Program News

What We Wish We Knew Before Grad School

February 11, 2021

A Q&A With Two Recent HRM Grads

Stepping into graduate studies can be a bit of a foray into the unknown. As much as we recommend students have a clear foundation for where their thesis will take them, it helps to have insight from those who have recently been through the process. Program Director John Welch makes himself available to all prospective students, advising them on how to best prepare themselves for the journey ahead with the pinnacle being the writing of a Master’s thesis and its subsequent public defence. 

And who better to shed some light on the Heritage Resource Management professional graduate program than those who have recently been where you may soon find yourself? We spoke with two recent HRM grads to find out what they wish they knew before their graduate studies at SFU began. Tyrel Kobes, who works for Western Canada defended his thesis in April 2019, and Katie Settle, a project director at Cardno in Indianapolis, Indiana defended hers in July 2019. 

Katie Settle’s work on compliance projects in and around Indianapolis allowed her to compare vacuum truck excavation against traditional testing methods. Settle found that vacuum truck excavation, when expertly used, can result in less artifact damage and lower costs than traditional methods. Vacuum Truck Excavation as a New and Effective Technique in Urban Archaeology; an In-depth Assessment and Comparison against Traditional Methodology

What surprised you most about the HRM program?
While the amount of work required from me on a day-to-day basis was quite a shock, I was also surprised by the support of my professors and advisors. It was clear that they wanted everyone to succeed. They made time to give everyone individual attention, both through providing feedback on assignments and while also being available outside of class for any questions.

What is one thing you wish you had known before beginning grad studies that would have helped you prepare?
I wish I would have been more prepared for the online format of classes and having to navigate the school system as a student outside of Canada. While the online format offered so many benefits and I wouldn’t have made a different choice, there were times where I felt a bit isolated when compared to in-person schooling.

How has your current work in HRM benefitted from your MA in HRM?
After getting my MA in HRM, I have been promoted in my company. I prepare proposals, manage projects, serve as supervisor to our field technicians, and lead field and reporting efforts. Additionally, I now meet the federal qualifications to become a principal investigator, and am working on gaining more experience to meet the highest state-level qualifications.

What do you miss most about being in graduate school?
I miss the connections and perspectives that other students brought to my experience. Getting to learn alongside a group of like-minded people was very inspiring. I also liked that people were from different parts of the continent, which allowed me to learn about their experiences from their areas. It was very eye opening to see archaeology at work in so many different landscapes.

What advice do you have for new HRM students?
Be prepared for a lot of late nights, especially if you are continuing to work while attending the program. That being said, this program is truly tailored to working in HRM, and I would advise new students to take advantage of that as much as they can, by linking school assignments to their current and future roles as professional archaeologists. Additionally, try to link your thesis to a current work project, and you may be able to get paid to do some of the analysis/research for your project.

Tyrel Kobes used his years working on HRM projects in western Canada to inform his study of the Southeastern Qu’Appelle River Valley in Saskatchewan. His thesis integrates excavation results from three sites with documented First Nations histories. River Through the Dry Prairie: Heritage Resource Management and the Archaeology of the Southeastern Qu’Appelle River Valley in Saskatchewan

What surprised you most about the HRM program?
The completely online formatting was a big surprise and certainly an asset to the program. In general, the biggest setback for professionals that I work with who have yet to apply to a MA program have not done so due to the time commitment. The likelihood of having to reduce  billable hours, and potentially risking their positions within a company due to the external time commitments of grad school are huge setbacks for prospective students. The HRM program largely eliminates this with the online format. This is the reason that I applied in the first place. 

What is one thing you wish you had known before beginning grad studies that would have helped you prepare? 
Grad school was, more-or-less, how I expected it to be. I think the biggest thing I would have liked to have been more prepared for was in my professional sphere, in that I would have preferred to have a few projects that demanded a large time commitment off my desk before  beginning graduate studies. Attempting to work on coursework and a thesis while writing reports for 5 large-scale projects and managing excavations was a little overwhelming. 

How has your current work in HRM benefitted from your MA in HRM?
Completing the MA in HRM was the final step in acquiring my permit status and has allowed me to hold HRIA permits throughout Western Canada. My work has benefitted in being able to now manage all aspects of a project, without relying on contractors or colloquies to meet schedule commitments.  

What do you miss most about being in grad school?
I was the first member of our cohort to defend and graduate, and my potential for collaboration has certainly diminished since completing grad school. The biggest thing I miss is the challenge. Since finishing, I have been considering going back and getting another MA in something else for that reason. 

What advice do you have for new HRM students?
Get working on your thesis prospectus early, build your committee, read some of the work of your committee members to better understand their backgrounds and expectations, and set yourself a milestone schedule. You are not the only one with a completion goal in mind, and your committee members have other commitments. At the end of the day, your committee wants you to succeed and graduate, so help them help you and get to work.