What does your day to day schedule look like as an Archaeological Assistant?
My day-to-day is a little irregular; I work a few days as an Archaeological Assistant, and on the other days I’m writing my dissertation in the U of I Department of Anthropology. Currently at ISAS I am working on a project that involves reanalyzing, or at least revisiting, the materials from an old Illinois excavation from the 1960s. It can be both entertaining and frustrating to see what the excavators in the 60s did and did not do, or what they felt was worth writing down in their notes (a current favorite quote I have come across: “Heat spell continues. Several discontented workers”). I have also had the opportunity over the past few years to work on writing up a report of some important excavations from the 2000s, as well as take some trips to the field during the summer for excavations here and there. I have been fortunate that since starting grad school and switching to part time at ISAS, I have been able to work on a wide range of projects and gained a lot of varied experience.
What is the best part about your position at ISAS?
The best part about working for ISAS generally is that although we primarily do compliance/transportation archaeology, our connection to the University and PRI gives us the ability to do really good research as well. Also, because of our partnership with IDOT, we sometimes get to work on big projects that produce a lot of data. There are a lot of great Cultural Resource Management firms out there, but there aren’t always a lot of resources to do big projects or produce big research reports. Being part of a research-oriented archaeological institution like ISAS that has that ability is unique. What sparked your interest in science? Science just runs in my family. My two older sisters and both my parents all are/were in scientific disciplines, and I think I inherited my dad’s analytical brain. I can’t say there was an “ah ha” moment when I knew I was interested in science, but I can say that from a young age I always knew I wanted to work outside, so being a field scientist made sense.
What project are you most proud of?
The project I am most proud of would have to be a tie between my fieldwork on the New Mississippi River Bridge (NMRB) project and the fieldwork I completed for my dissertation. The NMRB project was a huge undertaking and the archaeology was at times challenging, but I learned so much in that environment, both about doing archaeology and about who I am as an archaeologist. So much incredible data has come out of that project, and I’m proud to have played a role. The other project I’m proud of is my dissertation fieldwork, for which I ran a UIUC field school in 2017. I have always found it very rewarding working with undergraduates who are interested in archaeology, and to spend 6 weeks in the field training my students was really great. Plus, the archaeology was amazing! I’m proud of that project because it was the first time I have ever truly planned and run excavations completely on my own, and I’m also proud of the students I had and the training I was able to provide for them.
What are common misconceptions about your career? Or What is a question you
get asked most frequently about your job?
Most archaeologists would tell you that the most common questions are “what’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever found” and “what’s the coolest place you’ve ever worked?” I inevitably disappoint people \ when I tell them that, despite having done fieldwork in a variety of places both in the US and abroad, Illinois has been my favorite place to work. These questions go along with a common misconception of archaeology; people tend to romanticize the profession, particularly thanks to popular media portrayals. While archaeologists do work all over the world, from cornfields to jungles and even to underwater environments, and we certainly find a lot of really exciting artifacts, there is a lot more to the discipline. We get to ask and answer broader questions about what it means to be human – how do community identities emerge? How do people live religion in everyday life? How do political and social systems rise and fall? How do people deal with climate change? – and sometimes it’s the most simple and seemingly mundane artifacts that help us answer those questions.
What advice would you give to future female scientists?
Be confident in yourself, there is nothing about being a woman that makes you inherently less capable than anyone else, and don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Also, find yourself a network of other women, whether they are in your field or not, to act as a support system, sounding board, collaborators, friends, etc. Having other women by your side can make a big difference.