What Does it Take to Get that Archaeology Job? GIS…?

I love GIS!

I love GIS!

It is indeed interesting that this post on Doug’s Archaeology regarding jobs in archaeology, specifically management jobs in archaeology, mentions GIS. GIS skills/qualifications in archaeology is a particular area of interest of mine.

In the UK, GIS is used for many tasks from resource management (eg Historic Environment Records) to undertaking Desk Based Assessments (DBAs) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). As such, a requirement for GIS appears more and more often on job adverts in the public and commercial sectors, at least for jobs that involve ‘doing’ rather than ‘managing’. True, management jobs typically do not mention GIS unless they are considered ‘technical’ posts. This often means archaeology managers are responsible for staff who use GIS yet may not understand or appreciate what their staff are doing.

However, there is currently no easy way of assessing GIS skills, there being no formal accredited training courses for practical archaeological GIS, tailored to the specific needs of employers and employees. Generic GIS courses such as those run by Esri tend not to cover the full range of skills needed for archaeological use of GIS in a single course and given the price of such courses, an archaeologist would require a number of courses to cover everything they would need to know, costing a considerable amount of money. There are a few specialist post-graduate courses for archaeological GIS but these are generally overkill for most people; there is no way everyone undertaking archaeological GIS work can be expected to have such a qualification. Many universities do not have the staff to teach archaeological GIS and so either a) don’t bother trying, b) get someone who knows something to teach the basics or c) get eg a geography lecturer to teach a generic basic module. None of these solutions are ideal.

Out in the job market, GIS skills vary from ‘can just about turn it on and view some data’ to ‘professional GIS analyst/developer’ and, unfortunately, with managers making decisions about hiring and firing, themselves not necessarily knowing much about GIS, it is pretty easy to add GIS to a CV and apparently meet the job requirements, sailing through the interview to get the job and yet not really being able to effectively use GIS.

So I would say yes, having (or at least claiming to have) GIS skills is good for career prospects but currently less important for management level posts, rightly or wrongly. As GIS becomes more widespread and less technical, general day to day GIS skills will become ubiquitous anyway, as happened with word-processing skills, to the point where a basic level of knowledge is assumed and taken for granted. In the meantime, I would argue there is a need for short archaeological GIS training courses, tailored to the range of tasks archaeologists typically do using GIS and which can be formally recognised and accredited by some representative body. This would allow (non-technical) managers making decisions about hiring and firing to make evidence based decisions, benefiting the employer; proper archaeological GIS qualifications could also form part of archaeologist Continuing Professional Development (CPD), benefiting the employee.

I would welcome other people’s thoughts on this.

8 thoughts on “What Does it Take to Get that Archaeology Job? GIS…?

  1. Pingback: What Does it Take to Get that Archaeology Job?- GIS Tech. | Doug's Archaeology

  2. paul Post author

    Only basic GIS skills are need for most positions in archaeology. This free tutorial for archaeologists using GIS would probably be enough.

    Following on from Doug’s response, whilst I commend the authors of that short course for their efforts, it is a good example of what I would describe as an oddly balanced course, of the type often offered. I have seen similar from geographers moonlighting in archaeological GIS where they have picked up on what they see as relevant topics.

    There is an odd mix of basic, advanced, irrelevant and missing. I would argue the emphasis here is not quite right; informative but not necessarily the best grounding for getting that GIS job in archaeology…

    For practical use, basic data management skills are essential, arguably the most important element of any training. Knowing how best to organise your data is key to successful use of GIS particularly where you work in a team. Atomicity and a general understanding of database principals are very handy. Appreciation of metadata is important. Dealing with data in different structures/formats is a key skill, yet not really covered in the aforementioned course. For example, there is far more to vector data than just shapefiles.

    Many of the analytical techniques are of passing interest only. Theissen polygons are seldom used in the real world as part of day to day use and whilst viewshed analysis is most definitely of more use, it’s successful and appropriate use is vital and it’s easy to get it wrong; the nature of the DEM used and effective control of the algortithm are essential, it is most certainly not just a case of pressing the button. Such techniques are generally of use to those specialising in spatial analysis only. If you don’t understand statistical methods for interpolating, then perhaps tasks based on such are best left to someone who does.

    And yet at the same time, a really fundamental part of everyday GIS work is using raster data, notably georeferencing, a topic which is only superficially covered. There is little discussion of eg colour depth and creating rasters from hard copy suitable for use in GIS. 1-bit rasters for example are far more flexible and efficient than 24-bit for black and white linework. And georeferencing is considered optional and covered in scant detail despite being applied considerably more frequently than eg viewshed analysis.

    Cartography is king also. Being able to produce a map that successully conveys information is paramount. Using a solid fill polygon over the top of a DEM for example or having multiple legend items representing different study not apparent on the map is less than ideal. And every map should have some kind of grid on it, that’s just basic cartographic convention yet grids and graticules are not covered.

    Basically, course such as this originating in academia tend to precis much more involved academic courses/publications, in this case largely Wheatley and Gillings (2002); Both these authors teach spatial technologies in depth in academic contexts, both are really good at what they do, but this course, whilst interesting and based largely on their material, falls someway short if it’s aim is to provide a solid, practical base for day-to-day use of GIS for eg Desk Based Assessment (DBA) or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) work.

    The course I run at work and have taught in various scenarios including universities and public sector bodies is very much more workflow oriented. Things such as spatial analysis which are less useful, more complex and harder to apply correctly are put to one side in favour of creating data, managing data and producing maps. Exercises are aimed at providing real practical experience of these operations and a typical GIS workflow provides the spine of the course. And of course, references are provided for those who want to get more involved, not only to academic works but to practical GIS resources such as the wealth of free training materials offered by Esri. Unfortunately, I do not offer this for free (I do need to be paid for my time since I no longer work in academia), but free is not always best anyway. Getting five or six people together to hire in a professional trainer for a day is actually very cost effective and there are often grants within universities to pay for this or training budgets in companies or public bodies. There are a number of professional trainers out there who can fulfil such requirements (although you’ll forgive me for not advertising them here!).

    I know this is going to come across as overtly critical and whilst it is not my intention to denigrate what is undoubtedly a very useful free resource, I, as an employer of GIS specialists and trainer of archaeologists, would argue that necessary practical skills and those offered by courses such as this are not in perfect harmony. It would be great to more closely relate key skills to training materials available, I would even go so far as to argue for certification at different levels to fit in with eg IfA CPD schemes and to allow employers to distinguish between potential employees with useful skills and those without. Yes, many folks only need basic training, in which case they could just go for the basic level and be really good GIS users (and leave more advanced spatial analysis to others!).

    And please, since I’ve obviously turned this short response into a rant…

    A general point when writing about the map projection we all know and love in the UK. The projected coordinate system is called British National Grid, BNG or even EPSG: 27700. It is not called Ordnance Survey National Grid (unless you believe Wikipedia) or OSGB36 (which is the underlying datum). Just a bug bear of mine common in archaeological reports presumably written by folks for whom the concept of projection was an optional extra on their course…

  3. yawar

    I m doing BS in geography and in my university the standard of GIS is very low so kindly give some information about sites which make free course on GIS and RS because i cant afford the ESRI fees for thier courses..thank you…

    1. paul Post author

      Far from it; I am a manager. Having a foot in both camps allows me to comment on the different skillsets required to do management and technical/specialist work and the need for understanding ones own strengths and weaknesses and those of others.

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  5. Mark Hotz

    I have a BA majoring in Archaeology, an advanced technical diploma in GIS technology, a postgraduate certificate in GIS, plus a Masters in GIS, and have applied to several GIS roles within the field of archaeology. I have never had one reply.

    I also have experience as a GIS business analyst plus project management. I just don’t bother with archaeology jobs anymore. My credentials are all on-line and if a potential employer wants to contact me I’m available…I just started thinking that these sorts of roles are more political than seeking out actual experience or credentials.

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