The title of this blog is a popular search term for archaeology and history graduates alike, as they try and figure out what job they would like to do when the lectures about ancient Mesopotamia and field schools in the summer are done. While university degrees offer an excellent foundation in the theory behind archaeology and heritage, what they often fail to do is fully explore the potential avenues that graduates can take once they have their certificate in hand.
Typically, the two options most commonly presented to students include either becoming a field archaeologist, i.e. going into the circuit and working your way up as a digger, or further study from a Master’s Degree all the way through to PhDs. It’s no surprise that academics tend to recommend a route in academia itself, since in effect, it is what they know best.
However, not every archaeology graduate is going to want to pursue further study, nor are they necessarily going to want to become professional diggers. There are several reasons why people are put off the latter, such as family commitments, not wanting to work away from home, having to work in adverse weather conditions, the toll such a physically strenuous job takes on the body, and notoriously poor pay, to name a few. The good news is fieldwork is far from the only long-term career choice in the historic environment sector.
There are a myriad of different specialisms and professions to choose from, a few of which are explored in more detail below:
Historic Environment Record Officers
Community Outreach Officers
Local Authority Archaeologists
Local Authority Conservation Officers
and, of course, Heritage Consultants!
Whatever path you choose, there is support available in the form of the two principal professional bodies in the industry: the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). To find out more about different careers in heritage, if you are considering commercial archaeology, then it would be worth looking at the CIfA specialist groups page, which brings together like-minded professionals and is a great place to see the different avenues available for specialisation.
Following that, it is always good to keep an eye on heritage related job postings to see what kind of work is out there. This can be done by viewing adverts on the CIfA website or checking out BAJR (British Archaeological Jobs Resource).
For additional training to build upon what you have learned during your, make use of the online training courses provided by both Historic England and CIfA. Additionally, many heritage-related careers often require professionals to utilise some form of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, such as QGIS, which is open source and free to download. Alternatively, some universities have professional licenses for ArcGIS, which can also be useful to familiarise yourself with.
Whilst in the early stages of your career, it is important to continue your professional development by aiming for accreditation with either the IHBC or CIfA or better yet, registering as a student if you are still in higher education, as memberships are offered at a discounted rate. Further information and support from fellow early career professionals can be found in the CIfA Early Careers Group.
Professional organisations are not your only port of call, though. The Blue Willow inbox is always open to students, graduates, and early careers heritage professionals, whether you have any questions, are looking for advice, or perhaps you might be interested in taking part in our mentorship programme which has, to date, resulted in two permanent positions within the team. If you do ever have any questions about a career in heritage, please do not hesitate to get in touch.