Some may argue that undertaking a PhD is starting a career. In some cases this is entirely true. In others, like mine, there comes the inevitable point when your supervisors starts discussing examiners with you, you are frantically working to submit written material for your final 6monthly panel meeting and you are increasingly and uncomfortably aware of the looming end of the beast that has consumed the past 3/4 years of your life.
A couple of months into the 3rd (and final) year of my studies I started applying for jobs. I had guesstimated that it would take a few months of interviews and unanswered applications before I came close to securing myself a job. By that time I would be suitably close to handing in my PhD and could comfortably make that transition from academia into the cut and thrust world of commercial archaeology. To my amazement it was a mere few weeks before I was offered a job. A kink in my otherwise well thought out plan. Although entirely unscheduled, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down and I subsequently did the short term work for the company (taking a few weeks off from PhD work).
What turned this welcome kink into a full on set of ‘S’ bends in my plan was the expansion of my fledging freelance career. A colleague knew a director at a local unit who was in need of a geophysicist on a freelance basis and suggested I get in contact. I figured there was no harm in making contact with the unit (you never know what it may lead to in the future) and hey presto I had a second job…. This contact has continued to provide me with freelance work on an increasing basis.
This is all fantastic and has been an exciting time for me. I have had my eyes opened to the world of commercial archaeology – its ups, its downs, and its shortcuts! Although you hear from your wizened colleagues and lecturers about the commercial world, it really cannot be understood without experiencing it for yourself.
With my final Thesis Advisory Panel swiftly approaching (chapters are due for scrutiny in 2 weeks!) I have been forced to reconsider the career / PhD balance in my life. I have been doing my best to compensate for the time I have taken off from writing to undertake commercial work (I even switched the last 6months of my PhD to part time to accommodate the extra work) but inevitably things have been mildly neglected. I am now facing the challenge of getting back into academic writing, and writing to a level that is acceptable to the higher echelons of “PhD land”. Many procrastinations are looming, Facebook, trips to Hadrian’s Wall etc. (and writing this blog!). The challenge is regaining the focus I had during a rare few days in the middle of doing some commercial work. It was the fact that I only had a couple of days to get some writing done that made me sit down and put words to paper.
So, to all those fledging archaeologists out there – whether you are starting your undergraduate degree later this year or are entering the world of work for the first time – the lesson I have learnt recently is to take the opportunities when they occur but also to know when to say no (nicely!). Know your worth, know your limitations, know your other commitments and have a good grasp of what you can achieve in the time you have. Archaeology is all about who you know and making connections with units and clients outside of the academic bubble is ultimately what will help you get a job better than any hand crafted CV.
Starting a career and leaving the relative safety of academics is scary but it is also exhilarating and exciting. The phrase ‘the beginning of the rest of your life’ is so often a cliche but is so apt in many ways. Starting that career is a major changing point in your life, so embrace it…
…go forth and dig!