This announcement shouldn’t really have a lot of effect on blogging, though in the future it might, and besides, it’s a rather significant event in the life history of your humble correspondent. So here it is: As of today, I am unemployed.
This isn’t entirely unexpected. That is, I wasn’t laid off or anything. I have been in a temporary contractor position since last April and it hath run out as of July 1 and I’ve been unable to line up anything suitable to start right up afterwards. And, in fact, for a while I suspected that I might go through a period like this, although since the economy tanked so badly I have become a bit less optimistic about the extent of it. But that is to be expected (?) when one does a career course correction. Allow me to explain.
For the last, oh, 19 years or so I’ve been doing public health research. I started out at Employer A (a local government institution) in 1990. I was just past comps (well, by a couple of years) and had finished my masters project and starting on the dissertation road. I did about 2-3 months of contract archaeology all over the west coast, and then decided I wasn’t going to be able to do any research doing that. Then someone at the univ. computer center offered me a half-time position doing stats consulting. I did that and added another half-time position elsewhere and did that through the summer. Then a friend started a job at Employer A and two weeks later asked if I’d like to do it because she got a better offer. Well. It was three times what I was making then, so I said OH YEAH! Said I knew how to program in SAS which was more or less an exaggeration, though I picked it up quickly (I’m a nerd). I did that as just a regular programming job until 1999 when I moved to a different group that was doing EMS/cardiac research, all the while working on my dissertation. I was still technically a “temporary” even though I’d been there for ten years already, and it suited me; I could work a bit less than full time and take off every now and then for fieldwork in Egypt. Worked out well.
So I got my degree in 2001 and kept on working with the EMS group. I liked it, the money was good, and the research was fairly interesting. I continued to do archaeology, with one field season at the ARCE Memphis field school as co-director in 2003 and I still worked on side projects. I had started to get some pubs in the public health (PH) literature, but then I had to leave Employer A for a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with grants and a change in funding). I spent a year as a bona fide statistician at a private concern — Employer B — (blehh) and then left for Employer C, an internationally known public health group. I actually could have stayed there. Exciting place, interesting and significant work. But none of it was anything I had a particular interest in, though I continued to get some pubs and ended up with one as primary author (in press as I type this).
But. I had been starting to get frustrated for a while that I wasn’t doing archaeology. I did okay at public health and medical research, but really only when I had specific tasks to do. I’ve just never been that interested in it and I was sort of waiting for the bug to bite me, but it never did. This struck me particularly hard one day when I was sitting in my office doing some data-intensive task and not enjoying it very much, when I looked across the hallway and saw my neighbor deep in a phone conversation with some international colleagues. He had a wireless headset on and was pacing back and forth while talking. You could tell he loved it (and I knew he loved his work previously as well). Even though it was work, you could tell he just thoroughly enjoyed doing it. And I thought “I want to feel like that”.
So, I left and went back to Employer A on another temporary basis doing something that had more to do with earth sciences than strictly public health. I had intended to stay within Employer A and migrate over to something closer to archaeology, but soon after I joined back, the budget went whacko and hiring for really the last year has been nearly non-existent (there were other internal reasons, too). Then the overall economy tanked and, well, continued employment was looking pretty grim. For a looooong time I was in a near panic. I’ve never been unemployed before, at least not unless I planned to be. It’s a bad feeling, as many out there no doubt know.
But, you know, it was my intention to make a career in archaeology; it’s what I trained in and what I love doing and I think that in the end I would be profoundly regretful if I never even tried to make a go of it. Like I said, I’d been feeling frustrated with public health for some time. Some of it has to do with increasing age; I’m 47 now and even though I’m mentally and physically ten years younger than that. . .well, the End is now closer (probably) than the Beginning. Plus my dad passing away really made me sit up and notice my own mortality. Did I want to end my days doing public health grunt work? Never being a PI because I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for it? Not really. So I started on the path to archy.
Trouble is, not having done CRM work in many years I can’t just plug myself in to a regular position. And CRM has been hit as hard as anything else, so I haven’t been able to line up fieldwork as yet. Still, I have to say, I haven’t been this enthusiastic in years. Feels like I’m starting grad school all over again. Not like I haven’t anything to do. . . .I just reviewed a paper for the Journal of Field Archaeology, I’m working on some old excavation materials at the local museum, I have a cemetery assessment going, and a couple of papers to fix up and submit. Oh, and the usual 101 home improvement projects.
And, um, looking for work. Thankfully the ArchaeoWife is still safely (knock wood) employed and I have a pretty decent war chest of savings not affected by the stock market, so we’re okay financially for a while (knock more wood). But I am going to set up a donation widget and bug you all to contribute, if only to offset my server costs (which aren’t that much, but every little bit helps).
So anyway. It’s scary but also rather exciting as well. It sounds cheesy, but I’m treating this as an opportunity and, truth be told, I may not have jumped ship for archaeology if I just kept being employed, being employed, and being employed in public health. Wish me luck.