Funding and Finishing (Someday?)

The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions… excitement, frustration, joy, anger… and all of that come along with every graduate student (and academic)’s favorite sensation: anxiety!! (now with extra Tzatziki!) All kidding aside, this PhD in Archaeology thing is absurdly difficult, and I don’t really think for the reasons it should be. Worrying about your research, data collection, writing? Sure! That all seems reasonable… its what we signed up for, honestly. But jumping through administrative hoops, dealing with distracted/busy/unengaged faculty and advisory committees, finding a project, organizing that project, don’t forget finding funding for that project… and oh yeah, graduating on time, now that universities seem to think that 4 years of funding is enough (even though you spend 3 of those years taking classes, rather than working on your dissertation). I, personally, have made what appears to have been a critical error: I had a PhD project, and quite honestly I wasn’t excited about it. Actually, I kind of hated it. Now, you see, EVERY grad student ends up hating their PhD project in the end, but when you hate it before you’ve even started? That’s a pretty bad sign, since you’re going to be living with it day in and day out for the next 2-3 years of your life. So, instead of assuring that I would be miserable for two or three years, and possibly losing motivation and never even finishing, I did what I think any reasonable person would do, and when an opportunity for a better, more interesting project came along, I took it! Great! Oh, ho ho!! Hold your horses there, Miss Girl Archaeologist. Easier said than done, my friends! Changing your topic takes time! Lots of it! Getting everyone on board, getting the research done, making arrangements, etc… its all incredibly time consuming. And that’s time that grad students don’t really have lots of, and time, as they say, is money. If archaeology were really “science,” we’d all be working on little sub-projects of our advisors’ research. We’d barely even choose our research topics – we’d have something “suggested” to us, based on our interests and skills. Our funding would be provided by our supervisors’ NSF and NIH and DARPA grants, and we’d be working in their laboratories. If we were a full-on humanity, we’d write our dissertations sequestered in a library someplace, with maybe the occasional trip to archives in other countries. But archaeology is inherently interdisciplinary, collaborative, and as a result difficult to organize and potentially expensive, and very few students get dissertation topics or funding support from their faculty. As a result, we’re expected to cobble together our own research topics and research design, make our own connections, get all the permits, make all the arrangements, hire or locate a crew or collaborators, and collect, process, and analyze all our own data… and of course pay for the whole mess as well! Some students are smart – they work on museum collections that are readily accessible, or even better, nearby. Others do synthetic work, reanalyzing other projects’ data in new and interesting ways. And then, there are the fools, like me, who actually try to collect new data, and in the field no less! Labs are only somewhat easier – you have to find and prep your samples (which can involve nightmares if you’re exporting them from foreign countries), and god forbid your data is a mess, but at least you’re not trying to hire a crew and schedule around the weather and the school year, and still facing the potential of no/bad data. So, yeah… basically, after all of this craziness and stress, I think I actually have a potentially amazing project. Great collaborators. Awesome data (if we can get it out of the ground that is!). But I’m a year off of where I “should” be right now, and I don’t see any feasible way of making that time up, so what do I do? Shrink the project? Or take longer to finish? And if the latter, how on earth do I fund that? In the 19th and early 20th century, archaeologists had patrons. George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon was an amateur archaeologist, who provided the financial backing for various excavations in Egypt, most notably Howard Carter’s discovery of KV62, the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun. I’m thinking I need a patron. Anyone want to volunteer? I’ll try my very hardest to make you famous!

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The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

An appropriate title for this post, for numerous reasons… the first of which is that I planned to post to this blog daily, and of course, its now been very nearly two weeks. Mea culpa (also a phrase of import in recent goings-on).

So my partner-in-crime and life came to visit me in Cyprus, and that’s where all got derailed. Which, to be honest, I had expected, so losing those 8 days wasn’t particularly problematic. However, I felt like I ought to be getting something done, so I didn’t necessarily take as much advantage of the time off and his presence as I should have. So it goes, but we still had some fun adventures I think!

After dragging him to “my” sites, we made a more standard archaeological-tourist jaunt around the island. The Cyprus Museum is of course required, and we also went to Kourion and Hala Sultan Tekke (the mosque, not the unimpressive LBA trenches – which are still cool, but require hiking out across a field for not a whole lot of payoff). We also made it up to Kyrenia, and got our crusader on, going to both St. Hilarion and Kyrenia castles. It was actually so nice, and its such a nice town, that we spent the night, which meant we got to hang out on the medieval harbour listening to Turkish folk-rock late into the evening over good beer.

However, all of this was tempered by a terrifying email late last Wednesday, where I appeared to have temporarily lost access to most of the material I’m here to study this Spring and much of the data I intended to collect in the coming year for my dissertation. Talk about heart-stopping! A flurry of panicked emailed were sent, with apologies and clarifications and additional requests for permissions, and in the end I was given a Monday morning meeting with the head of Museums and Monuments (who is also the director of the larger project and excavations that my dissertation will hopefully piggy-back off of).

So… Monday morning, having not slept particularly well for the previous 5 nights (oh graduate school, how you make mountains out of molehills), heart in throat, I show up at the Cyprus Museum for my meeting. And everything goes fabulously! It’s all awesome. She’s awesome (always has been, but its nice to be reminded of it), and everything seems to be worked out, not just as I had anticipated, but better than I possibly could have hoped. I need to reword some things in my proposal, and some other things I don’t need to ask for money for at all, because they’ve already been done, or I’m being given the opportunity to do them as part of other people’s projects/funding… and yet, everyone understand that this is for my dissertation, so they’re all concerned about getting me my data in a timely fashion. Whoah!

So, got into the museum to see some of my material starting Tuesday morning (hurrah!) and permissions were gotten for me to move my other material to where I can use it (double hurrah!). The survey collections from the 1950s are, unsurprisingly, filthy, and a bit jumbled. This makes me worried about the analysis done by this one researcher back in 1993… she recorded a bunch of stuff I can’t find. We also can’t find the new material she supposedly collected. So instead of 40-60 sherds per site, I’m looking at about 15. Not ideal, but I’ll do the best with what I have.

Then Wednesday morning I was invited to a meeting with the French researcher who is planning a major geophysics project on Cyprus, including the Ayios Sozomenos region, and appears to be happy to include me and my two sites into his work and let me tag along (woohoo!!). If all goes well for him with his work elsewhere on the island this weekend, I’ll take him on a tour of the sites next week.

Wednesday afternoon continued to be full of progress and success. The head of museums and monuments came up to the study room in the museum, and crashed my ceramics analysis. I’m working on the 1950s survey material of the fortresses that I’ll be working on for my diss, but first I owe her a publication of our pilot project two summers ago. She seemed excited and even a little impressed with my work, and we had a lively discussion about when one ware actually appears, how long the MCIII actually is (or isn’t), and whether my mystery sherds are another particular ware (she thinks yes, which supports my thoughts, and also throws our chronology higgledy piggledy, so YAY!). And after that, I was invited by the conservation team, who are lovely (and very funny) people in the lab across the hall from the workroom, to coffee, after which I was given carte blanche to hang out in their lab and secret sunny patio. Neat!

Thursday was a half-day in the museum, so I’m not quite done with the survey material – probably one more day. But that’s okay, because it gave me more time to go out to Pera to work on the reorganization of our warehouse, which I started Monday afternoon. Its dirty, exhausting work, but its satisfying, and hopefully we’ll be able to find things more easily when I’m done! Its also giving me a better grasp of what material is left to be analyzed, or what wasn’t completely finished to begin with. Seriously, any archaeological project needs at least one ceramics assistant for every two trenches… or we need a study season every year as long as our field season. This happens to every project I know, but alas, ceramics stopped being sexy sometime in the 1940s, so despite their importance, they really don’t get the attention they need. Everyone seems to be into animal bones these days… what is that? I don’t get it. Come look at pots with me!