I’m not the first tech that has had to teach their PhD boss how to do her/his job, but why does this keep happening?
Bill posted a critique of post-secondary training of archaeologists. He argues that schools are doing their students a disservice in that they aren’t always trained in the field skills necessary for performing field archaeology, at least at the field technician level. He provides some examples of occasions when field techs with B.A.s had to teach some basic skill to someone with a Ph. D. I highly recommend checking it out, but I do some thoughts I’d like to add.
First and foremost, university is not a tech school. Your post-secondary education is not just learning the trade of archaeology. Teaching the mechanical stuff is easy. It’s covered in your field schools, undergrad methods classes, and work-based training. What you’re ultimately taught at school are the concepts behind those techniques. You need to understand the types of data available to you when you work with features. You need to understand what sites actually are. These are the skills you need when you’re a PI. When you start to think on that conceptual level, you gain the flexibility to deal with whatever challenges the work at hand might provide. That includes the ability to recognize when you need to bolster your understanding in something new.
When you get out of grad school and work as a field tech, you might think that the stuff you were taught doesn’t apply. When you move up, that stuff becomes more useful, and hopefully more apparently so. But not everything will apply, and that brings me to my second thought: Fieldwork is only a subset of archaeology. If you’re planning on having a career in archaeology, odds are that you will need to do CRM-oriented fieldwork at some point in your life. But, it’s entirely possible to focus on aspects of archaeology that are unrelated to fieldwork during your studies, and that’s OK.
Because of the breadth of subject matter within archeology, you might end up learning something that you won’t need during your career. That’s also OK. The purpose of your education isn’t to set your career path, but to prepare you for any number of possible career paths, including ones that haven’t yet been developed. Even with doctoral-grade specialization, you might end up with a career that is only tangentially related to what you had imagined as a career.
Likewise, schools can’t possibly teach you everything you’ll need to know in your career. It’s up to you to go beyond that as needed. That does not make your educational experience a waste, because what you did learn was how to learn. In his post, Bill recommends self-study for intellectual pursuits. Within the academy, I think that coursework or independent study provides a better studying environment because it’s structured and has a certain level of expert feedback. OTOH, I think his idea is a great one for professional development post-school.
Third, not all students are the same. Let’s be honest. Some people were better students than others. Some people don’t apply what they were taught once they’re out in the real world. Some people have more extra-curricular experience than others. That’s really the key issue: experience. Any perspective employer should look at a candidate’s cv to ascertain that person’s experience and abilities. That candidate shouldn’t be offered a supervisory or PI position solely on the basis of their degree.
Finally, not all schools are the same. It’s entirely possible that some are doing a crappy job at educating their students. Or maybe that particular school was a poor fit for that particular person.
So, remember. University is not a tech school. There’s more to archaeology than fieldwork. Your experiences matter. Degrees don’t grant you anything more than what you can do. Choose your school wisely.