Digital Tea Breaks: My experience as an early career archaeologist

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak it became apparent that the sudden absence or cancellation of office chats, face-to-face meetings, conference and events was having a big impact on our profession. The networking opportunities and interaction with archaeological colleagues that take place at those meetings and events were missing, so in response, we decided to set up a weekly ‘tea break’. Sabrina Ki, a CIfA Student member, has attended some of these events and shares her experience below. If you'd like to book to attend a future tea break session please go to our events page.

Sabrina Ki

As a recent MSc graduate and museum volunteer, when lockdown began I started really missing the regular conversations about archaeology and history that I’d taken for granted before. Cue emails floating into my inbox advertising a new initiative: digital, informal tea break chats about a series of topics open to all members of CIfA.

Being fairly junior in archaeology, I was initially a little nervous to drop into my first tea break, but the atmosphere was so jovial and welcoming with several new people (not just me!) that I soon relaxed. It helped that I saw a few familiar faces from a previous workshop on PCIfA accreditation, another really useful talk that made me feel a lot more comfortable with the application process.

What I really like about these tea breaks is getting to hear about archaeology and heritage all over the UK and projects in a wide range of archaeology sub-disciplines. In addition to that, I really appreciated meeting archaeologists at all career stages, hearing how they got there and I never felt like I was being left out. I know I was a bit quiet in my first few tea breaks, preferring to listen more than talk but there were definitely opportunities for me to speak if I wanted to.

More than just welcoming, I felt like these tea breaks were actively encouraging towards early career archaeologists (like me) by including highly relevant topics like entry routes into archaeology, advice for early career archaeologists and training and development opportunities. These have all been especially beneficial for me, from learning the essentials for entering commercial archaeology (such as a CSCS card), to how non-archaeological work or volunteer experience is still valuable in an application, to demystifying professional archaeology – for example noting that academic vs commercial archaeology isn’t an either/or situation.

There are plenty of other topics ‘on tap’ as well that aren’t specifically targeting early career archaeologists but are great for meeting others interested in the same field, and full of ways to learn. For example, the ‘volunteering in archaeology, outside of excavation’ talk signposted some useful resources that I wasn’t aware of, such as guidance from Digital Skills for Heritage about working with young people online. Another advantage of these chats is that by virtue of having a group of archaeologists present, their advice can fit a whole range of research/career interests – all you have to do is ask!

My favourite tea break so far was about archaeology in the media, something I’m highly interested in as I really enjoy outreach and community archaeology, especially after watching the inspiring panel ‘Archaeology in the Time of Black Lives Matter’. Several topics were considered, such as problems with sensationalism and the struggles of balancing public access to excavations/research with ethical treatment of human remains. We also chatted about the issue of diversity in UK archaeology, how the popular image of ‘the archaeologist’ remains an older white man, and concerns about handling research topics in sensitive/politicised arenas. Surprisingly, my book blogging hobby turned out useful here as we discussed how sensitivity readers (often used to review book manuscripts) could be helpful in making archaeology more inclusive and self-aware. It was great to feel like I could make a tangible contribution to the discipline!

I’m glad I started attending these tea breaks regularly. Accessible and engaging, they’re a great way to stay connected with archaeology during this surreal situation. 

Sabrina Ki, Student member