Goodbye Toronto… Hello St. John’s!

I am one month into my first year of my Master’s degree in Archaeology, and so far it’s been great. I’m Natasha and I’m originally from Ottawa, Canada, but I’ve spent the last four years at the University of Toronto completing my undergraduate degree. Toronto had become my home; it’s where I became an independent adult, the first place since my hometown that I had established roots. When it came time to apply for a Master’s program in my last year of undergrad, Memorial (MUN) seemed perfect, as it’s one of the only schools in the country that offers a Master’s program in Archaeology. When I decided that MUN was the place for me, I just remember thinking: “Why am I doing this to myself? I’m going to have to start all over again… What if I can’t make friends?” Little did I know how fast I would make friends and start laying down my own roots here in St. John’s.

On my first day, I attended orientation. As a timid first year Master’s student, I sat down in the auditorium, anonymous. What I remember most was when the dean of graduate studies, Dr. Faye Murrin, spoke about the impostor syndrome. It was the first time I had ever heard of it. The impostor syndrome describes the feeling that many graduate students have of not deserving to be where they are. I remembered my own thoughts when I first sat down in the auditorium: “I don’t belong with these smart people. They must have made a mistake. Surely I am not ready for this. Surely I am not equipped enough to start this journey”. Dr. Murrin reassured us that we are all here because we are qualified and that the university is there to guide us through this journey. When people around started whispering that they also feel this way I thought to myself: “I am not alone”. This enlightenment gave me a newfound confidence to identify with my peers and to go on with my day.

Later on that day, I got my keys to my office. MY OWN KEYS!? MY OWN OFFICE!? I was thrilled. I opened the door and chose my desk. Soon enough it was so cozy. I have it decorated with post-it notes, a MUN coffee mug, work for my classes, and books on archaeological theory. I have visited the library a couple times now to grab books for different assignments and have been astonished by the great variety of books the university holds. The librarians have also been really helpful when inquiring about lending books from different institutions as well. This resource has been very useful to me for the three courses I decided to take this semester. I know… three courses… while working on my own research… what was I thinking? But it’s actually been quite manageable so far. Two of them are required for my program and they are designed to help guide graduate students during the initial stage of their research. On top of this, I am taking an undergraduate course that follows a similar format but designed to guide honours archaeology students through their honours project. This course is helping me structure a side project I am working on with my supervisor.

It’s been such a wonderful experience working with a group of such passionate graduate and undergraduate students. The best thing about it is the friendliness and comradeship. Everyone is so willing to help each other out. We’ve edited each other’s work and supported each other academically and emotionally. We’ve all become quite close. A group of us graduate students in Archaeology now get together weekly to go to Trivia Night at the Graduate Students’ Union Restaurant and Pub, Bitters. It’s been a really good bonding experience. I’ve gotten to appreciate all of my colleagues’ expertise in different subjects. It’s just crazy how meeting a couple people opens you up to different experiences. Since then, I have been invited to a vegan Jigs Dinner (a vegan version of Newfoundland’s time-honoured meal) and participated in a kinesiology study for my roommate’s thesis project.

Of course it’s not all fun and games. Well, it depends what you call fun. Being a part of a research-intensive program, I have been working on my own research as well. There’s a lot of reading and note taking involved as well as lab work. I work in the Memorial Applied Archaeological Science (MAAS) lab, where I’ve been familiarizing myself with equipment and preparing my archaeological samples for the next step of my research, analysis. I love this stuff, but it is a lot of work.

I can’t say it’s been easy. Just ask my roommates who hear me flop onto my bed everyday when I get home. But, so far everything has been getting done. I think the key is having a working routine. For me, everyday I know generally what I’ll be doing and where I will be. Obviously, unforeseen things always come up but I can easily rearrange my routine for that day to accommodate them. Another thing that really helps is having a supportive supervisor that wants to provide you with the tools you need to succeed. My supervisor, Dr. Meghan Burchell, has been so helpful and welcoming. Every couple of days I pop into her office to remind her that I’m still alive and I always leave more equipped than I did when I had entered, be it with books, a reference letter for a grant application, or sage advice.

Like the Beetles’ song says, I get by with a little help from my friends. More than that, I’ve been getting by with a little help from my friends, my routine, and, of course, Jigs Dinner. So far, so good. I think this is a good precedent for what I expect to be one of the best years of my life.