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!