Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A 'Canadian connection' in North American faculty jobs in Archaeology?

In a paper in press in American Antiquity, Speakman and colleagues (2017) present some data about which archaeology programs in the US and Canada have been most successful at placing their graduates over the past 40 years or so. They conclude that “success in obtaining a faculty position upon graduation is predicated in large part on where one attends graduate school” and that “success in landing a faculty position begins the moment one applies for graduate school” because “being accepted into a top program, as well as the reputation of scholars in that program… really does make a difference.” To me (and for them), these overall conclusions are unsurprising, though it is nice to see impressions and rules of thumb being backed up with some hard numbers. In a nutshell, if you’re interested in being an archaeology prof in North America, you better graduate from Michigan, Arizona, Berkeley, UPenn, ASU, Harvard, TAMU, UCSB, Chicago or UNM, in that order, since these are the ten North American programs in their “tier I”. The second tier also does pretty well in placing grads, and it comprises UCLA, Florida, Pitt, UT Austin, Wisconsin, Tennessee, OSU, UNC Chapel Hill and Virginia.

The authors indicate some readers might be uncomfortable with their approach which divided the 110 North American universities in their sample into six tiers (I, II, III, IV, V, and 0), based on the number of their grads who have secured a faculty position. I’m personally not too bothered by it, as I think this is a rather apt reading of the data they present, rather than a direct judgement of the quality of the faculty in these different programs.

What did strike me, from my position as an archaeology professor at a Canadian university, is how these trends don’t quite seem to jive with the reality of the Canadian market. Based on the data presented, Canadian program are not particuarly great at placing their graduates into faculty positions. The Canadian institutions they list are, in decreasing order of success, McMaster (Tier III – 8 grads placed in 20 years), Calgary (Tier III – 6 grads), followed by Alberta, McGill and Toronto (all three in Tier IV, tied with four grads each), Simon Fraser University (Tier V, 2 grads), and finally UBC, Manitoba and Montréal in Tier 0, meaning programs that haven’t placed a single grad between 1994 and 2014.

Looking at this from a Canadian perspective, I was struck that this list excluded two Canadian universities with dedicated Archaeology programs leading to the PhD, namely Memorial University and Université Laval, though this is likely a result of the bias the authors themselves bring up about the completeness of the AAA AnthroGuide from which they gathered most of their data. Also excluded is the new PhD program at the University of Victoria, which didn’t exist for the period the authors consider.

Additionally, my admittedly subjective impression is that there are a proportionally a lot more archaeology faculty trained at Canadian institutions hired into Canadian program. In the database provided as part of the article’s supplementary material, only 59 of the 1084 (or 5.4%) archaeology faculty listed obtained their PhDs from Canadian programs; this drops to 4.6% (or 28/608) if you consider only those PhDs awarded between 1994 and 2014. This is much lower than my gut feeling of the proportion of Canadian-trained archaeologists is in actuality in most Canadian programs. For instance, at UdeM, out of our seven archaeology and bioarchaeology faculty, two (so 28.4%) received their PhD from Canadian institutions (actually, Québec, in this case); these figures will have to be adjusted next year, following the hire of a public archaeologist we're currently advertising for. Looking more broadly, at SFU, out of 16 tenured/tenure-track faculty listed on their website, fully 8 (50%) come from Canadian institutions, while neighboring UBC has 2/6 (33%) graduates from Canadian programs. At the other end of the country, at MUN’s archaeology department 7/11 (63.6%) tenured/tenure-track faculty listed received their doctorate from a Canadian program. The disparity between these numbers and the overall representation of Canadian PhDs in archaeology programs in North America as a whole is pretty staggering.

There are a couple of ways to think about this trend. On the one hand, it is probably not terribly surprising, considering that, by law, priority is given to Canadian citizens for positions in Canada; insofar as having a Canadian PhD is loosely correlated with being a Canadian citizen, this probably reflects that fact up to a degree. Likewise, scholars working on topics in Canadian archaeology are more likely to be trained in Canada and, in turn, to be appealing to Canadian programs wanting specialists in these issues. The flipside of both these considerations, of course, is that correspondingly fewer Canadian-trained archaeologists must serve as faculty in US archaeology programs, which would have the effect of depressing the already low representation of Canadian programs south of the border. Whether it also has the effect of creating a distinctive Canadian archaeological tradition is an open question; I would surmise that it doesn’t, considering the level of methodological and theoretical integration that currently characterizes the field, but this is just an impression. That said, these (admittedly partial) data suggest one thing rather clearly: if you want to teach archaeology in Canada, receiving a PhD in archaeology from a Canadian program would appear to give your chances a serious boost.


Speakman, R.J., C.S. Hadden, M.H. Colvin, J. Cramb, K.C. Jones, T.W. Jones, C.L. Kling, I. Lulewicz, K.G. Napora, K.L. Reinberger, B.T. Ritchison, M.J. Rivera-Araya, A.K. Smith and V.D. Thompson. 2017. Choosing a path to the ancient world in a modern market: The reality of faculty jobs in archaeology. American Antiquity:

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