Case study

Archaeological officer — Rachael

Rachael's work as a local government archaeologist sees her carrying out varied tasks and working with people who have a shared interest

How did you get your job?

I completed a BA in Archaeology at the University of Southampton and then went on to study for an MA in Social Archaeology. Following my MA, I successfully applied for a six-month training placement in rural archaeology funded by the Institute of Archaeology and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I was based with a county council rural archaeological conservation team and learnt how to perform the different roles which they carry out in order to manage the rural historic environment. I developed the skills and knowledge to be able to fulfil the different responsibilities carried out by local government archaeological advisers.

Following my placement I was offered a temping job with the team I had been working with, which then led on to being offered a permanent post.

Training placements are a great way to learn on the job and a great platform from which to find employment

How relevant is your degree to your job?

A degree in archaeology was an essential requirement of my job (and all jobs within local government archaeology) and a postgraduate degree was a desired qualification.

What are your main work activities?

On a daily basis I have to balance a number of different roles:

  • I am responsible for the initial appraisal of all planning applications which are submitted to my department. I have to assess which proposals will impact upon known archaeological sites or areas of archaeological potential and therefore require archaeological investigation. I manage my own portfolio of planning cases and oversee these projects, including outlining the level of archaeological investigation required, monitoring the fieldwork and assessing fieldwork reports.
  • I help to add new archaeological sites to the County Historic Environment Record, which is a database of all known archaeology in the country.
  • I am responsible for providing advice to farmers and landowners about the archaeological features present on their land and how they can best manage and protect them.
  • I also carry out a number of administrative tasks, such as placing orders for my department, raising invoices and helping to manage our team finances.
  • In addition, I contribute to community engagement projects wherever possible.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

As I moved from a training placement to a permanent post, I have gained more knowledge and experience and have begun to take on a greater number and complexity of planning cases and archaeological projects. I have been given greater responsibility for carrying out work independently and managing my own workload.

I hope to continue to learn and develop, with the aim of being promoted to a role higher up in the team in the future.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy working as part of a small and enthusiastic team and also getting to work to conserve and promote the archaeology of the country on a daily basis. Working as an archaeologist has also enabled me to continue to build upon my knowledge of archaeology which I gained during my time at university.

It's really exciting when a new archaeological discovery is made at one of the sites you are dealing with. Also, all archaeologists have their different specialisms, so you can really learn a lot from your colleagues. In addition, archaeologists have a shared passion and fascination with the subject, so it's great to work with like-minded people.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

In the current climate where savings need to be made, working as an archaeologist can be quite pressurised as it is a sector under threat from cuts. Our team now has fewer staff to share the workload than it did in the past.

Additionally, I sometimes have to deal with customers or their consultants who aren't happy to have to pay for archaeological work to be carried out. Therefore, liaising with customers and justifying why we have asked for archaeological investigation at a site can be challenging.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

For most jobs in archaeology, a degree in the subject (or something related such as history) is essential. Also look for volunteering or work experience opportunities as this will help you to stand out from the crowd in a time when there aren't lots of jobs available in the sector. Competition is high but training placements are a great way to learn on the job and a great platform from which to find employment.