McGill Anthropology Grad Excavates Her International Archaeology Career Through Internships

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After graduating from McGill University in April 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, Minnesota native Emily Peschel had already successfully interned on an international archaeological dig and was ready to jet set to another dig in Arizona.

While McGill had offered Emily the theoretical skills and historical background in her field, she says she felt that in order to fully accomplish her goals, interning on archaeological digs was the way to go.

“I think I need a few more practical experiences in archaeology before I apply to grad school, but my field school and BLM internship are a great start.” —Emily Peschel, anthropology graduate, McGill University

Emily is looking forward to finding a job in Alberta next, Canada’s most well-known “archaeological” province!

After two successful field experiences I sat down with Emily to discuss what she got out of these internships and why she thinks practical work is imperative in her field.

Q. Why did you think working in the field would help you with grad school applications and your career goals?
A. As an aspiring archaeologist with a B.A. in anthropology, it was imperative that I participate in an archaeological field school.

Many of the grad schools I have looked at have this as a prerequisite. Grad schools definitely want to accept students who show that they are truly interested and dedicated to the subject for which they’re applying, so I would suggest doing a longer internship rather than a shorter one.

Q. You’ve now interned on two separate digs in two very different locations. Why did you choose Sweden for your first internship?
A. I was particularly interested in Sweden because of my Swedish heritage, and interest in the Vikings. The one thing to remember when doing an international internship is that there are fees associated with field schools. They are volunteer so you must consider travel expenses and the charge for room and board!

Q. Why did you choose Arizona for your second placement?
A. The internship in Arizona had a lot of perks that interested me. First, it was sponsored through the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The SCA pays for all travel expenses, rent, and gives the interns a weekly stipend.

Secondly, this internship was very professional. I was going to be working on real federal archaeology projects, which was cool. This internship was through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and many archaeologists end up at the BLM, or other federal departments. To further that I would be learning skills such as GPS, GIS, among others which would be really helpful in my archaeology career.

Emily Peschel on an archaeology dig in SwedenQ. How did the internships differ from one another?
A. The two experiences were very different, on many levels! The field school in Sweden gave me an experience of what excavation was like. We definitely got our hands dirty!

Meanwhile, the internship in Arizona taught me what it would be like to be a federal archaeologist. There were no excavations.

As a social experience, the field school in Sweden was more rewarding. There were students from all over the world participating in the excavation so finding friends was very easy.

The internship in Arizona, however, was limited to only two interns, which made for a less fun experience socially. When looking for an internship it’s important to think of these social aspects too because I think it impacts the kind of experience you will have!

Q. So, do you think there was one internship which was more beneficial than the other?
A. I don’t think either internship was more beneficial than the other. On the one hand, to be an archaeologist, you HAVE to have participated in a field school or excavation of some sort so Sweden was better for that, but on the other hand, the skills that I learned through the internship at the BLM in Arizona gives me an advantage against other archaeologists looking for jobs. I now have both sets of skills, excavation experience and BLM experience.

Q. Do you think these short placements have given you enough experience to give you a leg up on competition at grad school and in your career?
A. I’m not sure if I would do another internship. At this point, I’m more focused on finding a job in my field. I am volunteering right now, just to gain some more experience, but I don’t think I would commit to another unpaid program. I would rather get a paid job like many people would!

I believe my experiences have given me an upper hand, but with the economy as it is now, as many recent grads know, finding a job has a lot to do with networking. I think I need a few more practical experiences in archaeology before I apply to grad school, but my field school and BLM internship are a great start.

Q. Finally, how did you find these positions and what would you offer as advice for those who are hoping to have some archaeological field experience?
A. I found my internship at the BLM through the Student Conservation Association. It’s a great internship program for students who are interested in conservation. Some of the internships are only available for American citizens, but there are a lot that are open to everyone.

Anyone interested in archaeology field schools should check out Shovelbums.org. It has a list of field schools located all over the world. Usually you do not need previous archaeological experience to participate.

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About the author

Williamina Deneault Willa is a recent film studies graduate who has not quite figured out what to do next. Travelling and holding jobs in the interim she is trying to navigate the "real world" as best as she can. She is an avid filmmaker and loves settling down to watch films and watching cheap television. Currently living in Montreal, she is a "cultural sponge" hoping to soak up ideas and learn more about her surroundings everyday.