Flexibility, Fieldwork and Flinders Graduate Study

If you’ve read the current (July) edition of Engage: The Magazine of the Graduate Programs in Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Management and Maritime Archaeology, you’ll have seen the article on ‘Where does a Graduate Degree Take You?’.  In it, some of our graduated students discuss where they’re working now, what they’ve learnt since leaving university (including what topics proved to be most useful to them and why.  This part makes Alice very happy), and how their degree experience prepared them to work in the heritage industry (if you haven’t seen Engage yet, then make sure you read it at our website http://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/archaeology/archaeology-digital-library/graduate-program-bulletins.cfm.  It contains all this and more).

One of the clearest trends is the enormous volume of work in Indigenous archaeology that has been generated by the mining boom in the Pilbara (WA).  This has hit such a peak that many of our current and ex-students are being employed on large projects.  Following on from the Engage article, here are some reflections from current students on how their careers are being shaped by their choices in graduate study.

If you’re a past or present student working in the Pilbara (or anywhere else in Australia for that matter), why not post a comment and tell us about where you’ve been working?  What was most important in your degree? (Go on.  You know you want to).

Julia Garnaut (Current Degree:  Master of CHM)
Where are you working and how long have you been there?  
I work on a casual contract basis for Land Access Systems at Roy Hill (south of Port Hedland) in the Pilbara region Western Australia.  Land Access Systems does contract work for Hancock Prospecting at and around the site of their Roy Hill 1 project.  The work is ‘fly in fly out’ and is spread over twelve days. As I am still a graduate student and currently completing my Masters thesis I tend to fit the work in whenever I have time.

What kinds of things do you do in your job?
The most recent field work involved surveying a 500m wide corridor which will potentially become a train line for the Roy Hill 1 project.  The survey required walking in transects 20 meters wide with two other archaeologists and traditional owners. Generally, we walk anywhere from 5 to 10 km a day recording isolated stone artefacts or sites along the way using GPS.

What are the best things about your job?
Meeting many people with all sorts of backgrounds from all over the world, who are working on a large-scale project but whom I would not otherwise encounter in my everyday life.  This gives me the opportunity to apply the skills I acquired during my years of study and gain further knowledge from the diverse individuals and groups I have met along the way.

What did you find most useful in your degree (and what not)?
Though the Flinders archaeology department provides a good literary and theoretical background to archaeology, it is the way in which students are encouraged to implement this knowledge in the field that for me has become invaluable. The field experience I was exposed to throughout my degree (field methods, advanced field methods etc) and the volunteer opportunities I was given have provided me with confidence in my field abilities and a basic knowledge that at times has been far greater than many other graduates I have encountered.

What have you learnt on the job?  What advice would you give other prospective students?
Gain as much experience as possible whilst being a student.  Volunteer when you are given the opportunity and soak up as much knowledge from the experience as you can.  Then, put your name forward for anything and everything in terms of job opportunities – you never know where you might end up!

Amy Pyatt (Current Degree:  Master of Archaeology)
Where are you working and how long have you been there?  What kinds of things do you do in your job?
I am working at ACHM and have been for the last two months.  My job involves laboratory/archival work, excavation, heritage surveys and monitoring environmental surveys.

What are the best things about your job?
Being employed to travel to different places and experience different environments and histories, meeting and working with new people.

What did you find most useful in your degree (and what not)?
Gaining field experience and learning to work in confined spaces with different personalities.  Being able to learn specialist skills and experience different aspects of archaeology through a variety of master classes and topics, e.g. Australian Stone Artefacts.

What have you learnt on the job?
That learning is ongoing and a lot of learning is conducted on the job, and through continuous training programs. I have also learnt that flexibility, adaptability and a positive outlook are crucial.

What advice would you give other prospective students?
Gain as much field experience as possible, be as well prepared as you can, and be able to go with the flow.

Bianca Petruzelli (Current Degree:  Master of Archaeology )
Where are you working and how long have you been there?  What kinds of things do you do in your job?
The work I participated in was only a short-term contract of two weeks in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.  The job was walking transects across large areas looking for sites and surveying and recording sites that had been found by the previous survey groups.

What are the best things about your job?
The best thing about the job was the beautiful Pilbara environment and the amazing team of people I worked with.

What did you find most useful in your degree (and what not)?
The most useful part of my Flinders University degree for this job was definitely the field training I received throughout my degree.  Although the methods we used for site surveying were simple archaeological methods, the Flinders fieldwork taught me how to conduct field surveys and the laboratory archaeology classes I had taught me how to identify and record stone artefacts.

What have you learnt on the job?
Although I haven’t yet graduated, working in archaeology has taught me that some of the most amazing things are found in the strangest of places and that there is a reason behind the never ending walking and searching.

What advice would you give other prospective students?
Get as much field experience as possible throughout your degree. Even experience that doesn’t seem directly relevant to the area you want to study as an archaeologist may be useful later in ways you hadn’t expected.

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