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Snagging Six Figures: From earning $0 at 26 $87,500 in 3 years.

The concept  ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice about how to use their degree and current job skills to launch into a different industry or career. We know that no one career story is the same, but telling the stories of others can challenge, inspire and shape your own. We are asking every interview the same five questions: 

  • Why they picked their course 
  • Their course experience
  • Their first job 
  • What they learnt
  • Their next step
  • And their advice

Name: Abbi

Age: 30

From The dream of Archaeology into CSIRO. 

Salary: From $0 at 26 to $87,500 at 29.


My degree:

I did a Bachelor of Arts for three years, with a double major in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History. I did every archaeology course I could – Classical and Near-Eastern – and every Ancient History class too. I also took courses in Classical Studies, Latin and Religion.

After my undergrad degree, I took a year off to volunteer and get fieldwork experience in Australia and Greece.

I then returned to do my honours year where I wrote a thesis. Then I enrolled in my PhD.


Why did you pick it?

I took a gap year and travelled to Europe. I was blown away by the ancient sites in Greece and Italy and decided on archaeology. In my opinion there are only a very few jobs that allow you to use your brain and be active at the same time.


What did you think of the degree?

I loved it. I was studying something that I was interested in.


What was your first job?

I guess this is probably the first thing I should mention; Even with all the education and training, if you become an archaeologist, you are probably never going to be rich beyond your wildest dreams. That’s just not how it works. There isn’t a huge job market. So take that into consideration before you invest all the time and money that’s required for the degree. My first ‘job’ was in The Rocks in Sydney, I was volunteering on a project that was focused on ‘household archaeology’. I learnt about site formation and met some amazing senior archaeologists. They suggested that I get some more fieldwork experience overseas and through some introductions at their end, I travelled abroad to Jordan for two months.

I wasn’t paid at all. This was an internship (of sorts). It completely drained my savings account but also affirmed that I loved being on a dig.

Managing an active dig site is like trying to keep multiple plates spinning at once. Everyone on the crew has a job to do, and everyone is doing it at the same time. Excavation crews are bringing down the “floor” of the excavation unit in 5-10cm levels, while some of the more artistically inclined are drawing and photographing the floors and walls to document the layers as they are removed and excavated further down. If (and I say, IF) artefacts are found, they are photographed in place, locations mapped in relation to the rest of the excavation unit, and removed.

Technicians take data using GPS receivers to continue mapping out the site and its boundaries digitally. A geophysicist might be using ground penetrating radar to search for undiscovered features such as the remnants of old building foundations hidden under the ground.

I learnt that the dig is only part of the scope of the project. After the field work, artefacts must be sorted, cleaned and catalogued. Data must be organised, analysed and reports finalised. Grants need to be written and projects need to be bid on. Being in the field is the fun part.


Why did you choose to pivot?

I came back to Australia and just couldn’t get a job. I could get five days a week working for free, but with five years of education I had to swallow the hard truth that I couldn’t get a job in the field in Australia.

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Where did you go?

I applied for a government role working in a Gallery. My undergraduate degree majors (Classical Archaeology and Ancient History) gave me an in; but I was completing with Fine Arts graduates with gallery experience. I didn’t get the job I applied for, but I got a Research Assistant role they were hiring for. My starting salary was $64,500.


What did you learn in the job?

I learnt a lot about grant submission writing. Which is a huge tip I have for anyone wanting to work in a liberal field. You need to understand the commercial angle of the industry. It’s all well and good to want to work in the field, but someone needs to fund the project, and if you can write grants you are very valuable in the field.


What was your next job

After two years and a $6,500 pay rise I applied for a job at CSIRO as a Senior Researcher. It’s my job to drive new business and research funding by anticipating industry and community needs. Basically, writing proposals for my department (carbon energy). I also submit findings and project information to journals. My salary is now $87,500.


The lesson:

There are no jobs in archelogy…

No, I joke. I think the lesson is that you need to scope the job market before you jump in and spend five years studying a passion. My undergraduate degree alone would have got me where I am today – the additional three years have bought no value to my trajectory to date.


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