‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Confessions of a newly minted self-employed archaeologist.

My name is Nick and I’ve been a professional archaeologist for the last 15 years.  I’ve been lucky enough to be employed continuously for much of that time when I wasn’t studying and have the opportunity to work across the UK, Ireland and in the Middle East. When I saw the tweets promoting this years ‘Day of Archaeology’, I thought why not, I have time to write a blog post. This was a bit of a change from the last few years and I was surprised to find when I re-logged in its been four years since I last participated. This should probably not be surprising seeing as in that time I have been working full time, undertaking part time PhD research, writing papers for journals, giving papers for conferences and, oh yes, having a life. A busy schedule isn’t unusual for budding or experienced archaeologists, because essentially we do it because it’s the job we love, the profession we choose and so we do all that we can. But can that level of workload be sustainable in the long run?

For me the answer was no, in order to do a good job at work, write papers and pursue research, the actual process of writing and finishing my PhD was falling behind. So after thinking about it for a long time and talking with a supportive partner and family, I decided to make a change and a couple of weeks ago I quit my full time, well paid (with benefits) consultancy job to focus on writing up my PhD full time. A bit risky I know, essentially I still have bills to pay and money to think about it, but it was also the best decision I ever made. I’m now a doctoral student and freelance archaeologist and here are the reasons why it is so great.

  1. Time. Once you re-prioritise what is important and how you spend your time, a massive weight is lifted off your shoulders. The guilt you feel whenever your down the pub and should be writing eases off (doesn’t disappear entirely I’m afraid) and you know you are spending 40+ hours a week dedicated to what you want, for me it’s my PhD research. Essentially you can spend the time you want on the projects you love.
  2. Finding the love for archaeology again. I’ve spent 15 years working as a commercial archaeologist and have the luck to work on a number of really interesting sites. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s worked in the commercial sector would admit, there are some really boring jobs you have to do in some pretty awful places. Once I moved onto consultancy, you have to deal with some clients (not all) who don’t want to spend money on archaeology, which is a difficult place to be. I guess the problem is that sometimes you feel pretty far detached from the archaeology that you love and the reason why you do the job in the first place. Once you re-prioritise you focus on those projects that you really want to do and you rediscover that love for archaeology. It’s a pretty great feeling and massively motivating.
  3. Working freelance is a great challenge. It can sound a bit daunting with all the things that you have to sort out (tax issues, keeping accounts etc), however, there are a lot of great guides out there to help (BAJR, CIfA and HMRC). I’ve made some great friends in archaeology who have been there to help and send some work my way. I’ve also been looking into some part time teaching jobs, which is something I love to do from when I did PGTA work at UCL.

So essentially my Day of Archaeology, unlike all those other years when I couldn’t control where I was, is doing whatever I want. While there are some uncertain times ahead I’m doing all I can to get my PhD research done and forge a new path in the following months, and hopefully years. So today is filled with writing for me, doing some research on the landscape context on Iron Age oppidum surrounding Chichester, which will mean my head will be in some books and I’ll be typing away on the laptop. Perhaps not the most exciting day in archaeology overall but it is a pretty great one for me.

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