Archaeology Graduate Degrees – USA vs. UK

Gloaming King’s Manor

An archaeology PhD is an archaeology PhD, right? Well…kinda. Sorta. Actually, there are tremendous differences between the USA and the UK and when you add differences between institutional practices within countries there are a pretty vast array of experiences available. Is one better than the other? It depends on what you expect your CV to look like at the end of your program and what your goals are at the end of your PhD.

Brief translation note: USA calls it graduate school, UK = postgraduate study. In the USA you write your Master’s Thesis and your PhD dissertation, in the UK you write a Master’s dissertation and a PhD thesis. Lecturers in the UK are Assistant Professors in the USA. Confused yet? I’m going to mostly use the USA nomenclature for this post.

Again, I will emphasize that a lot of this is my own personal experience, not the result of a proper longitudinal study so your mileage may vary, objects may be closer than they appear in the mirror, take with a grain of salt, etc.

I received my MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, which in the USA is considered an R1 research institution. This is a designation for institutions with the highest level of research in the USA, so my experience may already vary considerably from other USA institutions. (For more about post-PhD destinations and universities in the USA & Canada, check out this article)

Applications

At the outset, a major difference between the UK and USA is the application process. In the USA prospective students must take the GRE, a standardized test that costs $205 to take. Many students also take a specialist GRE course to train to take the test. The GRE is not required in the UK. At York you must give us samples of your writing, pass a certain academic standard and come recommended.

USA prospective students also pay to apply to programs. It is currently $105 to apply to Berkeley if you are an American citizen, International students pay $125. You also have to pay for your University to forward your transcripts. It is not unusual to pay over $1000 to apply to USA programs. There aren’t any fees to apply in the UK.

It is also highly competitive to apply for PhDs in the USA (I have no idea about Master’s). Several hundred people apply to the PhD program in Anthropology at Berkeley each year and only a small percentage receive a place, and an even smaller percentage receive funding. The stats are probably similar to Harvard’s Anthropology PhD program, about 4% acceptance rate.

At York if you apply for a named, funded PhD (usually associated with an existing research project and advertised on Jobs.ac.uk), there is a competitive application process with interviews, etc. If you are applying as an unfunded PhD, you must approach a faculty member with a research project and then you work together to see if it is a feasible PhD project and you either stump up the cash or try to get funding. I’m not going to get into funding too much as it is a changing landscape (particularly with *rexit and *rump) but here’s some information on funding for Master’s and PhDs at York.

The Master’s Degree

My USA Master’s degree was also integrated into my PhD–it was considered the first year of study in the program which is common at USA research institutions. This mildly annoyed some other graduate students who had gone elsewhere to receive their Master’s degrees first. My MA consisted of two semesters (terms) of coursework followed up by a written and oral examination, which is different than non-integrated USA Master’s degrees (called terminal degrees), which can be either 1 or 2 years. All students in the cohort took History and Theory of Archaeology and Archaeological Research Strategies, both team taught by two of the archaeology faculty. No dissertation, but collectively the papers I wrote easily hit the word count required for a UK dissertation (15,000 – 20,000 words).

At York our Master’s degrees are either 1 year full time or 2 years part time. We offer a wide range of MA and MSc degrees ranging from Digital Heritage to Field ArchaeologyPrehistory, Historical Archaeology, Medieval Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Management, Bioarchaeology, Conservation Studies, and several others. These are all led by faculty program directors and have both specialist overview courses and shorter methods-based courses that are open to any Master’s student. For example, I usually get a lot of Cultural Heritage Management and a few Buildings Archaeology students in my Analysis and Visualisation course which is an overview of the main digital technologies used for archaeological interpretation and they generally are quite interested in recording with photogrammetry, 3D reconstruction, that sort of thing as applied to buildings.

The PhD

My PhD process was, even amongst my own cohort, singular. So I’ll try to move into generalizations as much as possible, but given that there is so much variation, you’d best do your own investigations.

USA PhDs take a long time. At Berkeley, the average is 8.1 years. When I tell my UK peers that it took me 7 years to finish, they are usually aghast. I am obviously a slacker or inept (which is probably true) because a full-time UK PhD takes, in theory, 3 years (6 years part-time).

At Berkeley there is a progression process that involves a first year Master’s, writing your field statements (three long literature reviews), a second year review (I don’t even remember this), then writing your dissertation prospectus. You take coursework for at least three years, and there is a public archaeology outreach requirement at Berkeley as well. And you have to prove proficient at a second language. And a pedagogy class. Degrees also usually involve a couple of seasons of fieldwork and sometimes artefact processing so…it can take a while.

At the end of your third year you take your oral qualifying exams. The oral exams are things of legend–I realized that my examiners had 150 years of collective experience. It was pretty awesome, actually–four extremely smart women discussed my research for three hours then we all ate blackberry cobbler together.  After advancing to candidacy comes…(wavy hands)…the dissertation writing years. The final defense is a public lecture.

At York (and from what I have heard at other UK institutions) we have thesis advisory panels that consist of your supervisor and at least one additional member of staff. These panels are twice a year and at your second and fourth meeting the panel decides if you have done enough to progress with your degree. After the first meeting, you must submit material at each of these panels. The PhD students also have training workshops to prepare them for both academic and non-academic jobs.

A few other quirks:

  • UK institutions are quite happy to have undergraduate students who continue on to their Master’s, then PhD, and sometimes even lecturing in the same institution. In the USA it is rare that you will be accepted to the same institution where you completed your undergraduate degree.
  • In the USA you can and are sometimes expected to take coursework in other departments. I had some outstanding courses from the Berkeley Centre for New Media, including The Social Life of New Media taught by the delightful Nancy Van House.
  • Some USA PhDs are required to have “outside advisors” who are either from a different department or another institution. Nancy Van House (from the School of Information) was mine.
  • UK PhDs are generally expected to get 1-2 postdocs before landing a lectureship, whereas USA PhDs can get hired straight into a position. But sometimes they have to adjunct for a while first.

USA vs. UK?

If I could do it all again? It’s actually hard to imagine. I think a UK Master’s degree would have prepared me pretty well for a USA PhD or if I had wanted to continue as a commercial archaeologist. And I have to say I’m pretty stoked about our Digital Heritage & Archaeology Information Systems degrees. We get lots of American students too, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Maybe more now that taxes on USA grad students may rise 400%!

Though it took (relatively) aaaages, the coursework made the USA PhD magical. The Senses of Place course was team-taught by Rosemary Joyce & Ruth Tringham whose combined brilliance cannot be understated. The aforementioned Social Life of New Media. Lithic Technology by the legendary Steve Shackley who assigned absolute (obsidian-filled) mountains of reading. Even the undergraduate courses at Berkeley were incredible–I sat in on Laura Nader’s Controlling Processes, a class that was completely worthy of Berkeley’s fiery, radical reputation and is obviously resonant today.

Basically if you can get a fully-funded PhD position at an R1 institution in the USA (and have a decade to spare and can figure out the taxes), go for it. But if you want a very directed course, no GREs or up-front fees, that takes a fraction of the time, a UK Master’s or PhD may be for you.

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Archaeology Undergraduate Degrees – USA vs. UK

As I become more familiar with the UK-style Archaeology undergraduate degree, I can’t help but compare it to my USA undergraduate education. Obviously n=1 is a small sample size and this is all painted in very broad strokes, but I thought it might be instructive for others, as I had very little idea of the differences before I changed continents.

I attended the University of Texas, Austin, which is a very large, public university. By very large I mean over 50,000 students and over 24,000 staff. I received two undergraduate BA degrees, in Anthropology and Asian Studies with a minor in Japanese language–I wanted to study the Jomon > Yayoi transition in Japan, but…strayed. That’s beside the point! I received a fairly standard USA liberal arts degree, which means that I studied anthropology and archaeology, sure, but most of my classes were in other subjects such as Astronomy, English, and, for example, a fantastic class on Korean New Wave cinema. Out of the 40 (!!) different courses I took, I had 4 archaeology-specific classes, not including field school and other volunteering gigs. I also taught at the University of California, Berkeley which is a similar size to UT, so some of my experience stems from that equally large, public USA university.

At the University of York, our undergraduate students study archaeology from beginning to end–every single class they take is specific to archaeology. You can specialize in Heritage, Bioarchaeology, Historical Archaeology, or focus on more science-based (BSc) or humanities-based (BA) Archaeology in general. The standard course in the UK is 3 years long, not the 4 year course I took in the USA. York Students take the same, Archaeology-focussed courses at first, then have some choice in specialization later on, say in Ancient DNA, Visual Media in Archaeology, Historic Houses, Battlefield Archaeology, Neanderthals, Medieval Africa, World Mummification among others. There are a lot more faculty as well, 36+ lecturers at York vs., for example, 9 at Berkeley and 8 at UT (though others in Classics, Near Eastern Studies, etc). UK terms are shorter, 10 weeks vs 15 weeks long in autumn, spring & summer, but unlike in the USA, summer is not optional.

I enjoyed my USA undergraduate degree(s), and there are strong arguments to be had in anthropologically-based archaeological learning, but I’m also very impressed by the breadth and depth of the learning of UK-based archaeology undergraduate students. When I teach 3rd year UK undergraduates they have the same level of understanding as Master’s students in the USA and their reading (in my special topic course at least) is entirely peer-reviewed journal articles. I also made the entire second-year cohort read Ingold, but I wouldn’t necessary recommend it. In theory, USA liberal arts degrees seem to prepare students more broadly for general enrichment (and employment, I suppose) but the UK Archaeology undergraduates certainly seem to do just fine in subjects beyond archaeology, continuing on in law, education, biology, etc.

Other differences include simple things, like books. In the USA, I regularly had $300 book bills each semester (keep in mind this was in the early 2000s before pirated books were available). UK students pretty much expect to have access to all of their course materials from the library and we get major complaints if we don’t have enough copies or if the reading isn’t electronic.

There is also much Much MUCH more contact for UK students than I had–each year I am assigned 5-6 undergraduate supervisees whom I (in theory–they don’t always show up) meet at least twice per term. I meet many other students in office hours, particularly while teaching courses to the entire cohort. We keep close track of and accommodate for student disabilities, are trained in mental health first-aid, and with cohorts of 80-100 students each year, get to know students pretty well. This is probably less different for students who attend small liberal arts colleges in the USA. All of the other undergraduate students in UK courses are generally in the same year and are Archaeology students rather than the large USA Introduction to Archaeology courses (300+ students!), with a very small fraction of students who are actually interested in or have any background in archaeology.

Another difference (which may vary considerably within the UK) is that students learn archaeological field skills from commercial archaeologists, rather than from graduate students or other undergraduates as is often the case in the USA. Also USA students pay extra fees to attend field schools whereas the UK field school is part of the degree.

USA vs. UK if I could do it all again? Well, I wouldn’t trade some of the UT courses I had for the world–Dr. Maria Franklin’s African American Material and Expressive Culture changed my life. I had no idea what I wanted to focus on when I began my degree and I fully explored the broad scope UT had to offer. But if I had known that I wanted to be an archaeologist, I probably would have benefitted from the intense focus available in a UK Archaeology degree. And it might have been cheaper! Let me know if you are an American considering a UK university.

Coming soon, the postgraduate follow-up post!

 

 

 

New Adventure: Lecturer in Digital Archaeology & Heritage at York

After a series of tough decisions, I am extremely happy to announce that from 1 September, I’ll be the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology & Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. For USA-folks, this is basically a tenure-track position, but without the tenure process. Kinda.

I am very happy to continue to work with my great friends and colleagues there…expect shenanigans of the highest order.

Come visit!

Truth & Beauty Bombs: The personal/political/poetics of online communication in #archaeology

I was very happy to keynote last week’s first ever Twitter archaeology conference, Public Archaeology Twitter Conference, hosted by Dr. Lorna Richardson. I chose to speak on how to find meaning in online discourse in an increasingly noisy world. I collected the tweets on Storify:

And here’s a PDF:

https://www.academia.edu/32770184/Truth_and_Beauty_Bombs_The_personal_political_poetics_of_online_communication_in_archaeology

 

 

Academic Productivity: To do Lists

I’m not some kind of time management guru, and I don’t generally advise people to try to optimize themselves to better conform to our insane system of fast capitalism in academia. And I’m not the most amazing always on time person…but I’ve gotten better and this method of curating a single to do list has helped. And I get asked about it occasionally, so I decided to punch out 15 minutes to explain the process.

If I don’t put something on a list then I don’t do it. I tried apps, the bullet method of journaling, all of them seemed to take away time from actually doing things. With a baby in my life, I have even less time to mess around. A lot of people have various “lifehacks” and productivity schemes and I might have picked this method up from one of those, I honestly don’t remember. The best lifehack is to stop reading lifehacks and get shit done. Importantly, I also manage my google calendar heavily and automatically. A lot of my schedule is timetabled automatically by my institution, so I rely on it to tell me where to go and when.

I have a document that hangs out on my desktop. It is almost always open. Title it something fun. Mine is “TO DO LIST…FOR THE AGES.” I separate this list out into time chunks and then I break down tasks I need to do into chunks that will fit into these time slots.

Urgent/TODAY – this category has the things that need to be done over everything else. This is ONLY for hard deadlines. Letters of recommendation, things that will genuinely screw you (or someone else) up if you don’t do them that day. Nothing stays in this category for longer than a day, because obviously you get it done.

15 minutes – this is where a lot of admin lurks, things like booking hotels, flights, invoices, but also securing permissions for images for publications, emailing students with literature for their dissertations, etc. If you find yourself with a free 15 minutes, open the list and do one of these things. This is the “survival mode” category where you have way too many things to do all the time.

An hour – This is where I have things that take more thought, like teaching, writing, reading, etc. The trick is, if you have an hour, do NOT do anything on your 15 minute list, because then you get caught up in an endless cycle of admin and you never do research. An hour is sacred, enough time to write 500-1000 words or read a few research articles. I used to have a 2+ hour category pre-baby. Now, not so much. If you have longer than an hour, keep going, or switch to another hour task. Mine that gorgeous brain time all you can.

Writing – This is a list of in progress publications & grants. They are usually sorted in order of importance and deadline.

Things to Think about – This is a long, slightly insane list of one-offs, potential blog posts, digital projects and ideas. This slush file keeps me focused when, inevitably, in the middle of some task I find something OH SO SHINY and instead of burrowing down into a marginalia K-hole about Tessa Wheeler’s personal field notebooks, I write a quick note to myself to look through this later. This category is great for inspiration when everything starts to look a bit gray.

This to do list incorporates both personal tasks and professional tasks–managing two different lists is another time sink. So that’s it. Just a document on my desktop. In theory I could do something fancy and sync it to my phone, but honestly when I need to remember something from it…I just take a photo of the relevant part of my to do list. Saves messing with version control and internet connectivity.

Right, now to catch a plane. Hope this helps!

Dig House Life: Now, With Added Baby

I really hoped she didn’t wake anyone. It was 3am, and Tamsin was up, again, howling. She’s a good baby, very smiley and chilled out, but at eight months she still wakes up. A lot. Sometimes every two hours. Consequently I have done things during the very depths of sleep deprivation that I did not believe possible…and now we are in the field.

Of all the things I thought about when I planned to bring her with us to Qatar on archaeological fieldwork, somehow I didn’t really think about the fact that she might be going through a rough patch and keeping people up at night. Our fellow dighouse dwellers have insisted that it is fine though, and have been exceedingly sweet about the whole thing.

Probably everything about our experience so far has been exceptional; we are lucky to be here with the Origins of Doha & Qatar Project, with Rob Carter, the project director who is not only one of the best people I’ve ever met, but who also loves babies. It’s a gift, really. I’ve inconvenienced just about everybody at York (staff, students, admin…sorry y’all) by going into the field, but they’ve all been incredibly supportive of me trying to make research work while having a baby (especially Claire & Nicky). And most of all, my husband who also works hard to make room for my research. It also helps that we have all the modcons here in Qatar. Living in the “field” in Doha is basically like living in Dallas. Except that the people are nicer. hah.

So, that laundry list of “lucky” is to say that we have a huge amount of support and we take none of it for granted. The opposite of this support is not, as you’d think, people telling us “no, not with a baby” (though there is some of that) but the silent omission, getting passed over for work. When a field season or a lecture comes up, a quiet conversation about how “she’s too busy right now.” Let us decide. I’ve turned down over a dozen opportunities in the past year, and each one ate at me a bit, but I decided. I don’t know how many opportunities were not offered, and I’ll never know. But thank you to the people who gave me the choice.

Anyway, it has been going well, but it has been flat out. Digital archaeological work often means (to my chagrin) not going out into the field, but being behind a keyboard, and that has also worked in our favor. Also our permit has been slow to come this year, so I’ve been managing archaeologists doing heritage work. It’s great but I get stretched pretty thin.

And there’s been awkward moments–there’s never really a great time to dry out a breast pump in the dig house dish rack. Having a baby in field archaeology is incredibly difficult, and impossible for many who can’t be away and might not be able to afford childcare, or who do not have a supportive employer, department, colleagues, husband. Not to mention the super secret cabal of archaeologist parents who offer help, coffee, find cots & pushchairs for you to use in the field (thank you, Paula!) and who know.

But there is support out there, and a cadre of archaeologist parents who are working hammer and tongs to make it better for the rest of us. So, though I’m still a bit shy of putting Tamsin up on social media, I wanted to follow up on my series of posts about Archaeologists-who-happen-to-be-mothers–role models and who handled it much better than I could ever hope for.

And now…I think I hear the baby, up from her nap. God I’m tired. But still here.

The Holocaust, 9/11, the Slave Trade and…Facebook? How Museums & Experts Fail at Social Media

As part of my EUROTAST postdoc I partnered with the Institute for Public Understanding of the Past and Marc Pallascio, a History MA student to conduct a survey of the online outreach of museums and institutions that commemorate so-called “dark” or difficult heritage. At the outset of my postdoc I wrote:

How do I digitally remediate difficult heritage? What considerations do I take when I disseminate research on this incredibly sensitive topic, heritage that hurts? (…) Anyway, I’ve taken to calling my new job digital heritage on hard mode.

This article attempts to address some of these questions through social media metrics and the online interactions of heritage institutions associated with difficult heritage: The Holocaust, 9/11, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, with a focus on the latter. Additionally, we looked into existing online communities surrounding difficult heritage that are independent of these larger institutions.

Spoilers: there was little-to-no interactivity between official institutions and online places where people chose to “remember together.” Social media was used by official institutions purely to broadcast, not to interact.

Figure_One

Institutions and experts were also pretty scarce where there was the most interaction, debate and arguably a need for an informed opinion. It’s a complete cliche online, but we ventured where nobody dares to go: THE COMMENTS.

Figure_Two

These were on a YouTube series for Africans in America, on the “Little Dread” YouTube channel. Even when a link to a reputable source is posted, it is countered with a reference to the van Sertima pseudoscientific book “They Came Before Columbus.” More importantly, there are several online places and communities that are obviously taking up issues of heritage, race, and origins and these are overwhelmingly NOT in ready-made, sanctioned arenas for such discussions. As we state in the paper:

Authoritative voices are absent in non-specialist discussions of heritage online, as experts frame their conversations within official settings.

From the conclusions:

The distributed network of the internet would seem to be an ideal venue for discussions with and between members of the diaspora formed by the descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet, there is little connectivity apparent on either websites or social media between academics, heritage interpreters, and the online stakeholder communities…identifying where meaningful performative collective memory is exercised, then engaging with stakeholders on their own terms, may be more impactful than websites or campaigns of outward-facing social media.

Despite the 2015 publication date, the article has just been published by the Journal of African Diaspora and Heritage:

Morgan, C., & Pallascio, P. M. (2015). Digital Media, Participatory Culture, and Difficult Heritage: Online Remediation and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage, 4(3), 260–278.

It’s also available as a pre-print on Academia:

https://www.academia.edu/24144509/Digital_Media_Participatory_Culture_and_Difficult_Heritage_Online_Remediation_and_the_Trans-Atlantic_Slave_Trade