Mark Tonelli

Assistant Professor of Music at Millikin University

Job-Market Diaries: An Archaeology Professor

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Here is the fourth in our series, Job-Market Diaries, in which Mark Tonelli interviews new faculty members about how they found their full-time teaching job. This month he talks with a new assistant professor of archaeology.

  • Name: Amy E. Gusick
  • Institution: California State University at San Bernardino
  • Position: assistant professor of archaeology
  • Responsibilities: director of the master’s program in applied archaeology
  • Start date: September 2015

Describe your background.

Amy: I am an archaeologist interested in human-environmental dynamics, the development of maritime societies, peopling of the Americas, and hunter-gatherer subsistence and settlement. I received my Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2012.

Originally, I was not settled on pursuing a career in academia. I was born and raised in southern California and very much wanted to stay in the region, close to my family. Getting a tenure-track position is difficult to begin with — adding my desire to stay in southern California made a difficult situation even worse. I just wasn’t interested in taking a postdoc or a visiting-professor job in other states while I waited for a faculty position to open up in Southern California.

Still, I did what many graduating Ph.D.s do and applied for a litany of positions that did not really fit my experience. I did that a year before I finished my dissertation. Needless to say, I did not get any interviews.

Over the next year as I was finishing up, I considered my options. Would I be satisfied sacrificing where I wanted to live for a career in academia? Could I move around for a few years, in the hope that I would eventually end up where I wanted to be? My answer to both questions was No. So I decided to look for nonacademic jobs in southern California. For an archaeologist, that typically means a position in cultural-resources management (CRM) — a branch of archaeology that operates within federal, state, and local regulations for consideration and protection of cultural resources. This prospect seemed very enticing to me, as I would get to do the work I love and live near my family.

At the end of 2012, I accepted a management position in the cultural-resources division of a multinational engineering firm. I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the work and thought that I would still be able to do research in my time off. After two years on the job, I realized there was no time to do my research. Thatgot me thinking about a position in academia again, but I decided that I really enjoyed CRM. I figured I simply needed to knuckle down and eventually open my own business, which would presumably give me a bit more flexibility in terms of my schedule.

I did, however, decide to look at academic openings that fall and saw one in southern California that described my work experience perfectly. It was a tenure-track position with all the research responsibilities that accompany that title and the added responsibility of directing a new master’s program in applied archaeology — essentially CRM. It was where I wanted to live, doing both the CRM and the research that I wanted to do. I applied for the job, and got it.

What types of things did you do to prepare to teach full-time in academia?

Amy: In graduate school, I taught a few summer courses and attended a teaching institute. But at the time I was hired as an assistant professor, I hadn’t taught a course in three years. I was not completely out of the practice, though. Throughout graduate school and after, I always presented at a minimum of two to three conferences a year. Through my management job, I also frequently had to give presentations and train people.

So I was comfortable talking to groups of people, but I did need to delve back into creating a syllabus and designing a course. The summer before I started at Cal State, I spent a few months going through syllabi from colleagues and from my classes as a graduate student. I was identifying those classes and specific activities that had really resonated with me as a student, and that I’d found to be effective learning techniques. I revisited seminal articles in my discipline and organized my reference library. I had boxes upon boxes of articles, and I scanned and filed them all in an electronic library. That proved one of the best uses of my time, as I can now very quickly find material that I need to assign for my classes.

In hindsight, what would you have done differently to prepare for your return to academia?

Amy: Once I knew the classes that I would be teaching for my first quarter, I set about designing PowerPoints, drawing up talking points, and creating an outline for each day of the quarter. I organized all of the readings for each class so I would easily be able to upload them into our online system. I believed that all of this prep would help ease the demands on my time as all my class work was “done.”

During that first quarter, I quickly realized that — although I had spent a lot of time prepping for my classes — the one activity I found myself doing most was prepping for my classes. I had done all the prep without considering that I might need to change my schedule or my teaching style based on how well the students were learning. Now, I do more of a template PowerPoint so I can easily arrange it for each class and I leave the in-depth reading of the articles until the day of my class (I teach at night).

What do you think helped you get your tenure-track job?

Amy: I have my academic position, in large part, because of the nonacademic experience that I got once I finished my Ph.D. I think a lot of people look at the time in between finishing their dissertation and getting a faculty job as biding their time. I had a different mindset. I looked at, and treated, my nonacademic experience as what it was — a very viable career option for a Ph.D.

Because I dedicated myself to my managerial position, I was able to move up in the company and gain valuable experience, which ended up being the one thing that set me apart from other candidates for my academic job.

Along with getting applied experience, I still remained active in academia. I gave presentations and published, and I remained in contact with my academic colleagues who were still conducting fieldwork and research. That allowed me to contribute to a few research projects, as my time allowed. The fact that I was still pursuing my research was also integral to my current position. I had to show that — along with the ability to direct an M.A. program in CRM — I could fulfill the research obligations that accompany a tenure-track position.

What advice do you have for academic job candidates?

Amy: Be open to a variety of opportunities. You never know what type of experience will set you apart from other job applicants. I never thought that my work outside of academia would be the reason I was able to get an academic position.

As academics, and particularly as graduate students, we get very focused on our research and on the idea of publish-or-perish. While conducting solid research and publishing is certainly a necessary component to obtaining a position in academia, it is not the only thing that hiring committees look at. The fact that you have five publications out of graduate school may be impressive, but it may not set you apart from the group of other applicants who have five publications — and who also have other practical or applied skills to offer the department. Hiring someone who can teach that lab class or manage a program may be high up on the list of needs for a department.

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