#71 Archaeological Hierarchy

The Great Basin has been a cruel mistress these past few years.  Since I was in the Navy and my division chief, Chief Davis told me that you’re up or out, meaning that you either move up or move out of the way for others, I’ve been motivated to climb whatever ladder I’ve been on.  Working in the South that meant get a Master’s degree and you can run projects and write reports.  You can even run a company some day.  I thought it worked that way in the west which is why I went to graduate school.  I had a lot to learn.

When I finished graduate school and returned to the Great Basin I somewhat expected a position to land at my feet because I took the initiative to educate myself and gain the necessary qualifications for advancement.  That’s not how it works here.  At every company I’ve worked for I’ve seen people with BA’s running projects and writing reports.  True, there are always a few MA’s around but you don’t need an MA to gain a higher level of responsibility out here.  

One drawback to this system is that those BA’s that have worked at a company for a few years, have a lot of security, and have a lot of responsibility, also have no desire to leave and get a higher degree.  Why should they?  If then never want to run a company and don’t mind always taking direction from someone else then why would they even want to move up?  It’s a system that doesn’t quite seem fair to those that choose to become better archaeologists by taking the initiative to get more education.

Now, I know some of my readers will say that just getting an advanced degree doesn’t make you smarter and it doesn’t make you a better archaeologists.  You’re right.  It doesn’t.  What it does do, however, is exposes you to different levels of resources and different ways of thinking.  A graduate course is a great place for networking and for learning some writing skills.  Of course a great archaeologist is always learning and trying to do better.

Another frustrating aspect of the Great Basin is that even if you do have an advanced degree and years of experience you will likely start out at the bottom of any company you work for.  I know someone that has an MA and over 20 years of experience running projects and writing reports and he’s answering to BA level project supervisors.  He’s a nice guy and doesn’t seem to mind but it’s unfair to him.  Because all of his experience is in the eastern United States all of his years of leadership experience and his experience with clients is thrown out the door.  How do they get away with that here?

I’d love it if a few PI’s in the Great Basin could comment on this post and tell me why they treat people this way and how this sort of system came about.  I don’t want this post to make it sound as though I’m bitter or anything.  I can see how it could come off that way.  Clearly, I’ve chosen to stick around and be a player in this crazy system.  I just want to know why it is so different than how the rest of the country appears to be.

My next post will be a detailed account of how I’d like a company to run.  It’s a pie-in-the-sky idea and probably wouldn’t be profitable but it’s a dream anyway.  I need to win millions on a game show so I can bring the idea to fruition.  I think that if the company were started, staffed, and filled with technology from a money source that didn’t involve clients then it could be self-sustaining.  I know there’s no real money in archaeology and that you can’t get rich doing it but I think you can run a company that focuses on its employees as the bottom line rather than on the clients.  Sure, the clients pay the bills, but the company would be nothing without the techs.  Many businesses treat their employees well while still managing to keep the client happy.  

There is one simple change that I know would be simple and easy to make.  Everyone would be in the same space.  I’d want to get away from the system where the grumbly old PI is off in an office somewhere and people are afraid to talk to him/her.  If everyone is in the same space, with no cubicle walls, then a more collaborative approach can be taken.  If you’re worried that they’ll gossip too much or get too distracted then don’t hire people that don’t share your passion.  There are plenty of high quality, passionate, out-of-work archaeologists out there just waiting for their shot.

I’ll save the rest for the next post…

See you in the field.