Norma O.

Project Archaeologist
Happy to mentor
Happy to be contacted

About me

Norma O.
Archaeology
Medieval Archaeology
Taught Postgraduate
Alcuin
2016
United States

My employment

Project Archaeologist
Trent and Peak Archaeology
United Kingdom
Science and research
Medium-size business (50-249 employees)
2015
£18,000

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A day in the life of a Project Archaeologist in the United Kingdom

What I do

I am a Project Archaeologist for a commercial archaeology company in the East Midlands. Starting off as a general field archaeologist, I now specialise in survey and illustration.

Skills I use and how I developed them

I use a variety of skills in my job. As a field archaeologist, it is first and foremost important to know how to dig stratigraphically and strategically. It is also essential to know how to produce archaeological drawings and photographs and recognise any artefacts that may come out of the ground. I developed these skills as any good archaeologist has- by participating in as many excavations as possible, whether as a free community excavation or as one that I had to pay to participate in.

As a surveyor and illustrator, I am required to have a strong working knowledge of GPS and total station equipment, as well as software such as AutoCAD. For me, it was as simple as letting my site manager know that I was interested into moving more towards this line of work. As a result, I have slowly been given training for it.

What I like most

Archaeology has so many opportunities for specialisation. If you truly enjoy being a digger then there are plenty of opportunities to continue on that career track. However, it is also possible to specialise in other subfields such as landscape and buildings surveying, post-excavation finds processing, geoarchaeology, etc. There is something for everyone

What I like least

Advancement in the industry towards steady employment is still difficult to come by for many people. The early portion of my career (and years into the careers of many people I know) meant 3 month fixed-term contracts at a time with no guarantee for employment beyond that. In addition, most companies have projects all over the country, meaning that you could be sent anywhere for work. If you are the type of person who prefers stability, I can't recommend commercial archaeology for you.

The reality also is that archaeology can be very unexciting. You are outdoors throughout the entire year, whether through freezing winters or boiling summers. Physically, it is a very demanding job that you have to be mentally prepared for.

How I looked for work

I would recommend the British Archaeological Jobs and Resources website as the first place to look for jobs in commercial archaeology. Both of my archaeology jobs here in the UK were advertised on this website. Most entry-level archaeology positions will require you to have some basic experience in excavation, a relevant degree, and a CSCS card at the very least.

Finding work in the UK

Initially, I had no trouble finding employment in the UK as a non-UK/EU person. After completing my course, I still had 4 months left on my student visa, during which time I was allowed to work full-time. It is after this point, however, that things will become increasingly difficult for an international student to find a job that will allow them to stay in the UK. I was fortunate enough to be able to switch to a spousal visa. Most people, however, will have to switch to a Tier 2 visa and it is sad to say that in archaeology, it is next to impossible to gain this visa. In addition to the fact that most entry-level archaeology jobs do not pay the minimum salary requirement to gain a Tier 2 visa, there is only one archaeology company in the country that is on the government sponsorship list. There is also a Tier 5 (temporary worker) visa available. However, this will only allow you to work in the UK for one year to gain experience in your chosen field. You cannot switch to a Tier 2 visa from there. Please see more information on the Tier 5 visa on the University website here https://www.york.ac.uk/students/support/international/after/working/ There is a link to a Tier 5 Toolkit on this page which explains exactly how this visa works and you can talk to Careers staff for more information.

How I found out about the job

BAJR website

The recruitment process

Hardly any entry-level job positions in commercial archaeology will require you to attend a job interview. The majority only require your CV and a cover letter to be sent.

How my visa affected the recruitment process

I am fortunate enough that my visa is not work-dependent so I did not have to approach my employer to ask them to sponsor my visa. I simply provided proof that my current visa automatically grants me the ability to work full-time and that was it.

My career goals when I graduated

I simply wanted to find steady employment! I know that in a few years I will want to apply for a PhD but it was important to me that I gain practical experience out in the field first.

My career history

Towards the end of my undergraduate degree until I moved to the UK for my masters, I worked as a field archaeologist in the States. I then focused all of my efforts on completing my MA degree, while at the same time volunteering in archaeological labs and on excavations. I started my first job as a field archaeologist here in the UK the month after I finished my MA programme.

What has helped my career to progress

Simply taking advantage of all of the opportunities that I could. York has the highest concentration of archaeologists in the country so there is always a way to gain experience as a student here. In order to get a real sense of the diversity of archaeology, try to participate in as many different aspects as possible. In addition to going on as many excavations as possible, try your hand at working in an archaeological lab, learning about geophysical surveying, learn a new type of software.

As the field becomes increasingly technological, familiarity with that technology will make you an invaluable employee.

How my studies have helped my career

I'm not 100% sure that my studies have been key to the progression of my career. What I found more important was the activities beyond the classroom. Getting an MA was just a way for me to delve further in a subject I was very interested in and that I hope to come back to in the future with a PhD.

I will say that any skills courses that are offered are probably going to be the biggest help in future jobs more so than the theoretical courses.

Where I hope to be in 5 years

I hope to be in the midst of my PhD, working towards solidifying myself as a specialist in church archaeology.

My advice to international students looking for work in the UK

Be familiar with the different visa routes available, as they each have their own complicated rules that constantly seem to be changing.

However, the way it currently stands, the reality is that it is extremely difficult to find archaeology and heritage-related work in the UK on the basis of a work visa. Every non-UK/EU person that I personally know working in archaeology is here on a family-related visa or they received a Tier 5 visa but had to leave after their year was up and were not eligible to switch to a Tier 2 from there. Talk to the Careers Service about the options you have.

My advice to students considering work

Be familiar with what the job market demands. Although you may not currently be looking for a job, browse the websites that are advertising positions to see what types of jobs come up most and what skills are the most in-demand. That way, you will be able to tailor your university experience to be as strong of an applicant as possible.

My advice about working in my industry

1) Don't be put off my job advertisements saying that require X-amount of months of experience in commercial archaeology. Research excavations during term-time and the summer months are just as valuable experiences to have, especially if you are just starting out.
2) Get a driver's license if you don't already have one. It is sad to say but sometimes a promotion can come down to whether a person has a license or not.
3) Apply for a CSCS card well before you start looking for jobs, as all commercial archaeology jobs will require you to have one. This card is what allows you to work on construction sites and is a health and safety requirement. Visit the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) webpage for more details on this as there has just been a major overhaul on how to apply for this card.

Contacting me

I'm happy to answer any and all questions, whether you're an international student or from the UK.

Next steps...

If you like the look of Norma’s profile, the next steps are down to you! You can send Norma a message to find out more about their career journey. If you feel you would benefit from more in-depth conversations, ask Norma to be your mentor.

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