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How to decide what to do after college
May 22, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I will be a senior in college next year. Up until recently, I was absolutely positive I wanted to go to grad school and become an archaeologist. Now, I'm second doubting myself (teal deer information inside)

Until recently, I was really sure I wanted to get my PhD in archaeology and shoot for a tenure track job. I loved my archaeology classes and went on two short digs that were amazing. I’ve been working in an archaeology lab for two years and loved every minute of it. I got two grants for research projects. I read tons of stuff about the difficulty of grad school and finding tenure track jobs and decided that I still wanted to pursue it. I had discussed the issues about academia with my friends and a professor I worked with.

I spent last semester on an excavation. I really enjoyed it, loved living outside and living minimalistically. But I came back a few weeks ago and I’m suddenly not sure what I want to do anymore.

Part of it was that there was a lot of politics and infighting going on between the people running the camp (an unusual amount, from people from previous years). There wasn’t much of a group feel, which was different from the previous digs I’d been on.

Also, maybe because it was so much longer, it felt like it was so much work for such little results, even though we were digging up some really amazing, important stuff. I really enjoy trying to figure all the architecture out and hypothesizing, but part of me is thinking that we spent months on a tiny fraction of the site and there’s so much stuff we don’t know at all. It also wasn't focused on what I wanted to be my specialty, archaeological science and geoarchaeology. Instead, it was more about iconography which isn't really my thing.

This is kind of the big thing right now. I'm really stressed because the samples I took for a research project this summer won't be able to be shipped back here. It's partly my fault and partly a result of the infighting between the two directors. There are possible alternatives for my project but it's all really up in the air and I am frustrated with myself for not figuring this out ahead of time. I got a grant for it and planned my summer around doing it and I'm freaked out about failing. Part of me thinks that I am just preemptively trying to avoid getting excited about this project and make it feel less important to me by deciding that I don’t want to do archaeology.

For the first time in my life, I feel like my decisions are going to hugely impact the rest of my life. Since I need to start contacting school and professors about getting a PhD by the end of this summer and apply in the fall, I want to be really sure this is what I want to do.
Part of me thinks that it’s just this feeling combined with stress about my project that’s making me think this way to avoid the entire issue.

What I want to do right now is travel and hike and read lots and lots of books. I am considering taking a few years off from school to figure stuff out, everything I read about the economy makes me feel like it’s ridiculously hard to get a job and a degree in archaeology is not exactly useful. Not (at the least) applying for jobs and just ‘finding myself’ isn’t an option. I want a balance between taking advantage of being young with few strings (no mortgage, no spouse, probably no school loans) without being stupid and ending up in my thirties broke and with nothing to show for it.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is either the Peace Corp or teaching English overseas. On one hand, I feel like it’s just finding another way to be irresponsible and putting off being an adult for another year or too and I’m going to end up poor/unemployable in my mid twenties with no real skills if I do it. On the other hand, I would get to travel and live somewhere else and experience something that’s not being a student.

tl;dr Actual questions:

I know that feeling like there’s no other options is a terrible reason to go to grad school. How sure/confident/happy about it should I feel?

What are good overseas English teacher programs? Any examples of personal experiences or blogs about it? Same with the Peace Corp? (I speak enough Spanish to get around and have basic conversations, if that matters. Not fluent, by any means, though)

What are jobs or fields that I could apply in with an archaeology degree?

How much of this is just normal growing up and leaving college stress and melodrama?
posted by raeka to Education (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
How much of this is just normal growing up and leaving college stress and melodrama?

This is something you have to figure out for yourself, but it seems like you're leaning towards that for a reason.

Comparably, I am a Creative Writing major. But making a career as a fiction author is pretty damn hard. So, sure, I have back up plans. Sometimes I get discouraged and feel like I should talk myself into a backup plan. But deep down I know that I want to be a writer. It can be hard. Really hard. I'll have to fight for it, and that takes so much effort, and then there's writer's block, and blah blah blah. But because I have wanted to be a writer since the third grade, and because I know I can do it, and because I know if I allow myself to waver I will regret it forever, I don't let myself waver.

But you aren't me. Only you can tell you if it's something you want so badly that you'll fight to get it on your own terms.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:42 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I guess I should add that on the opposite end of things, I took several years off between my first semester of college and where I am now (junior at a prestigious university that I adore), and while I am glad that I'm doing the education thing with more drive and ambition as a result of that time, it drives me crazy that I'm going to be 28 before I have my B.A.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:45 PM on May 22, 2012


A few things:

1. Yes, this angst is normal.

2. You can always go to grad school in a few years. You don't need to go now.

3. Your degree is not your career. Plenty of people end updoing something completely unrelated.

4. You have another year of college left. Start freaking out a year from now, but not now.
posted by twblalock at 6:52 PM on May 22, 2012


What I want to do right now is travel and hike and read lots and lots of books. I am considering taking a few years off from school to figure stuff out, everything I read about the economy makes me feel like it’s ridiculously hard to get a job and a degree in archaeology is not exactly useful.

Yes, do this.

When I was in your shoes I worked for this program, which is stateside, but which satisfies most of your current needs, so maybe check it out.

You love archaeology, and you may decide to pursue it after a while. But take a breather. Do some more volunteering at sites, get to understand the vibe that it's going to be. You know, of course, that you'll end up with a specialization that will really end up being the focus of your life's work, so maybe don't rush into that. And politics is a thing - but you may develop more of a tolerance/ appetite for politics once you dig in and start developing theories and projects of your own which you're passionate about defending.

Even if not, there are a lot of great uses for your training.

My suggestion: find an interim job, like AmeriCorps, PeaceCorps, the one I linked or similar. Live your life and practice running programs and teaching. Have some adventures. Keep thinking about school. Chances are you end up going, but it doesn't have to be right now. Go when you have a better idea, when you really really want it.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on May 22, 2012


And don't worry about "useful." It's plenty useful if you want to be an archaeologist! Learn about employment prospects, for sure, but don't forget there is private sector archaeology and,once you have the training, the job market isn't necessarily miserable. Don't let conventional wisdom on the economy dictate your life choices. Investigate. Talk to real people doing the kind of thing you'd like to be doing, and get their advice, not uninformed advice from US News and World Report or whatever.
posted by Miko at 7:04 PM on May 22, 2012


Part of it was that there was a lot of politics and infighting going on between the people running the camp (an unusual amount, from people from previous years). There wasn’t much of a group feel, which was different from the previous digs I’d been on.

For what it's worth, this is going to be a feature of all jobs that you could potentially have. I've been out of school and in the workforce for 7 years, and in some gigs my coworkers are like family, whereas in others the politics and backbiting are toxic. I'm gradually learning to look for red flags, but it's definitely a long-game learning experience. Consider, too, that until/unless you actually find yourself with tenure, you would probably be at least as mobile as you would be in other fields -- possibly moreso, since for the next 6-10+ years you'll have built in shifts in work environment that someone leaving college and going to work for some big corporate firm might not have.

I feel like my decisions are going to hugely impact the rest of my life.

This is less true than you would think. Also, you've already started making decisions that will impact the rest of your life. The decisions you're making now are no more or less important than, say, what your high school study habits were like or what you decided to major in. The idea that your life from birth through 22 is a preamble to some ACTUALLY REAL "life" is bullshit.

What are jobs or fields that I could apply in with an archaeology degree?

I have an anthropology degree and make movies for a living now. You can do basically anything you want to do. Including making this supposed "failure" in your project work for you, or at least getting around it. Do you want to go to grad school? Would you actually rather teach English abroad or join the Peace Corps? Or are you just getting cold feet.

From where I'm standing, you sound like the best possible candidate for grad school. Take some time and do something else for a bit if you want to, but I see no reason for you to avoid that path simply because some jerk won't send you a soil sample.
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, don't forget that there are other career paths after grad school besides tenure track academia. I have a good friend who got a PhD in... something sciencey... and now works for a publishing company. It's not "corporate world" vs. "grad school". The world is much bigger and more nuanced than that.
posted by Sara C. at 7:34 PM on May 22, 2012


Just seconding here that, these days, "getting a Ph.D." and trying to get a tenure-track academic job should be considered separate things (even though the latter pretty much requires the former). I would advise anybody considering a doctorate to ask themselves, "If I knew absolutely that I wouldn't get a permanent position in academia, would I still go through all the crap associated with getting a Ph.D.?" If the answer is no then you, or anybody else, should strongly consider whether or not a doctorate is a good idea.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:42 PM on May 22, 2012


For what it's worth, this is going to be a feature of all jobs that you could potentially have.

Amen to that!

Alternate career paths:

Teaching/Informal education
Museum work
Forensics
Cultural heritage
Natural and cultural resource management
Advertising/Marketing research
Product development
City planning

...and so on. Don't worry. Just get started on something. Dollars to doughnuts you'll develop a bit sharper idea what you're interested in via being in the working world for a while, and then if/when you return to school that idea will sharpen further based on initial coursework and advisory relatinships. Don't get overwhelmend. Just put one foot in front of the other for now. You have all the time in the world.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a grad student in anthropology right now; most of my archaeology grad student friends took time off between undergrad and grad school. A lot of them took jobs on Shovel Bums doing CRM stuff for a year or few to solidify skills and figure out if they REALLY wanted to be archaeology Ph.D students. One of my friends is a paleoethnobotanist who just finished her MA, decided she needs to take some time off from grad school, and is planning to contract with archaeology firms where she's from doing botanical analyses. You have a lot of options. I'd suggest, if nothing else, you talk to some people doing CRM and hear from other professional archaeologists working in non-academic context. And if you want me to put you in touch with my friend who's taking some time off, I'd be happy to!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would NOT take time off from school now if you only have a year left. That sounds like a recipe for never finishing your degree, which is a big waste of money, among other reasons.

I also started having doubts about my chosen career path when I was about a year from graduation. I didn't want to leave loose ends, though, and I was just kind of sick of that school and wanted to be done already. So I buckled down and did what I had to in order to graduate with a bachelors in my major. Then, I took a year off to work and read and really think hard about my other options. Slowly and carefully, I made my decision and applied to grad school. I'm now following an entirely new career path and I feel like switching was the right thing, but it made it SO much easier that I finished my other degree first. Even though it's in a subject more or less unrelated to what I'm doing now. It's more important to simply have that bachelors degree, regardless of what it's in.

What I did do before graduating, though, was to take a few electives in other fields I thought I was interested in. If you think you know what else you might be into besides archaeology, try to explore that a little now if you can (while still keeping on track to finish your current program.) I did this and it helped me for a couple reasons- first, it confirmed (to myself) that I was more interested in this other field, and secondly it helped me get into graduate school in the new field. I wasn't exactly their most traditional applicant due to the fact that I hadn't majored in that discipline. But I was able to say to them, 'Well look, I did take these classes as electives and I did well in them, so that shows I can handle the material.' It's kind of a stretch, but if you've worked hard to get a high GRE score and you're willing to pay the tuition for a masters degree in addition to that, well, it's certainly not impossible. If that doesn't work, you can always take a few undergraduate classes as a nontraditional student in order to improve applications for graduate/ professional programs (I did this, too.) You can really get pretty far so long as you have that bachelors degree as a base already. You don't need to take 3 years off, then change your mind about your major and spend 3 more years of undergrad, and it takes you 8 or 9 years to get your degree. In that amount of time you could do two separate bachelors degrees, or you could have a bachelors and masters degree (and from masters programs you can get into PhD if you choose to go that route.)

Last important thing to consider is that 'taking a few years off' will be easier if you already have your degree. It will give you an edge for jobs, even crappy jobs not in your field (like, in my case, as a bank teller.) Also, now that I think of it, don't you need to have your bachelors anyway to do Peace Corps or teach overseas?

Tl;dr: Taking time off is awesome and a great idea and I recommend it, and lots of people change career paths after some self reflection, including myself- but finish your degree first! Your future self will thank you for just getting it done- you're so close already.

(Upon preview/ rereading your question: You mention that the research you did on your trips was not what you were interested in, and that you were more interested in some other specialty area. That's what's awesome about graduate school, you can pursue exactly what you're interested in- you just need to figure out who else is doing research in that area, then apply to those programs. I mean, it's more complicated in that, you should get in touch with them first, etc. but an important lesson I learned in graduate school is- don't change the subject you're interested in working with to fit the people you're working with. Instead, change who you're working with until you find someone that is already doing, or at least supportive of the subject you're interested in. There is someone out there that is doing what you wish you were doing, and would be happy to teach you, you just have to find them!)
posted by GastrocNemesis at 8:17 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would NOT take time off from school now if you only have a year left.

Oh, yeah, finish FIRST. I didn't realize you were thinking of taking time before getting your bachelor's. Don't do that. Finish now, you'll have many many more options.
posted by Miko at 8:20 PM on May 22, 2012


Also forgot to mention: One benefit of finishing undergrad before you take time off is that once the stress of school is behind you, you are able to think much more clearly and put everything in perspective. I swear, in the few weeks following graduation I felt like a fog lifted out of my brain, the clouds parted and a freaking ray of sunshine came shining down to help me have an epiphany. (If you're curious, my epiphany was something along the lines of: "What was I so stressed about? I'm still young and have plenty of time to do whatever the hell I want with my life." Seems obvious, but college was so stressful that I never stopped to consider maybe it wasn't all as big of a deal as I was making it into. Turned out it wasn't.) Plus, finishing= confidence, whereas having the whole "dammit I still have to go back and finish" hanging over you kinda makes you feel like crap all the time and you probably won't be as productive or happy.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 8:27 PM on May 22, 2012


Just to add: I am definitely finishing my bachelor's. Any time I take off would be after I get my degree and before grad school.
posted by raeka at 8:30 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of it was that there was a lot of politics and infighting going on between the people running the camp (an unusual amount, from people from previous years). There wasn’t much of a group feel, which was different from the previous digs I’d been on.
I'm going to give you the awful truth. Everything in adult life is politics and infighting. No matter what you do, no matter what career you decide to pursue, there will be unpleasant people in positions of power who get a sick satisfaction from kicking around the people below them, and there will be overly-ambitious careerists below who get off on challenging those above them. Bullshit is universal. Because you're going to have to put up with those people no matter what, it is really importance that you find something you want to work on for the sake of the work itself. In my experience, the only thing that keeps people from burning out of any given career after 5-6 years is a genuine passion and love for what they do.

If you're really blessed, you'll know what your passion is right away. That's probably the case for only 1-2% of the population.

For the rest of us, we've got plenty of wiggle room to figure out what our passions are and to decide to pursue one or many of them. Bachelor degrees are very general. You'll meet people ten years from now who started in marketing and ended up as computer programmers, or people who studied art and ended up in sales. Your major is really only important as a springboard to where you want to be.

I know a lot of people will say not to take time off between your undergrad and grad school. I want to say that you should take your time to decide if grad school is the best option for you, but I also know that the current economy leaves few promising alternatives for recent grads. I know my first instinct was to get a masters at 22, and I'm glad I didn't – it would have been a mistake. Only you can say whether it would be for you.
posted by deathpanels at 8:37 PM on May 22, 2012


I was in nearly the same position as you: I came off an excavation between my junior and senior years incredibly burnt out and very, very unsure of what I really wanted. I hadn't taken the GREs. I had a basic list of people to contact and schools to apply for, but then the market dropped out of everything. I ended up doing a short master's in England, before coming back. What I gained in England was invaluable, in terms of research and writing skills; it also helped me come to grips with different theories and with possible jobs after graduation. (Honestly, archaeological science and geoarchaeology + focus on non-theoretical results were a huge part of other archaeological degrees at the university I went to, so maybe take a look at the research being done abroad, as well? What I did isn't for everyone, but it was absolutely the best thing I could have done.)

I'm still not in a PhD program, but I'm finally beginning to accept that it's okay. I work in semi-related field with unlimited access to (written) research materials. I am working towards a career in another field, where I can use my love of archaeology more directly, and, if I am very lucky, I will get to excavate at some point, at least for fun. Your specialties are really great, so do some research into the cutting edge of those fields. Who's the best? What research do they do? Do they do a lot of project consulting, and if so, are there blogs/published reports from those areas? Email them, if you have questions about their background, or specific questions about their research. You definitely don't have to only do iconography! Promise!

But here's the thing: you definitely, absolutely, must love archaeology. You have to love some aspect of it so much that it will get you through grants, and TAing, and research for eight years. Through science courses, and language comps, and all the rest of it. You have to be willing to fight for your research, because it is a very, very tough job market, and there are a lot of good people ahead of you in the graduation pipeline. And yes: digs are almost always full of some kind of drama. Many of them are wonderful, great experiences with fantastic teams, but many are also in isolated locations with incredibly overeducated people stuffed into crowded accommodations away from their loved ones. I think the drama is something that you learn to deal with more gracefully over time, but your advisors should be able to direct you towards better fits for your skills and personality. Also, international drama over samples, or visas, or soccer results? It happens. All the time. It is what it is.

If what you really want is "to travel and hike and read lots and lots of books" then definitely take some time for yourself. The degree takes 8-10 years, ballpark, so if what you want is space, give it to yourself. CRM work seems like it would be a good fit, and it's good experience. Some National Park jobs don't require the law enforcement courses and they definitely do have archaeological sites and interpreters. Doing stints as a museum visitor services staffer or another short-term position could also give you more access to learn about other careers, along with money to fund more walkabout time. Wherever you do go, make sure you (or a kind friend) has access to online databases, so that you can keep up with some research in your particular field of research, and with the rhythm of reading academic materials in general. Not all the time! Just, you know, periodically. Keep an eye out for local historical or archaeological projects-- you never know what you'll find! Also, languages are a fairly invaluable part of most archaeological digs, so if you do teach abroad or in a different area of the US, you may find casual language study to be a huge help.

Anyway, this has gone on for far too long. If there's anything I can clarify, please feel free to memail me, and good luck!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:44 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any time I take off would be after I get my degree and before grad school.

Oh, yeah, well in that case you should definitely do it! I think it helps a lot with avoiding future burnout. And it gives you more perspective, which makes you a better student. I can tell that I get less stressed out than my younger classmates who went straight through from undergrad without a break. Just do yourself a favor and if you do get a job, pay off any credit cards or other debts you have, and it you don't have any try to save some money!

And this: I'm going to give you the awful truth. Everything in adult life is politics and infighting. No matter what you do, no matter what career you decide to pursue, there will be unpleasant people in positions of power who get a sick satisfaction from kicking around the people below them, and there will be overly-ambitious careerists below who get off on challenging those above them.

. . . it's not that this isn't true, it is. But I do sort of feel like academia is a special breed of awful when it comes to this sort of thing, and the OP is actually very smart to be thinking about it. Some fields really do have more supportive cultures than others, and you can't just generalize and say all possible career choices have the same problems. All career choices surely have their own problems, but it is possible to figure out what the main issues might be and predict how well you could deal with them. (And of course, taking time off is great because you have lots of time to research this stuff and make better decisions.)
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:05 PM on May 22, 2012


Yeah, I should add that you should choose a career in which the manner of political infighting is tolerable to you. To be an academic, I'd guess you need to be tolerant of a particular type of squabbling and backstabbing that might not be found much outside academe.

But my main point is that you should get some perspective on the type of squabbling you encountered. Every profession involves some power struggles and head games. I made the mistake early on in my post-college malaise of taking a job in a big financial company, finding I hated the games that went on there, and then concluded naïvely that it was the financial sector that was awful. So I got a job at a nice friendly web company, only to discover that the same petty infighting happened there too. Just try to get some perspective before you write it off.
posted by deathpanels at 9:51 PM on May 22, 2012


A lot of archaeologists (who aren't in academia) work for state Departments of Transportation in the U.S. I gather there's a similar function in the U.K. ... basically to look where (new, previously unbuilt) stuff is going to be built and give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down in terms of the site's archaeological significance. Have you looked at those sorts of jobs as well as "big" digs? They are more "corporate" type jobs that come with state pensions and you work with a lot of non-archaeologists -- which can ramp down the in-dig drama, but also means you'll be working with a lot of people who don't know much about archaeology. For some people this kind of cross-discipline work is ideal, for others it is torture. These jobs are often based out of or partnered with a state university.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:53 PM on May 22, 2012


I'm going to be the outlier here and say: it sounds like you're derailing at the first hurdle, and bolting in a panic.

It sounds like you have an outstanding undergraduate resume and real momentum and I think it's very short sighted to push that aside because things are (possibly for the first time) not going as you imagined they would. Your ability to deal with the crappy politics and the fallout of not getting your samples are excellent professional development opportunities for you. In the read world, nobody will care who's fault it is that the samples didn't arrive; they are going to want to know what you're going to do about it.

There's a pretty good chance you'll feel better about this whole thing when you formulate a rescue plan for your project, isn't there?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:48 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I would NOT take time off from school now if you only have a year left.

Repeated because it can't hurt to hear it one more time. In addition, many of the options you suggest (Peace Corps, teaching English overseas) require a college degree. It is totally okay to not go directly to grad school, or never go to grad school, but many of your options will be enhanced by finishing the BA. Also, re Peace Corps, all of my friends who have gone through it and several AskMes emphasize that the application process is Very Long. If it is something you are serious about, start investigating it now so you can try to time it well.
posted by whatzit at 3:19 AM on May 23, 2012


I'm formerly an archaeology grad student.

I was incredibly passionate about archaeology, and was completely energized after a highly successful field season between my junior and senior years of undergrad in a very reputable university. I had some great mentors as an undergrad, loved every minute of it, and after graduation moved on to an extremely prestigious PhD program with plans to graduate in five years. Or less!

Five years later, I left with an MA and never looked back. I was ABD and had half my dissertation work done, and it was still more fulfilling to just walk away.

First, like everyone else says, grad school sucks. It's long hours, low pay, constant focus on your work even when you're supposed to be relaxing, and completely different from undergrad. It's also a time when it's really easy to accrue debt, even if you're fully funded. How are you going to survive when you're home from your excavation in mid-August and your first stipend check doesn't come until the last day of August? How are you going to pay for those car repairs when your transmission goes out, your rent is due, and your upcoming stipend check clears $1500 for the month? Student loans. Credit cards. Or, if you're lucky, rich parents. But if you don't have those, prepare for debt (without the payoff of a likely career!). And when your stipend runs out, grocery stores are always hiring (well, not really in this economy!). And it will, because it'll likely be a four or five year stipend, but you'll take six, seven, eight, or nine to finish. Or more.

Second, archaeology sucks. Don't get me wrong: it's also incredibly interesting and fun sometimes. But mostly it sucks. That infighting between directors? Way more common than you'd ever hope. And there's a tremendous amount of work just going into planning digs, particularly abroad, where sometimes things just prevent you from working. Sorry! Can't enter the country! Good luck getting material for those papers, and have fun telling that to the entire crew you've assembled. And if you do go, enjoy putting your life on hold for several months. It's easy in your early 20s but gets progressively harder as you simultaneously need to build a career and an adult life.

Third, the outcomes for archaeology PhDs are abjectly terrible, and this is in large part why I've never looked back. Of my friends and acquaintances who finished their PhDs, most have strung together one- and two-year positions into a "career", or more often adjuncting for pennies, relying on their spouses for support when they couldn't find a job. The luckiest few have tenure-track jobs in small, non-prestigious colleges in rural towns (they did not, emphatically not, get to choose where they live). Exactly one, of dozens, is tenure-track at a top-tier school. Many have left the field, both before (me) and after getting the PhD, and it's hard starting at the bottom without a professional degree having missed several years of earning and career building.

So, yes, I would pass on grad school. But really, you're employable in lots of fields with an archy/anthro degree. As an entry level employee, employers are way more interested in you having a degree than having a certain degree. You're lucky that you're thinking about this now: take advantage of on-campus recruiting in your senior year. Use your campus resources for finding jobs. Get an internship, get on-campus recruiting interviews, and use that to springboard yourself into a career. Now is the time to do it. Because, trust me: maybe grad school seems like the only option, but it's actually not an option either, because your career options are no better, and likely much worse, having earned a PhD than not.

I've rambled a bit, I think, but tried to arrange this in a useful way. If there's anything about archaeology or grad school I can address specifically, just ask.
posted by The Michael The at 8:00 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's long hours, low pay, constant focus on your work even when you're supposed to be relaxing, and completely different from undergrad. It's also a time when it's really easy to accrue debt, even if you're fully funded. How are you going to survive when you're home from your excavation in mid-August and your first stipend check doesn't come until the last day of August? How are you going to pay for those car repairs when your transmission goes out, your rent is due, and your upcoming stipend check clears $1500 for the month? Student loans. Credit cards. Or, if you're lucky, rich parents. But if you don't have those, prepare for debt (without the payoff of a likely career!).

This is all stuff that is absolutely GUARANTEED to be part of your life if you don't go to grad school, too.

Look. I was asking myself the same questions that OP is when I was exactly where they are right now (but for grad school in linguistics, but still). And I was not nearly as well placed as OP is. My decision was to "take a couple years off" and teach English abroad, and then during that figure out whether I'd rather Law School or a PhD or maybe something else entirely. Then some randomness happened and I ended up in a totally different career before I even got to the teaching abroad part, the grad school question got derailed, and one day I woke up and realized I was 28 and had been away from academic life for so long that the question had been answered for me.

I'm satisfied with my choice/the random series of events that transpired to keep me away from grad school. But when I hear grad students complain about how much their lives suck, my first thought is usually, "yeah, so it sucks in exactly the same way that NOT going to grad school sucks."

The bottom line is that , in a year or so, you will cease to be an undergrad. This will mean a substantial change in your everyday life, a change that is miles bigger than the difference between high school and college, or really any day-to-day life change that you've ever experienced. This is something you can't escape by choosing to pursue more education.

You are going to be broke. You are going to be overworked. You are going to be on the hook for your material needs, unless you are very wealthy or very lucky. You are going to be under pressure. You are going to face expectations that were previously not part of your life. You are going to be expected to work under pressure and be inconvenienced in ways that are unthinkable to you right now. You might have to have a shitty day job you hate, or work two jobs, or cobble together income from unlikely sources. And none of this will come with any guarantees of future success.

Welcome to being a grownup! You can't avoid it, no matter how high up in the ivory tower you climb!
posted by Sara C. at 8:53 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you should definitely take some time off to read books, and take hikes. I've learned some of the most important things I've ever learned in the time between my Bachelor's degree and my credential for teaching, and a lot of it was just from self-reflection, reading books I never had a chance to while I was obtaining my degree (because you're loaded up with so much other required reading), and just having life experiences.

Working in dead end jobs for a year just trying to survive really put things in perspective and lit that fire under my bum that I really don't want to be doing that for the rest of my life, and that I definitely need intellectual stimulation.

As people have said, Grad School is hard and you don't get paid much, but so is just working in industry unless you're an engineer, doctor, or something.

The biggest thing I've learned after I graduated is how insignificant my Bachelor's degree really is. It really means nothing in the long run. It will not usually get you jobs that you couldn't get otherwise (I worked at Safeway, and in a manufacturing line for 2 years with a BS degree). All I am thankful for is that I got my degree without being belabored by huge debt, because it would totally have NOT been worth it.

And just an addendum that isn't really useful, but my degree was in Anthropology as well with an emphasis in genetics and bioarchaeology, so *fist bump*. I still love the field even though I will not be working in it for a career. Kudos to you for your dedication.
posted by Peregrin5 at 11:36 AM on May 23, 2012


Put aside the politics. It hasn't happened yet. Even if there's a 70% chance it will happen, it hasn't happened yet. Don't be afraid-- even though it's easy to.

I would apply to graduate school. Apply, apply apply. Like you were applying for a job.

You know that saying, it's easier to find a job when you have a job?

Well, whoever came up with that probably didn't mean graduate school... but there's still a sense in which that's true.

During the late nights in grad school when you're up wondering if you made the right choice, you'll be able to apply for other jobs online, attend interviews, and potentially walk away.

Attend a funded program. You might go into debt, but you might still net higher in grad school than out of it, and looking for a job.

Making the opposite choice, it will take a whole other year to apply if you do decide you want to go to grad school.

Grad school might also give you some transferable skills. If your program will teach you things that employers want, then even 1 year might not be a waste if you don't like it. Concrete things like how to use computers or order things from overseas will always be in demand. Publishing is a dying field, but archeologists have their own publishers, editors, and writer. Knowing those terms are useful.

If you apply for graduate school, you will have a job with the possibility of forward momentum in a career (even if the PhD isn't a promise of anything). If it's in a culture you don't like, you will still have been baptized by fire, and office politics in an office job will look like nothing. (Based on personal observation academia does have a LOT of office politics and the long-term career stakes are higher so that can be stressful).

The only caveat is if there is a job that potentially makes sense to you and will lead to a LONG-term career path that you are equally invested in (as much as archeology), then it would be worth starting at the entry level.

But part of making the long term decisions is just going through it all, and that's ok.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:21 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm satisfied with my choice/the random series of events that transpired to keep me away from grad school. But when I hear grad students complain about how much their lives suck, my first thought is usually, "yeah, so it sucks in exactly the same way that NOT going to grad school sucks."

Not only that, but when you turn out like me, and realize in your late 30s that you did want to go to graduate school after all, you finally go ahead and do it, only this time you're squeezing it in with actual full-time work, big-time bills, a life, a family, and all the responsibilities of full adulthood. Now, that's hard. So I agree, don't let the "it's so hard" answers grind you down.

But do note that not every field offers you the luxury of taking 15 years to think about it, and archaeology is one field where you don't want to waste your youth, because fieldwork gets harder with age and also because it's when you make the most connections. So take the time off, but not too many years. A few at most.
posted by Miko at 11:00 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


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