 10 hours a day in the dirt, in the heat of the day at a crappy camping post with no hot water, looking for fragments of a pot, or some charred earth... then taking those fragments and plugging away endlessly into a computer different numbers and mapping information.

People also often forget that there is a huge theoretical component as well as just digging and number crunching, as well as a lot of linguistic and textual familiarity that has to be cultivated if you work in an area where there are extant texts, and/or a serious sociocultural anthropological component if you work in the New World, since so much of the work there has to be done through ethnographic/ethnohistorical reference. Professional academic archaeologists really have to be jacks of all trades, both able to hack it in sub-par conditions in the dirt for three months out of the year, and then turn around and be competent, insightful scientists and scholars the other nine months of the year. It's definitely a grueling lifestyle for anyone.

Mmace, I admire that you are taking this so seriously, and are putting together a realistic plan for how to get from point A to point B. That sort of attitude is really what's required here. A few tips: I do recommend you try taking a few basic archaeology classes first before you try applying for a masters program if for no other reason so that you can start to get a feel for the field and make sure it really is what you expect it to be before committing so much time/money/stress to a graduate program. You may also want to start narrowing your focus to specific geographic areas and specific research questions. Once you're in a program you will have some latitude to switch your focus elsewhere (people often do, as they get more exposure to what's what in the field), so don't worry about being committed to that one topic forever. Adcoms just want something solid to assess your fit with the program in terms of compatibility of interests (i.e. to see if you can be useful to any of their faculty), so going in with a vague "I'm interested in these cultures" or "I find x culture intriguing" probably won't fly. You may also find it beneficial to work on your Chinese/Japanese reading skills since the ability to read monographs and site reports from other, local archaeologists is one of the major reasons why archaeologists have to learn so many languages.

Otherwise, good luck with the graduate process, and keep us updated! I would like to hear how you do in the future.

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Also, if I may just throw out some recommendations for really basic introductory texts to help orient yourself in terms of what archaeology is all about, Archaeological Theory: An Introduction by Matthew Johnson is a fantastic, easily comprehensible* overview of the development of archaeological theory in the 20th-21st centuries and the major schools of thought. Colin Renfrew's Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice is also a popular introductory text for the more practical side of things. It does touch on theory somewhat, but not in the same way that Johnson does.

*Comprehensibility is more of a virtue than you can probably yet appreciate, if you've never read anything by Lewis Binford. DON'T WORRY. YOU WILL.

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I just applied to a dig in Mongolia that was accepting volunteers. It just so happened that through networking, apparently a friend of a friend of a friend is on that dig and told me to inquire to the director before i applied. I did that and the director got back to me saying their roster is full. He told me that i should apply anyway since people have dropped out in the past. I just sent in my application. I'm not expecting anything but i'm hoping for the best. Deadline is February 20th and its full already, i guess that isn't surprising.

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I just applied to a dig in Mongolia that was accepting volunteers. It just so happened that through networking, apparently a friend of a friend of a friend is on that dig and told me to inquire to the director before i applied. I did that and the director got back to me saying their roster is full. He told me that i should apply anyway since people have dropped out in the past. I just sent in my application. I'm not expecting anything but i'm hoping for the best. Deadline is February 20th and its full already, i guess that isn't surprising.

I wish you all the best! Keep us posted.

Have you thought about doing a second bachelor's degree (this time in Archaeology) if you don't get accepted to a master's program?

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Have you thought about doing a second bachelor's degree (this time in Archaeology) if you don't get accepted to a master's program?

I think this is an excellent idea. If you don't have any luck in your first round of apps, mmace, this is definitely something to consider.

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I am posting this just because I am tired and anxious from constantly checking the "Results" page for the schools I feel are doomed to reject me.

You seemed to have been bitten by the anthropology bug like I was two years ago when I decided to go back and earn another bachelors degree. Other gave me the same advice: either take a large amount of classes, enough for a minor, and (important) get some relevant experience before applying for a graduate school, or put in the time to earn another degree and be that much further ahead. If you started now you could probably do it in less than two years with all of your previous bachelors work transferred in for credits. Your original degree is different enough to warrant this, unless you made the case to go into socio-cultural anthropology and study local economies or the ethnography of corporations.

However, I would advise adding another degree for two reasons. You'll get more time to develop new contacts, and because you can graduate with a new and more recent GPA.

Sometimes I think I'm crazy for wanting to continue (especially now with results waiting) but I do it because I think I am better wired for anthropology than I am for other career exploits. It's about my survival...

Edited by mutualist007
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You are starting from rock bottom.

First, get some archaeology courses under your belt now - grad level if possible, the highest level you can handle otherwise. It is very very very important that you do very well in these classes - a B-average will not help you. Prove that you have the passion, discipline, and talent to succeed at the academics. If you can show 5-6 classes with a 3.5+ GPA they might not care about your undergrad.

Second, get in the dirt as soon as possible. If you are in the US you are probably not too far from some groups accepting volunteers, whether the sites are historic, contact period, whatever - many of the techniques will transfer over, and you just need to demonstrate that you can do the work. Many of the people will be hobbyists, but there will be a few professionals as well. Get involved, help out, seek advice, try to dig in as far as you can. Make it clear to the pro's that you are interested in getting your PhD - they might be able to open some doors for you.

Third, get into a field school. It will be expensive, but it will be a step up. If you did the volunteer thing, you will be advanced in the group and can spend some time impressing a higher caliber of better-connected professionals. Keep demonstrating competence and building contacts.

Fourth, go after a masters program. Baby steps, but I would not recommend a new bachelors degree until you try at least 2 admissions cycles at the grad level. You may have to pay for this degree, especially with your undergrad GPA, but if you want the PhD this is probably a necessary step.

Fifth... PhD applications.

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That's not necessarily true. While most masters programs would certainly appreciate field school/field research in your background, for many of them having field experience on your CV is just one of many possible indicators that you have thought about and really committed yourself to your field of interest. Back in my grad app days, I was admitted to several masters programs without any actual excavation experience under my belt. I know a fair number of other people pursuing graduate studies in archaeology for whom the situation was similar. Relevant coursework in combination with other research experience (i.e. to prove you have narrowed down your research interests to something specific that they can work with) should also be adequate.

That's why I said most and not all. It is possible, but its not the most common thing and/or the general rule. Nothing is impossible if you find the right school/right person to plead your case to.

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There are fantastic suggestions on here, and people are certainly being real. It is hard to just jump into the field if you didn't do something related to it for your BA. That being said, I have seen people get into archaeology and be very successful in it despite having completely unrelated fields for the BA. But, it means you gotta really work hard to get there. As people have said, take classes, attend lectures, attend annual meetings, do whatever you can to get to know the people in your field. My BA was in a field not directly related to my PhD application, however things are wide open for me now because of extensive networking and field work directly related to my field of interest. For you, thats the best thing you can do. If you're going to dig, apply to digs in your field of interest, don't waste your time with digs in other areas unless its a last resort. Don't give up the opportunity to dig, of course, but really make sure you're aiming high and getting to digs in your field.

If you do get to a dig that interests you, try and stay connected with that dig. I have been working 4 seasons (5th this summer) with one single site. My work at this site has made it so now I am a core staff member of the project. This has really added to my credibility for the application and has made it possible for them to look past my less than stellar stats.

Back to being realistic. Be prepared to not get into the best schools, a GPS less than 3 is a real hinderance and there isn't much you can do about that. If you do get into a big name school, you're going to face little or no funding because you won't be as competitive as others applicants who may have really high stats.

Be positive, and pursue your dreams. I am six years out of my BA and am just now applying for further studies. I applied right out of my undergrad to do Assyriology studies at Yale, but I didn't get anywhere with it and just started working, but I did keep up with the archaeology on my own dime. So.. best of luck to you, and here I am waiting myself to see what comes of my applications this fall.

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That's why I said most and not all. It is possible, but its not the most common thing and/or the general rule. Nothing is impossible if you find the right school/right person to plead your case to.

Fair enough. Though the fact remains that the general assumption is that it's required, which is probably why I read this as your meaning. I can't speak to any "general rules" since I'm neither on every adcom nor able to keep statistics on such things, but I'm not sure it's really correct to say that getting into Masters programs without field experience is rare enough to call it a fluke. Is field experience preferable? Sure. Is it a good idea if you can manage it? Absolutely. I've just found it to be the case that the qualities that field experience expresses about an applicant can be achieved in other ways, and that trying to acquire any field experience at all without regard to its applicability to your region or subject of focus may not necessarily help applicants as much as they may think. If an applicant has to choose between volunteering at a local dig that has nothing to do with their area of focus other than just being a dig, and working on a research project which will get them in contact with texts and site reports directly related to their area of focus but which provides no field experience...the latter will probably give them more of an edge.

Ymmv, obviously, since the relative difficulty of digging in certain regions without being attached to an academic research team and the quality of research experience available to non-graduate students is going to vary pretty widely from focal area to focal area. The point being, applicants-to-be should weigh their options and proceed thoughtfully rather than just jumping into anything archaeological at all because it's just "what's done". No one applicant characteristic or experience on the ol' CV is the be-all and end-all, and many things can contribute to a winning application; so applicants who just can't swing field school, for example, shouldn't lose heart, and applicants who have been to ten field schools but done very little to further their experience with their desired research focus shouldn't feel smug. It's not a case of finding the right school/person to "plead your case to", but rather figuring out how to make yourself a stronger candidate from a holistic perspective.

Edited by Archaeo_Anon
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Be positive, and pursue your dreams. I am six years out of my BA and am just now applying for further studies. I applied right out of my undergrad to do Assyriology studies at Yale, but I didn't get anywhere with it and just started working, but I did keep up with the archaeology on my own dime. So.. best of luck to you, and here I am waiting myself to see what comes of my applications this fall.

Good luck, Neshmi! I understand that most of the UCs make their decisions around the end of January-beginning of February, so hopefully you will get some good news soon!

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Good luck, Neshmi! I understand that most of the UCs make their decisions around the end of January-beginning of February, so hopefully you will get some good news soon!

Thanks! I have a pending interview (they will contact me to give me dates and arrange the flights), so that is very good! It is possible that I will even get a decision before the interview since the interview seems to do more with funding and some of the interdisciplinary centers on campus. I'm waiting for the next round of news, hopefully today! :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you're going to dig, apply to digs in your field of interest, don't waste your time with digs in other areas unless its a last resort. Don't give up the opportunity to dig, of course, but really make sure you're aiming high and getting to digs in your field.

Actually, in my experience, field experience in the geographic area of interest is less than essential. I still haven't been to "my" field, and I've been accepted into some top schools. (Though I'll be going this summer, with one of my POIs.) Getting field experience at all should be your first priority, and there are a lot of local opportunities to accomplish this without getting into serious debt.

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I have to agree with most everyone else in saying that another degree in Anthropology will be your best choice. Most programs want at least a 3.0 in Anthropology courses and a 1000 combined on the GRE for the minimum acceptance requirements. I will say that I would make sure it's what you really want to do though, Archaeology turns out to be a lot different than most people realize. I have volunteered on several digs where people come out and are very excited to get started, but then after a day or two they don't ever show up again. I would check your states archaeological society website and see if they have anything about volunteer days. Where I'm from we have several every year where anyone can come out and help and get pointers. It's hard work, but if you love it it is more then worth it.

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