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I haven’t had a blog rant for a while so here goes, todays topic is Your Academic Footprint.

In an age when your online presence is arguably as important as your offline being when it comes to career progression, how can you maintain academic credibility when websites for projects disappear?

The inspiration for this post is personal. I have worked on a number of short to medium lived archaeology projects where amongst the many outputs was often a website. Huge amounts of time, effort and money were spent on these projects and the websites they created represented not only archaeological knowledge for all to access but a snapshot of the thinking and methodology of the time.

Screenshot of old VERA website

Screenshot of old VERA website

Case study number one comes from the University of Reading and the Silchester project. The Silchester website was first created in 2001 and consisted of a few static pages. They did the job, containing practical information on how to get to the site and what students might expect from the field school. I joined the team in 2007 as the Archaeological Project Assistant on the Virtual Environments for Research in Archaeology (VERA) project. Part of my work involved redesigning the website and so, in time for the 2008 fieldschool, the project ended up building one in Drupal. It introduced lots more archaeological content, you could download old site reports, browse through photo galleries, use embedded features like weather and map widgets, share interesting content to new and exciting places like Twitter and Facebook (!), leave comments, ask questions and generally immerse yourself in the life of the archaeologists involved with the project. The audience for this new website included protective students, current students, staff, researchers from around the world – it was widely hailed as an informative and pretty website which did a great job of showcasing the archaeology.

The redesigned site even won a BAJR Heritage Web Award in December 2008! BAJR gave the following reasons:

The Silchester site won the award for the clean, easy to use design, the wealth of information available. The additional information is constantly changing, tapping into web 2.o and allowing the user to feel that this is a dynamic website, such as the well written blogs, images and finds gallery. The Virtual Environments for Research in Archaeology section, is a welcome addition, informing people a new direction in technology and archaeology, and inclusive of researchers and professionals as well as the public, who are well catered for on the site. A site to emulate.

Old Silchester website

Old Silchester website, c2001

More than that though, it also happened to showcase my flair for website design, my skills in HTML, PHP, and Javascript coding and growing experience with the new emerging social media world (it was back in 2008 after all!). I put the link on my CV and in post-Silchester interviews it was obvious that the interviewers on some of the panels had looked at and loved the site.

I am currently on an archaeological career break. Becoming a mummy a few years ago means I’ve had to delve into the world of the more stable workplace. I love my current job and I can see myself in it for another wee while, but not forever. I want to return to Archaeology and Heritage in the next few years, and if it had any sense, that world would want me and my skills and experience back. I keep an up to date CV in case I see something and, here speaks the digital curator in me, I periodically check the links it contains.

As you can see if you visit vera.rdg.ac.uk. or silchester.rdg.ac.uk, most of my work is now gone. VERA has been replaced by a pile of 404 signs or timeouts. The Silchester website still exists but in a very different form – it has in my eyes sufffered, but others may disagree. The website has now been got by the branding people at University, and imposing the corporate look and structure. Websites taken down at some point after the project ended, but not straight away – lulling readers into the false sense of security that they would be there next time you wanted to look. No warning given, I suppose the people doing the unplugging wouldn’t know who to warn. The end result is that there is very little to show for years of my work, other than the memories that lie with some colleagues that “Oh yes, Emma. She did a good job of that she did.”.

If you look closely, there is some evidence that these websites aren’t just a figment of my imagination. The Silchester YouTube channel (including my old https://www.youtube.com/user/SilchesterExcavation) and Twitter account are still going strong, for example.

Contrast this with somewhere else I have worked, the Archaeology Data Service and Internet Archaeology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given what they do, they have proof for all to see that I have worked there and done *stuff*. You can go to the staff pages and my name is still there, (although since I first though about writing this post, even the acknowledgement pages of IA have changed!), you can see the staff updates page to see where I went next, I am thanked by authors of papers etc. The result is that if a potential employer really wanted to check my work, they could make a good start just with a simple web search.

I know that change is inevitable, and that not all project websites can be maintained forever, but I’m struggling to see a solution. Short of attaching print outs of screenshots or old excavation reports to my cv, or directing potential employers to look at the wonderful wayback machine, how I can I prove these things ever existed? Do I take the URLS out of my CV? I guess that at the end of the day, my web footprint isn’t everything and my CV should be enough to convince people to give me an interview (well, you’d hope!) but it would be nice to have a but more substance to things. Thankfully, ScARF is still going strong and with this now being the Year of Archaeology and DigIt! 2015 somne of my more recent work will hopefully be around for a while.

Thoughts? Comments? How does this affect you? Is Archaeology and Heritage particularly susceptible because of the way projects are funded?

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An early attempt at fieldwalking?

An early attempt at archaeological fieldwalking by The Toddler?

This blog post is happening because I have just read an article on a parenting website which infuriated me. It was about working mums being able to have it all so if this is not a topic that interests you then look away now and be spared the rant!

There is a lot of ‘big thinking’ going on in the Household recently. The Toddler is now a proper little boy – not our wee baby anymore, Daddy is doing a grand job at being a Senior Archaeologist at work as well as doing other archaeological research and being a great daddy, but moi? Well, I’m not sure.

For the last few months I’ve been back at work, which I’ve loved, in a very part time way. I’ve even managed to do some other non mummy things like the odd pint in the pub *shock horror* and get a haircut alone. All these small things are very good but it’s time to think about the bigger picture and get back into work (career) seriously as well as work on taking some more time for myself.

Up until now I’ve thought that me-time was selfish, that I should be concentrating more on the mummy stuff, but I don’t think I’m cut out to make homemade playdough (worth a post in itself) and bake cookies all day.

I think I have realised that I am a mummy who, whilst I love the Sproggle more than I ever thought you could love someone, needs to also have a career. There’s been some soul searching as to whether this makes me a terrible mother, some N*T mummy group people are probably setting up the wooden stakes and lighting matches as we speak. Lots of mummy magazine articles and blogs announce that you ‘can have it all‘, the ideal solution seems to be that you work part time and share childcare with daddy and grandma. That way, the articles say, you can have two salaries coming in but with no childcare costs going out. Both parents get to work and feel human, and your little cherub learns social skills and how to be away from you and go on adventures with grandma for ice cream and teddy bear picnics. Lovely.

Alas, not really practical if both parents are archaeologists. I haven’t seen one parenting article tackling *that*. How can you realistically share childcare with things like fieldwork, away jobs and long office hours? You need nursery. Sproggle is at nursery part time and loves it, it’s great for him and I’m happy he’s there but until they provide a chaffeur service a parent still needs to drop him off and pick him up. Nursery also only opens from 8am to 6pm. Luckily, this hasn’t been an issue for us because, for one of us anyway, our digging days are over. But I wonder how on earth digging parents manage to do the nursery run, assuming the fieldwork is not an away job in the first place. One of you would have to say no to work if the contracts clashed. And talking of contracts, if you are a digger unlucky enough to be on short contracts then you can’t plan life anyway really, nevermind childcare. Many nurseries can’t do (understandably) random hours care here and there, yes this week but not next etc.

I guess some people might read this and think, well don’t have babies if you don’t have a steady permanent job or something like that, and I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion but that would mean that most archaeologists wouldn’t ever be in a position to have a family. Who has a permanent job these days anyway?

But let’s leave digging archaeologists out of the equation for a while. Let’s tackle the academic ones. In some respects, archaeologist parents in academia might appear to have it easier than their commercial counterparts. They probably have an office and don’t do much fieldwork – nursery run sorted then. However, academics have a huge workload and most of the time are probably taking work home just to fit it in – like student essay marking, that extra funding bid to finish to keep your job. It’s almost impossible to do that stuff in the evening when there is a little person who won’t sleep or hasn’t seen you all day and wants hugs. Academic fieldwork probably involves long stints away from home when it does happen, weeks at a time. That leaves one parent at home alone for weeks, probably over the summer, now faced with a wee one who has noticed mummy or daddy is away and is probably now playing up.

The annoying article I read that led to to write this (and many others) suggests that you don’t need nursery at all if both parents work flexitime and use grandparents for a few hours a week. Archaeology doesn’t generally work with flexitime (i’m not suggesting it can or should, just pointing it out) and many archaeologist mummies and daddies have probably moved around the country (read: away from family) to keep a career going so grandparent care isn’t an option anyway. Non parents might be shocked to read that full time nursery costs about £12000 a year, and non archaeologists might be shocked to learn that archaeology salaries can be as low as £17000 a year before tax. Do the maths, that could be working full time to earn £2000 a year (or £40 a week) and never see your wee one.

Something isn’t right when parents might have to choose between carrying on an archaeological career and having a balanced family life. I’ve a mind to write to the yummy mummy blog concerned but now I’ve ranted I feel much better. What do other archaeologist parents think?

I read a news article the other day which pondered why Harry Potter didn’t just use Google.

The book was published in 1997, so presumably written a few years before that. The article asks why, when faced with a search for some information, Harry had to struggle through the library to find a book. Now, I’ve never read the Potter books so i have no idea how arduous a task this was but I get the impression death and disaster were imminent. The author of the article suggests that younger Potter readers, brought up in the information age, would google what Harry needed rather than have to go through the library trauma in the first place. The point is that Hogwarts wouldn’t have had internet access in that day and age and that Google didn’t really take off until the year after the book came out.

What does this have to do with archaeology journals? Well, I miss my equivalent of Hogwarts library. Yes, I have a very good ‘local’ library (National library of Scotland) and am also a member of the National Museums Research Library and can borrow books and journals from both. I also have excellent broadband at home so the world of archaeological research should be mine for the taking.

But it isn’t. Without the backup of institutional subscriptions many journals are out of my reach. I’m not the first person to realise this but work at the day job has recently made me more aware than ever of what I could be missing out on.

Spending the last few weeks reviewing bibliographies, checking for misplaced commas and references for thousands of entries, I have had my eyes opened to the many and varied sources used for discussing archaeology in Scotland today. There are the usual suspects one might expect (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Antiquity etc) as well as more specialised reading and some rare gems – mostly local history society transactions and self published monographs.

Most of them are subscription only, not as many are open access. Although this situation might be changing for some (find a very good list here) it is unrealistic to expect that verything will become free to view, nor should it – journals cost money to produce and will always need people to work on them. Obviously, there is a difference here between leviathans of publishing such as Elsevier making millions and smaller more independant publications who are still peer reviewed and of excellent quality but who barely make a profit. Arguably, if it wasn’t for the whole impact factor issue more journals could afford to be open and reach more people, I could go on.

My point is, that in order to subscribe to all the journals I want to for the next year say, I will need to spend at least £350 (but that includes my New Scientists! :p). As I said, I don’t mind and actually is really isn’t that much when you consider everything. However, this is only for a few core publications (Internet Archaeology, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, JRS, Britannia and some others). I’d like the opportunity to read more, but when individual articles can be up to $20 it does sort of put you off. I’m lucky, given that my interests are databases, publication of archives and Romans – if I was into science it’d be much much more costly (see this post for example.)

I guess if i didn’t want to broaden my mind, keep up to date with archaeological goings on and think about future jobs and maybe post docs I could just not subscribe at all, but where would the fun be in that?

  1. Archaeology is becoming a decreasingly viable option as a career.
  2. Given point 1, temping is not a bad idea.
  3. Temping in an office means you are always near a kettle and get to wear nice shoes.
  4. It is possible to knit cables without a cable needle (http://knitting.about.com/od/knittingskills/ss/cable-back_4.htm)
  5. I really love knitting for myself (shock horror!)
  6. 6. Nigella Kitchen is an awesome book and definitely a must have.

So a new year, a new start. True, it might be enforced rather than through choice but it has to happen all the same.

I’ve been looking for a career type job since the end of June 2010. Obviously, I’ve done some paid work since then including excavation, watching briefs and a stint in Game. All of these were (in various doses) fun, dull, warm, cold, exciting, mindless but money is money and the mortgage doesn’t stop just because work does.

So if I’ve been after a computing and or archaeology career advancing job since June why am I ranting now, 6 months later?

Well, because an otherwise perfectly decent saturday morning was ruined by the arrival of a letter informing me that I haven’t reached the interview stage for a post I really wanted. Not only did I really want the job but I could have carried out all the essential tasks blindfolded and handcuffed, presuming my fingers were free to type. I hear you saying that these things happen all the time and there are more fish in the sea etc (unless you’ve been watching the channel 4 fish season and I recommend that you do). However, the fact that the letter kindly informed me that a shortlisting officer had reviewed my application made me nearly spill my now tainted by letter opening cup of tea. What kind of job/person is that? Does that mean that my application didn’t even make it into the hands of someone who could understand the value of my experience and past work? Some HR monkey who couldn’t see context, only keywords? The same organisation turned down my application for another post a few months ago, so that HR person can expect a fairly stern phonecall this coming Monday asking why I wasn’t shortlisted. Grr!

Cheer up! you might say. Well thanks and I will shortly when I get some vino. In the meantime, I am left to ponder my future in Archaeology/Heritage/actually caring about our past. I have specialist skills. I have 5 years of varied experience. I can dig but I can also write book chapters and arrange international conference sessions about it. I think, if I do say so myself, that I am sometimes pretty bloody awesome at this stuff. Let us return to reality though, and the aforementioned mortgage. I can’t hold out for a career job forever. It’s been 6 months. I can go another 6 if I can pass the time with temping etc.

After that I fear that the discipline in which I have honed my considerable skills will lose me to a something else. I’m not sure what at the moment, but probably something that can guarantee me work for more than a month at a time and pays even half decently. I’ll probably pimp my computing skills out instead. I’d be really sad, angry and worried to leave archaeology to Camerons daft idea of a big society, which I suspect may happen as more decent archaeologists succumb to pay cuts, job cuts and downsizing. The Scottish government cuts won’t even kick in until later this year, so that’ll be something exciting to look forward to as well, not. I want to find out how many of the people I did the IFA placements with actually have clung onto an archaeology job in the long term, and I don’t meant went into further training or phds. I mean actual careers. Their website doesn’t say, maybe it is too embarrassing? Who knows? If we all have to bail out of archaeology then the skills deficit the bursaries sought to heal won’t be changed at all. Which would be a shame, not to mention a possible waste of pennies.

2011 will be the year that decides a lot of things for a lot of people, I’m just hoping that this time next year I can still call myself an archaeologist/heritage person, not some sort of suit wearing corporate drone. Albeit one who is now an elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries – hooray!

</rant>

I’ve not been blogging, because I have mostly been sleeping in my spare time. Why so tired you ask? Well, after only six weeks of job hunting and signing on I finally got a job. And it was archaeology as well – shock!

Cue a weeks digger watching in Blairgowrie for CFA. Not much to report except a victorian shovel head left in the bottom of a trench dug by navvies for the old railway. Then it was straight to Addyman Archaeology on a rolling contract to excavate a site in the Old Town of Edinburgh. It is a really cool site, right in the middle of the University and with tonnes of archaeology. Medieval cemetery, 17th century uni library and chemistry departments, Hamilton House and more. Is is awesome to be outside again, and getting paid to do something I love. The downside is the clay I seem to be constantly mattocking and the fact that my body is older and less useful than last time I had to do any hard physical labour! Luckily, the Piemaker is nearby so lunchtime rewards for mattocking are plentiful.


Dr Bicket at graduation

Originally uploaded by squeejay

So Tuesday saw Andy become Dr Andy, a mere 7 months after the viva :p

It was a proud day, but graduating out of Loughborough University is a massively different experience from either Edinburgh (where Dr B did his undergrad) or Glasgow (where I did mine).

Firstly, the ceremony takes place in the sports hall, with only some curtains up and carpets laid down to try and disguise the fact. There appeared to be no dress code for the graduands, which meant a lot of really short (as in suitable for a gynecological exam) skirts, oompa loompa fake tans and some hideous faux paxs such as a bright red mini dress, someone else in flip flops and someone in a sort of toga like see through mini dress with sandals that would make a Roman legionnaire proud. There was a procession of important people behind the chancellor, and there was a university mace but it just didn’t look right in a hall where people play sports. The honorary degree recipients (one of whom was a climate change scientist and former White House advisor) didn’t get to speak, which would have been really interesting. The phd recipients just had their name read out like all the undergrads – whereas I distinctly remember at my undergrad ceremony that the title of phds and how long they took to complete was announced. Loughborough also appeared to have a policy of not making people who just scraped through their time there feel inadequate, so no distinctions were made between classes of degrees during the reading.

Despite all this, Dr Andy and one other geography (and real geography, not the human kind) got to don floppy hats and watch their proud parents smile at them and I felt really proud and happy, which was nice.

Another bonus of the graduation was being taken out to dinner – see the next post!