The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, April 4, 2011

SAA Annual Meeting

So, I spent the weekend at the Society for American Archaeology's annual meeting. This is the reason why there was no post on Friday, and only this abbreviated one today. I will try to get back to regular posting soon.

I missed the first two days of the meeting (damn work!), but here's a few thoughts on what I did see:

- Unlike the Society for California Archaeology's annual meetings, which tend to be a mix of research and Cultural Resource Management folks and have plenty that directly applies to both, the SAA meetings are primarily research oriented, despite the SAAs efforts to include CRM content. This is a mixed deal - on the one hand, it means that I get less professional value from the meeting. On the other hand, it means that I get to take a break from my professional life (and the stresses contained therein) and take a mental vacation, where I remember why archaeology is fun.

- It was very good to see old friends from graduate school (though a bit unnerving to realize that I am the only one who hadn't lost weight post-degree). I hadn't seen most of them in years, and so it was amazing to just get to hear what they have been up to, and to be able to spend a bit of time talking with them.

- One of the things that really struck me is the division between the jack-of-all-traders attitude espoused by CRM archaeologists, and the hyper-specialization espoused by many academic archaeologists. Both have benefits and problems, but while I had always been aware of it, the degree to which this is true really struck me. I talked with people who were shocked and horrified to hear that I have excavated both prehistoric and historic sites, and also with people who were well-trained in many subjects, but only really allowed to practice one of them.

- The first year I attended this conference, it was in Milwaukee, and there was a Mary Kay Cosmetics convention in the same hotel, leading to strangeness. The next year, it was in Salt Lake City, and the bi-annual Mormon convention was going on across the street. This year it was in Sacramento, and there was a cheerleader exposition going on at the same convention center as our conference. Of the three of these, I don't know which was stranger.

- I was again struck, as I pretty much always am, by the fact that so many of the people within academic archaeology are essentially unaware of how small a niche they fill, and that they are not only outnumbered, but vastly outnumbered by CRM archaeologists.

- It was pleasant to hear about archaeology that isn't tied to budget constraints or draconian expressions of regulatory requirements.

So, on the whole, I enjoyed going. I feel strongly tempted to start looking into PhD programs again, though I doubt I will actually go for one. Still, it's nice to find archaeology appealing again.


Evan said...

If you don't mind, I'd be interested in hearing the reasons you doubt you'll end up going into a PhD program soon. Is it simply the added stress that research as well as work would put on your personal life? Are many CRM companies supportive of employees who want to seek their PhD, and willing to work with their schedule to alleviate this stress?

Anthroslug said...

The reasons are pretty simple: 1) the academic job market is, and has always been, terrible. There are far more people granted PhDs every year than academic job openings, and the jobs themselves, in the early stages, pay terribly and put tremendous work demands on a person (once tenured, many academics do alright, though). 2) Given the poor nature of the academic job market, most people who earn PhDs end up in CRM anyway, and CRM doesn't require a PhD, an MA is fine. So, if I did a PhD, I'd likely end up in the same line of work, but several years behind where I would otherwise be, and with a degree that doesn't really help me progress my career. 3) I'm 35, and I don't much relish the idea of spending 5-8 years doing another degree when I could be doing other things with my life. Now, if I were able to work out a way to do it faster (which is possible), and I could figure out a way of paying for it without accruing significantly more debt (less likely), then I might consider it.