Pondering a Professional Plan B

I’m a month from my 20th anniversary as a professional archaeologist and I’m considering my options. Unlike most people who make a living in my trade I have not worked much in contract archaeology and I have spent only a few months on the dole. Instead my main source of income during these two decades has been research grants from private foundations. Not big ones, but many of them. With a frugal lifestyle and no departmental overhead, I have produced more publications per krona than most. This has increased my chances of finding renewed funding. Publish or Perish has been my rule. Secondary sources of income have been 2½ years of grad school salary, 13 years of part-time journal editing, and even half a year’s pay made at Jeopardy.

Plan A for me has always been an academic job: to do research, dig and teach. I never got any of the rare entry-level post-doctoral jobs in academe, and now I am “mid-career” and no longer eligible for them. Starting autumn 2010, though, I’ve begun getting shortlisted for lectureships. And I know from stats gathered during my years of academic job hunting that 50% of everyone who gets a lectureship in Scandy archaeology are between 41 and 43½ years old. So having just turned 40, I’m thinking that plan A has four years of realistic life left. When I turn 44 I will again (and terminally) belong to a demographic that gets less than a quarter of all lectureships.

My current professional lifestyle isn’t sustainable long-term because older scholars aren’t as popular with small foundations and because I need to think about my pension plan as well. So I need a plan B.

I could leave archaeology for a full-time job in non-fic publishing on the strength of my years of journal and book editing. But I’d really rather not since that would mainly entail copy editing, proof reading and admin, tasks that I do mechanically. Let’s call that plan C. Or D.

The plan B that I’ve been thinking about lately, instead, is to start a one-man consultancy firm and offer contract excavation units to write up their small finds. I have no idea what the demand for such a service is like right now. I do know that just like I am not as good a field archaeologist as colleagues who have been digging full time since 1992, they are not as good at small finds as I am. But I am uncertain how much importance the units place on the quality of the finds write-ups in their reports. It might be that they would reply to my offer, “Sure, we think you would do a better job, but our main priority sadly isn’t quality but affordability. And besides, we need to keep Digger Joe here occupied over the winter since he’s already on staff”.

Anyway, I’m still not in that magic 3½ year window for lectureships, and I have seen some encouraging signs lately. So I guess I won’t be starting Rundkvist Archaeology & Text Ltd before 2016, at the earliest.


10 thoughts on “Pondering a Professional Plan B

  1. well, then i should say happy 20th anniversary to you. Forgive me if little bit late due we don’t know each other, of course :D. But the pleasure is mine to meet you in your awesome blog.


  2. As for starting your own business, and I don’t know if that applies to Scandinavia, but here in the southwestern US you could probably make a living with a “save my construction dig” company. The worst thing that can happen to a construction job here is finding some artifacts; that can hold up your digging for years. Being a qualified archeologist, with a good contact list for qualified diggers, who can clear a site in a scientifically acceptable manner in rapid time would get you plenty of job opportunities.


  3. Philip, I’ve been applying for lectureships and other academic jobs in the Scandinavian countries, England and Northern Germany for many years. It’s a very small labour market and one that is largely supplied by quiet in-house appointments.


  4. Mu, what you’re describing is what I refer to as contract archaeology. I have avoided that business almost entirely since 1994 because it’s not research-driven.


  5. Have you considered a job in ‘merica?
    (stops to think about it) no, that would probably not be a good idea, between budget cuts and creationists. It is the same problem with speleologists, I know one and they get extremely little funding.
    — — — —
    My career management seems to steer me in the direction of Foul Ol’ Ron and his mates.


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