Recognising the demands of the workplace – MSc Archaeological Practice

Orkney 2014, Ness of Brodgar dig visit

There is an ongoing conversation amongst archaeologists, infrastructure developers and government that is increasingly recognising a number of issues concerning archaeology in the UK.

The most salient issue can be seen as a real opportunity for many rather than an issue….there are not enough archaeologists in the UK to support the massive infrastructure projects which will be coming online in the next few years – HS2 in England and the A9 development in Scotland.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has recognised this issue and it has to be said that the interest in both our postgraduate and undergraduate courses is high and that our courses can enhance a student’s prospects in the jobs market.

postgrad-leaflet4-2016The other thread in this conversation involves students preparation for the real world of commercial archaeology; that students do not possess the skills required for the rigours of archaeology in the working environment. Perhaps this is unfair as I well remember the same argument doing the rounds when I graduated in the early 1980’s – I certainly required a period of transition from student life to work life. But I was expected to hit the ground running by my employers with little time to adjust to a new city and a new way of life…although this was in advertising rather than archaeology!!!!

Recognising both the opportunities and the challenges that the rapidly changing commercial archaeology work environment now demands, the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have developed their MSc Archaeological Practice to include a work placement in a real-world environment where students are introduced to the pressures and expectations of a commercial archaeology, council archaeology, education or museum organisation.

The Institute have developed links with commercial and academic partners to offer MSc students the opportunity to develop work-based skills that add to their overall prospects for employment. Furthermore, students, with support and coaching, are expected to contribute to the day to day research and commercial archaeology programmes and so gain the experience necessary to enhance their employability.

The MSc Archaeological Practice programme for 2016 was a great success for the students.Students were given the opportunity to develop professional skills in a commercial or real world work environment – whether that was organising the excavation of test pits in a collaborative outreach project, lab work for a commercial archaeology company, being appointed as the Small Finds Officer on a major excavation or curating in a museum.

img_0457Each placement was evaluated and every organisation was requested to return a full report and comment on their students. Suffice to say that every student received a glowing report and some employers have asked if there are students available for 2017!

But what is it like day to day….what is the MSc Archaeological Practice course like in the field. We asked Sorcha Kirker, who studied with us last year, and on a January day at The Cairns excavation site, she bravely answered my questions in a Force 9 gale.

The Institute is affiliated with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists

To apply for a Masters Degree click on the following links, or contact us for an informal chat on 01856 569225 or email studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk:


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I was totally immersed in archaeology from day one in one of the most exciting places to study the subject- Orkney. The course gave me the confidence to develop my own research ideas and through the work placement module improve my professional skills and expand my links with commercial organisations. Kevin Kerr MSc Archaeological Practice student

The placement has shown me how I can use the skills I gained on my Masters course in a real work-place. I have really enjoyed working with Orkney Museum on this project and I must thank them for everything they have done. The placement has also strengthened my interest in following a museum career. Sorcha Kirker, MLitt Archaeological Studies