Careers for archaeology graduates
Comments by Archaeology Alumni
Archaeologists are renowned for the passionate pursuit of their vocation throughout their lifetime. Archaeology graduates often find that the skills acquired during their degree course equip them to tackle a broad range of other careers. Here are some comments from a few of them:
“Working for the Royal Academy of Dance may not be a typical career path for an archaeology graduate, but my degree has definitely helped me get there. Studying archaeology made me fundamentally aware of the arts and heritage sector, particularly in terms of policy and politics, giving me a strong foothold for a career in this area. Archaeology also trained me to assess arguments and weigh up different points of view to form my own opinions. I had the opportunity to conduct research, to explore ideas and to debate, skills that I use on a daily basis. An archaeology degree gave me the opportunity to learn, travel and explore the world both past and present. I may not spend my days with a trowel, but studying archaeology paved the way to my present career.”
London Academy of Dance, BA 2009
“Archaeology and museums go hand in hand. However, there is more to museum work than simply curating the collections excavated by our predecessors. I am responsible for organising the movement of collections. This means I can be installing an art work in the city gallery one day and digging through stores at the industrial museum the next. I even get the occasional jaunt abroad to baby sit travelling collections. Whilst the 'real' archaeology I deal with regularly is limited to the accession of an odd excavated spur fragment, I constantly use the skills and knowledge I gained during my degree studies. An essential part of my job is ensuring that the museum engages in ethical practice. My knowledge of social theory, interpretation and reasoning skills all help out here. Museums need archaeologists, not just in the curatorial roles, but because they truly understand the need and purpose of museums and their collections. And what do you get out of it? Not the money, obviously, but an exciting, vibrant work environment and a daily work-load that is never the same twice.”
Cassia Pennington, BA 2009, trainee museum registrar, Royal Armouries Museum and Leeds Museums and Galleries.
“I would love to say that hours spent in the pub during my formative years at Cambridge prepared me for dealing with drunks on a Friday night in Chelsea, that long afternoons poring over Neo-Assyrian manuscripts prepared me for slaving over arrest notes, or that excavating obsidian blades in a Neolithic city somehow gave me insight as to where naughty boys hide their knives. Alas, they did not!
However, the sheer range of topics covered, the intensity of discussion and the standard of teaching give all Cambridge archaeology students an instinctive aptitude
or investigating and solving problems. An archaeology degree is for life, not just for Christmas. It doesn't necessarily mean that you are destined to a life of digging in a hole, or exiled to a dusty museum storeroom. Yet it does provide you with a special skill set that has ensured that my peers and I have established ourselves as everything from police officers to teachers to accountants to surveyors. More importantly, it was an awful lot of fun.”
London Metropolitan Police, BA 2007
“I studied Archaeology because I had always been fascinated by old things in the ground. I am now a concert and opera singer as I have sung since the age of four and I love performing. Music and Archaeology do not necessarily go hand in hand but they both captivate me. A fascination for Archaeology is sufficient to make a degree exciting and to make you want to enrich yourself by enquiring further knowledge. In the world of music talent alone is not enough. You also need something more to say. People want to hear your personality too. Indeed, I can't tell you the number of times an audience member has asked me after a performance, “So…you studied Archaeology, tell me about it I'd love to have studied Archaeology” and fifteen minutes later after extolling the virtues of digging early colonial sites in the Caribbean or uncovering mediaeval hospitals under the shadow of York Minster I have almost forgotten I am a singer at all. Furthermore, I work a great deal in 18th Century repertoire and this often involves enormous amounts of library research unearthing unpublished music scores. If Archaeology concerns reconstructing the past through its waste, I can't see how much closer one can get than digging up discarded arias in illegible, faded ink.
That I became a singer and not an archaeologist is immaterial. What matters is that I did something beyond my known territory and that has only served to enrich what I now do. My advice to anyone considering Archaeology is to follow your heart and it will lead you to a life more interesting.”
Iestyn Davies, Opera Singer, BA 2002
“A degree in Archaeology followed by four years postgraduate study specialising in the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition and the domestication of animals, might not seem the obvious route into history teaching, but for me it was perfect! Archaeology encompasses all that is great about history/studying the past, but combines it with practical research - literally getting your hands dirty! With my particular interest in prehistory, archaeology was the obvious choice for undergraduate and postgraduate study.
Now, as a teacher, I do not question the background that Archaeology has given me; the academic rigour, a broad general knowledge, and an interesting angle on the past. Teaching history has, of course, been a steep learning curve (in terms of the topics and content), but the skill set is much the same (evidence analysis, essay writing, etc.), and archaeology remains my foremost interest and passion.”
Laura Pugsley, Head of Lower School, Haileybury, BA 1998, PhD 2003
“I cannot pretend that a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology has been of any practical use in my subsequent life. In the course of a career that has spanned mergers and acquisitions in Eastern Europe, railroad infrastructure projects in the Australian Outback, defence technology, the Foreign Office and small business mentoring, it has not opened the door to political office, corporate Bentley or TV studio. Yet I do not regret for one minute the three years I spent studying the origins of agriculture and the evolution of mankind. My Cambridge education instilled many valuable and enduring lessons for professional and personal life. However, the most lasting legacy of my Cambridge degree and one that gives me daily pleasure is that on every walk and car journey I can regard the landscape with a trained eye - to trace the bones of our past, visible under the skin of the present.”
Nicola Savage, BA 1980, Director of a company which mentors SMEs
“There are more options to those with an archaeology degree than being perpetually covered in mud at the bottom of a trench. My training has helped me at every stage of my career - in Government, the Health and Safety Executive and now the commercial insurance world. The subject encompasses such a wide range of disciplines and analytical techniques - human and physical sciences, geography, evolution, statistics and scientific techniques - it gives you a far wider knowledge base than most. All I had learned about dating techniques came in handy when I found myself in charge of policy for nuclear safety. Now, in the insurance industry, grappling with the consequences of climate change, my studies of humans and the environment is still relevant today.”
Nick Starling, Director, General Insurance and Health, Association of British Insurers, BA 1977, DPhil (Oxon) 1983
“I came to Cambridge in 1972 having worked on excavations for 6 years so I thought I knew all about archaeology: I soon found I didn't! A number of key memories stand out:
Brian Hope Taylor showing a slide of an apparently “empty” field followed by another which showed all the features of the Anglo-Saxon royal palace of Yeavering - a wonderful piece of “technical” excavation; discussing with David Clarke the possibilities for understanding past societies that the “New Archaeology” opened up; and Glyn Daniel keeping us spell bound by the stories of the “founding fathers” of 20th century archaeology. I also remember hours of discussion with other students, researchers and staff, all engaged with and passionate about archaeology. It was a wonderful and stimulating experience. Intellectual debate was often fierce but there was always an ear for people who came up with better arguments and other perspectives.
It’s now 30 years since I swapped my trowel for higher education leadership and management but the skills and intellectual rigour I learnt at Cambridge still stand me in good stead. People often remark that I always want “the evidence” for any argument and an appreciation of other cultures has helped me quickly come to terms with different “academic tribes” as well as how different sectors - health, local authorities and the for profit sectors operate. I have been lucky to have managed national and international projects, led innovation and change and helped individuals and teams reach their full potential. I believe that a huge part of that success is due to the intellectual development my time at Cambridge stimulated. I also made lifelong friends and ignited a curiosity about the world that I am glad to say never seems to go away.”
Susanne Haselgrove, BA 1975, MLitt 1981. Business Owner, Susanne Haselgrove and Associates (Higher Education Consultancy)