My first position, paid, as a field archaeologist was as a teaching assistant for Dr. Eill Engelbrecht working on a Iroquoian site dating back to the 1500s. The year was 1992. There were 5 teaching assistants, the other 4 were grad students while I was a rising Junior/undergrad. The experience was filled with excitement and anxiety as I was making tangible progress in my field and studies but I would be teaching students, though in a limited capacity. As anxious as I was after accepting the position, Dr. Engelbrecht asked me to show students how to use an alidade and plane table. “I don’t know how to use an alidade and plane table,” I informed him, nervously wondering if my tenure as a teaching assistant was about to come to an abrupt halt.
“You have a month,” he replied. He was so nonchalant about it while I was bursting at the seams. How the hell am I going to learn this? What the hell is an alidade and plane table? For the record, an alidade and plane table provide a way to create maps in the field, even allowing for measuring elevations. Here’s a photo of me teaching students that summer (Thank you for the experience, the opportunity and the photo, Bill).
With Dr. E’s assistance after first reading up on alidades and plane tables and their use (along with the stadia rod). I thoroughly enjoyed learning to use the devices and then teaching the students while we as a group measured in elevations for a section of the site that had not been mapped (elevation-wise) since the first excavations began decades before. Dr. E challenged me, and in doing so, he instilled in me a drive to learn beyond my college coursework. Moving forward, when it comes to my profession, I seek out opportunities to learn new skills I believe will be needed in the future.
What influenced me to write this blog post was working with a client this morning and having the client say they didn’t know how to use a technology that was a skilled required for work the client was looking to pursue. I pulled the old “you got a month” speech, and encouraged the client to seek out training opportunities (even sending links to free, online training opportunities). When you leave college, trade school or any other institution of learning, your education should not end as every industry develops new methods, technologies and theories. Don’t gripe about a certain technology not having been discussed by your college. Find a way to llearn the new skill. While you are at it, kept up to date on developments in your field and learn skills as needed (try to stay ahead of the curve). Doing so could help you land better paying jobs, promotions, or that dream job you have wanted for so long.
Thank you Dr. Engelbrecht for the encouragement, advice, patience, and opportunities. Thank you also for holding the stadia rod while I figured out the alidade.