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August 2, 2005

What Comes Around, Goes Around

2005-08-01 BNY_2ndlinen4.jpg

As The Year of Changeā„¢ stretches into the years of change (or, perhaps the acceptance that life is full of changes), I have found myself at yet another decision that needs to be made. This one is fun, however, and not fraught with stress. Friends, I give you Decision 2005: Graduate School. Because kids, let's face it-- for the next three years, it's free.

One of my major undergraduate academic regrets was that I did not follow through on my childhood passion: archaeology. One would have thought that years of digging up pottery shards in the backyard, nose buried in archaeology books, would have stimulated some interest in anthropology, but it did not. I was fascinated with urban landscapes, as well, and cannot tell you how many old abadonded buildings I have fallen in love with, not just becuase of their physical beauty and mystery, but because of the ever present compulsion to dig into the structure's past and learn about the people who once lived inside it. It never behooved me to put the two together and consider urban anthropology/achaeology. Until now.

In the next few weeks, I need to make a decision. Do I follow the route of urban anthropology and social/collective memory? Or do I start looking into the possibility of a more archaeological focus?

I feel very academically rusty. I need to take the GREs. I need to apply to a program. But you know what? I am damn excited.

Posted by callalillie at August 2, 2005 7:01 AM | City Life , Fun Stuff , The Year of Change


Well, my sweet, you seem to have answered your own question. Follow you bliss and all that. This is one of those doors that appear in our lives, so open it and start digging. A fascination with the past is a gift. Going back to childhood passions is a wonderful way to get in touch with things that you enjoy most. You seem so excited and the free part is a very good thing. On your mark, get set.....

Posted by: Vickie at August 2, 2005 7:44 AM

my only suggestion before you take that leap is to think about what your expectations are with anthro/archeo and see if after you adjust your childhoood passion to how these disciplines really work, do you still want to do it?

Both archaeology and anthropology are highly competetive, rigorous disciplines. Not always fun though there is payoff for those crazy or hard working enough to stick with it. For every job opening there are hundreds of grad students pining for a chance, the work is not always the stuff of walks in the urban landscape or haphazard digs in the backyard. There are stats to deal with, and in archaeology most of the work is done in a lab or in front of a screen, and most of the big stuff has already been discovered. I don't mean to sound discouraging but before diving in you should call some people you know who are practicing, or find some here in town to talk to -- take everything they say, including this, with a grain of salt but use it to help you decide if it is still something you want to do. also, you might want to check out some books/articles on the topics you are interested in and try to find out which departments have people working with a focus that matches yours. Lastly, don't worry too much about specialization - your first couple years back at school should help in that.

Posted by: koko at August 2, 2005 8:47 AM

Hey there,
So jealous... free tuition.
Anyways, if you would like me to introduce you to someone over here in Anthro or a friend of mine who is wrapping up her anthro/arch masters just let me know.
I can certainly talk to you about museum work if that is the direction you feel such a degree might lead you to.
Personally, If money were no object, if food were free and I always had shelter without worry I would dive head first into archaeology/cultural and physical anthropology without looking back.
But that is not the case (I keep telling myself)

Posted by: Tiya at August 2, 2005 8:54 AM

I'm delurking to say that grad school can be VERY nasty at times, so you have to do what you absolutely love! Follow your instincts and your passions and something good will always come of it. In the end, even if you don't formally work in the field you studied, at least you would have spent time doing something you really like, and it's never a wasted venture. If you start one program and don't like it, then you can always switch to another, or change your focus. It's free, so at least the financial aspect of such a change isn't an issue. I haven't paid for either of my masters, and what a gift that is : ) Good luck!

Posted by: Kim at August 2, 2005 8:59 AM

If you can go for free, go for it. I have been trying to work up the dedication to take the GRE for 5 years now, and stomach the thought of paying more school loans. If you study something you really like, and there is no financial cost involved, you could really go for the pleasure of learning. And isn't that the best way to do it?

Posted by: lesterhead at August 2, 2005 9:01 AM

You can take classes there thru continuing ed to start, before applying to a program, I'm pretty sure. (My boy works there and that's what he does.) It's a good intro, a way to ease yourself in.

Posted by: beth at August 2, 2005 10:29 AM

hey do you read Harpers? there was a really cool article about archaeology last month.

if i could get away with going to grad school to study something i both found fascinating and also would add to my career skills, i'd be all over that. then again ... GREs. bleah. i hate that standardized test stuff.

Posted by: ChrisG at August 2, 2005 10:43 AM

I second everything Kim said. Most days I just wish the program was over, but then I have a really interesting class and it makes up for everything. You really have to love the subject material to put up with inconsistent professors (this I understand is a problem at even ivy league unis), group work with difficult people and the general pressure of assignments combined with the rest of your adult life.

Posted by: kar at August 2, 2005 11:20 AM

Oh yeah--and free tuition pretty much cancels out all the negatives.

Posted by: kar at August 2, 2005 11:22 AM

I was going to say you should go with the social anthropology because your writing seems so inclined that way. Continuing your education in that realm could only take you to really fantastic places. Then I was thinking that adding an archeology layer to everything would really enhance your world view and art in a whole new way. Either way, I hope you pour the knowledge back into your writing and photography, so we can benefit from it all, too!

Posted by: Liz at August 2, 2005 12:32 PM

I just to get over that GRE hump...I've been avoiding taking them for 6 years. I'm an awful test taker...

Posted by: corie at August 2, 2005 1:28 PM

I think we share the same employer. If so, you can take one tuition-free course per semester if you're not in a degree program. It's a good way to sample courses, get to know a professor or two, and let the faculty get to know you (handy when admissions time rolls around).

Posted by: joe at August 2, 2005 3:18 PM

yick. this post just made me rethink my decision to turn down a 5 year ph.d. fully-paid-for program at Brown. good luck w/GRE's; they're not so bad and as far as I know they count less and less compared to personal statement and recommendations these days anyhow.

Posted by: yp at August 2, 2005 4:18 PM

Follow your dream. You will regret it if you do not. Try it out for a semester and see if it feels good.

Posted by: kathy at August 2, 2005 9:06 PM

A good friend of mine did the anthro program at the Graduate Center (CUNY) and loved it, sounds like a really great, strong program. Her concentration was food anthro. I say go for it.

Posted by: Nancy at August 2, 2005 10:53 PM

how do you get to go for free?

Posted by: PhC at August 3, 2005 1:13 AM

I work at a University.

Posted by: corie at August 3, 2005 7:16 AM

would you be taking the subject test as well as the general GRE? the basic test is not horrible (and the math stuff is easier than the SAT), but the subject tests are killers!

Posted by: ChrisG at August 3, 2005 10:23 AM

They used to have this really neat logic section of the GRE that I actually kind of, in a dorky way, enjoyed... but they took it out and replaced it with a writing section a few years ago. So sad.

Posted by: beth at August 3, 2005 11:11 AM

I think I just need to take the regular GRE. I haven't looked at a math problem since my junior year in high school, though...

Posted by: corie at August 3, 2005 12:54 PM

I'm a UK graduate of Medieval Archaeology and it didn't really do my future career any good at all; but for three years I indulged in a passion that enabled me to do lots of travelling, be incredibly anal and make personal discoveries on a monthly basis. (Regardless of 'all the major stuff is already known', which I disagree with btw.)

Nothing else could have fired me for three years. I don't care about the funny looks I get when people ask what my degree was in. I'm now an IT Trainer and I'd say there's very few skills in one that are transferable to the other - but hey, I'm only in the training biz because jobs in arch. are *incredibly* scarce and besides, the pay is poo. Attitudes may differ where you are, but over here the UK has a planning law which means that any new building must have provision to fund excavation of any archaeological finds that come to light during the construction work. That means a lot of piecemeal, 'keyhole' work, which isn't too insightful sometimes. If you want a good example scrubble around on Google for Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) on the London Underground - there was a *lot* of excavs going on ahead of it being laid - and of course there was also a heavy timeframe to try and adhere to. That kind of temporal and financial pressure means that people think archaeology is useful and interesting etc, but when confronted with having to take account of it getting in the way of their building site they see it as a pita.

OTOH, you could always find a medieval cemetery in your back garden when you're digging the foundations for a garage, as did one family in Denmark, where I happened to be digging one summer :o)

Generally speaking - I would advise you to AVOID any uni that doesn't insist on mandatory field experience - what is the point of being a theoretical archaeologist? You *have* to get out there & see the difference between remains in a sandy soil as opposed to remains in a chalky soil, there's no other way you can get to understand things like organic matter stains. Of all the UK unis, very few insist on it as a compulsory factor to graduating; only UCL actually make you do 70 days' over your two summer hols. Those 70 days (in fact I ended up doing much more like 100) were just absolutely fantastic. I did Bronze Age (Flag Fen); Roman (Bignor); Medieval (village in Wiltshire, Denmark); I did wetland, chalky/flinty, Thames foreshore, sandy/acidic.... aaah.... ... :o)

Bring it on! Archaeology rocks :o)

Posted by: Rossi46fan at August 4, 2005 7:40 AM

Crap. I want to be a full time student and do that.

Posted by: corie at August 4, 2005 9:30 AM

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