Gaining Research Experience in the Faculty Aide Program

Lisa Griffith, a Master of Liberal Arts degree candidate (archaeology/anthropology concentration), gained research experience in the Harvard Extension School Faculty Aide Program. She worked with Christina Hodge, senior curatorial assistant at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard. Griffith helped catalog the artifacts discovered at the Elihu Akin House archaeological site in Dartmouth, Mass. Here she answers some questions about her field and the faculty aide experience.

Why did you choose the anthropology/archaeology concentration?

Before attending classes at Harvard Extension, I spent a lot of time racing sailboats nationally and internationally. In 2005, I retired from the sport and wanted to find another passion that would keep me busy outside of working hours.

I took classes in a few subject areas but was attracted to archaeology from the beginning because it combines international travel, working outdoors, research, analysis, and hands-on work with artifacts—a perfect combination of both physical and mental activity!

Why did you choose this particular faculty aide project?

In archaeology it’s really important to have field experience along with classroom knowledge. The Akin House Archaeology Project allowed me to build upon some of the skills that I learned the previous year at an archaeological field school in Spain.

What was a typical day like while you were working on the project?

I worked in the archaeology lab in the Vanserg Building after work and on weekends. The project involved cleaning, sorting, and cataloging artifacts that were excavated from the Akin House site during the summers of 2008 and 2009.

A typical day involved one to two hours of processing artifacts from four to five project bags. The artifacts needed to be cleaned and then sorted into different archival bags depending on their material. Each artifact then needed to be recorded on a catalog sheet and entered into an Excel database for future analysis.

What surprised you about the work?

Whenever I opened a bag of finds, I found myself thinking about how they were used, who owned them, and how the various objects ended up where they did.

The most intriguing bag included some beautiful little buttons and a kind of token with Chinese writing on it. According to Professor Hodge, they were excavated from an area under a barn. I kept wondering how these items ended up under the floorboards of the barn. Were they lost accidentally? Or were they placed there in a secret spot by a child who considered them treasures?

What surprised me the most were the potential stories that can be connected to even the most mundane objects.

How has it been working so closely with a faculty member?

I really enjoyed working with Professor Hodge. She provided just the right amount of guidance on the project and was really great at giving feedback on my progress. I was constantly amazed at how much information she can get from a tiny ceramic fragment!

What impact has the experience had on your graduate studies?

I don’t think the project has so much impacted my studies as it has added to them. It allows me to cement the methodological skills that I need to be able to work in the field or to interpret work that has been done by others in the field.

Become a faculty aide

The Faculty Aide Program allows high-performing degree candidates to work with faculty members as paid part-time research associates. If you’re a current Extension School degree candidate in good academic standing, you can apply to be a faculty aide. Each semester faculty post open positions. You can also approach a faculty member about a potential research opportunity. For more information, see the Faculty Aide Program, download the faculty aide information sheet, or contact your advisor.

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