Case study

Historic environment researcher — Beth Watson

Beth travels all over the country to assess the archaeological potential of proposed development sites. Discover her top tips for getting a job as an archaeologist

How did you get your job?

I graduated with a BA Classical and Historical Archaeology from the University of Sheffield and went on to do an MA Landscape Archaeology, also at Sheffield.

I found the job advert for the post of historic environment researcher with Wessex Archaeology on the BAJR (British Archaeological Jobs Resource) website and applied in the summer while completing my Masters. I had a face-to-face interview and got offered the job after I completed my Masters.

What's a typical working day like?

In a week, I complete one or two desk-based archaeological and heritage assessments to accompany planning applications for potential development sites. This involves conducting desk-based research and using geographic information systems (GIS) to map heritage and archaeological assets in the area.

Also, I travel to the local studies and archives to identify any useful primary sources and historic maps relevant to the area. Once I have conducted the site visit, I write a report highlighting the archaeological potential of the site and recommendations for further archaeological work prior to developments commencing.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy how every site that I write about has a different archaeological and historic background - it makes the work very varied and interesting. I learn something new every day about different historic periods and different places in the country.  

What are the challenges?

The work requires a lot of travelling, although it is also an opportunity to visit new places.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My undergraduate course taught me the basics of working in commercial archaeology, with a compulsory fieldwork module, as well as research excavations that helped develop my practical experience.

The Masters course taught me a number of practical skills I use on a weekly basis, including producing mapping from GIS software and how to conduct desk-based report-writing. Every report requires an archaeological survey, (which can vary in type and detail), and I learned the skills associated with conducting these in both my degrees.

How has your role developed?

I started on small-scale archaeology assessments that had limited archaeology potential, but I have since built up my portfolio to incorporate large-scale infrastructure projects and also smaller projects that have higher archaeological potential.

My long-term aim is to become a heritage consultancy manager, running my own projects and working more closely with clients and local planning authorities to help achieve sustainable development within the planning process.

What is your top tip for choosing a Masters?

Carefully research the type of career you wish to pursue. Every university and course is specific to different archaeological specialisms - you don't want to be taking a degree in something that you don't enjoy.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Get your driver's licence - some of the sites you will be sent to are inaccessible by public transport. Most companies provide you with vehicles, so providing you have a driving licence you will be good to go.
  • Take as many opportunities as possible to gain practical fieldwork experience - the more experience you have (whether voluntary or paid, in the office or out on excavations), the more employable you'll be.
  • Buy some good outdoor gear - thermals, waterproofs and walking boots are always a good shout for working in archaeology.

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