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Directed Readings, Directed Research & Archaeology Honours

Written by: Nikki Simon

January 23rd, 2023

As an undergrad student, navigating your major/minor/certificates can be complicated enough without adding in the intimidating sounding DIRECTED READINGS or HONOURS. That being said, allow me to shed some light on what Directed Readings, Directed Research and Honours (at least in the Archaeology department) are from the perspective of a student who has completed her honours.

Let's start by seeing what the archaeology department has to say about the Directed courses.

Directed Readings (ARCH 479)

Credits: 3

Prerequisites: 45 units, including ARCH 282 or 372, and permission of the department.

Description: Directed readings for upper-level students who desire to study selected topics in depth.

Directed Laboratory/Library/Field Research (ARCH 480)

Credits: Variable 3-6

Prerequisites: 45 units, including ARCH 282 or 372, and permission of the department.

Description: A course in which students can undertake specific laboratory, library or field-based research supervised by a faculty member.

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OKAY, now, what does this actually mean, and what does it entail as a student? Well, in their most basic, boiled-down forms, the Directed Readings and Directed Research courses are essentially the same. The only differences are the distinction between study and research and the credit you will receive. In Directed Readings, you will only be studying a topic - that is, learning what is already known about a topic. Whereas with Directed Research, as the name suggests, you will be researching! Research implies that you will be contributing to the information pool in some way through your work.

In both cases, if you wish to take part, these are the steps:

  1. Find/choose a professor to supervise you. In your search for a supervisor, you'll want either a) a professor whose area of study is of interest to you or b) a professor who is likely knowledgeable about a topic you are interested in pursuing in study or research. A professor whose area of study is of interest to you will aid you in settling on a topic, or they might have a topic in mind for you. If you already have a topic in mind, finding a professor who likely has some knowledge of the topic (or the type of archaeology involved) will give you a better foundation of support for your study/research.

  2. After you have found a supervisor and workshopped your topic with them, you need to get permission from the department. In archaeology, this would involve e-mailing or setting up a meeting with Laura Walker, our lovely undergraduate advisor. As noted, the only requirements are that you have completed 45 credits, including either ARCH 282 or ARCH 372, which are both Material Culture Analysis.

  3. Once approved for Directed Readings/Directed Research, you will sit down with your supervisor. Between the two of you, the course expectations will be outlined. What type of work will you be expected to complete, when, and what level of communication with your supervisor, etc. The level of work will, of course, depend on the number of credits you will receive. Thus, Directed Readings will be on the lighter side. In contrast, Directed Research has variable credits where the workload can range from lighter, like Directed Readings, to quite involved and time intensive.

Once you've gone through the work of finding a supervisor, choosing a topic and outlining all of the course's expectations, that's the hard part! It's basically like any other course from there, but with more one-on-one with your professor.

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Moving on, let's see what the Archaeology department has to say about honours.

Archaeology Honours

Credits: 14 over 3 courses


  • A minimum Archaeology GPA of 3.33

  • Completion of ARCH 282/372, with a grade of B or better

  • A minimum CGPA of 3.00

  • Completed application form

Description: The honours program in Archaeology is designed for majors who wish to pursue a research topic independently and in greater depth than can be achieved in a single semester. Students will develop their research and writing skills and have the opportunity to work with individual faculty members.

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To graduate with archaeology honours, it is all the same requirements as for an archaeology major, just with the additions of Honours Readings (ARCH 498, 5 credits), Honours Thesis (ARCH 499, 5 credits) and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (ARCH 376, 4 credits).

Honours is very much a combination of Directed Readings and Research. As with Directed Research, you may choose whether you want to do library, lab, or field research - regardless, the work you will complete will involve both study and research. The difference between Honours and the Directed courses is that the amount of work and level of expectation is much more significant - 10 credits worth of work between your Honours Readings and Honours Thesis as opposed to 3-6 credits, which is why honours work is split between two semesters.

Your first semester will be your Honours Reading course, and you will go through essentially the same process as with Directed Reading/Research.

  1. You will have to find a supervisor whose work interests you or whose knowledge supports a research topic you have in mind.

  2. You will have to meet with them, ask them to supervise you and agree on your research topic.

  3. You will have to apply for permission from the department to do your honours.

Now, this is where things diverge slightly from the Directed courses. Part of the application process for Honours is a form that you have to work through with your supervisor. Essentially, this means working out the contract between you and your supervisor before applying for permission. In the form, you are required to give a brief outline of your area of study, the expectations of your Honours Reading, aka: what tasks you will be required to complete, when and how much they are worth, a weekly schedule including meeting times and a preliminary bibliography.

Filling out this application will be a task that you will be required to do again later with your Honours Thesis.

Once that's over, you'll spend the bulk of your Honours Readings...reading. Reading, researching, and writing. In the words of the archaeology department, Honours Reading is "Directed readings in a selected field of study under the direction of a faculty member. Papers will be required." The papers you write during your Honours Readings semester will provide a very small basis for parts of your Honours Thesis in the next semester and will be based on targeted study, information gathering, data collection in the lab or the field, data analysis etc. Meetings with your supervisor will likely be more in-depth and frequent than a Directed course would be, with once a week/every other week being standard.

For the second semester of your Honours work, your Honours Thesis, the bulk of your work will be writing. According to the department, your goals are: "An honours thesis of some ten to fifteen thousand words will be written under the direction of a faculty member." That's it; all of the other finer details regarding style and formatting will be sorted out between you and your supervisor. The idea is that most of the research for your Thesis will have been completed in the Honours Readings portion of the program. This way, you have time to organize your thoughts and the information and put together a well-written thesis 3-4 times longer than any other paper you've likely had to write. Still, this does not mean you should shy away from continuing to research while writing your Thesis if you feel something is missing; it isn't often in life that things work out perfectly.

As for the third requirement of an Honours in Archaeology, the part you've probably forgotten - the Quantitative Methods course (ARCH 376). You should absolutely take Quantitative Methods in Archaeology WHILE working on your Honours Readings or Honours Thesis. Inevitably, there will be a time during your Honours work when you will have to analyze data; Quantitative Methods and the professor who teaches it, Dr. Muir, will be invaluable to you during this time. Be mindful that Quantitative Methods is only offered in the spring term; if you forget to take Quantitative Methods, you will miss out on that extra bit of valuable help. However, I'm sure Dr. Muir would be open to you e-mailing him about your data.

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Now, if it isn't too conceited, I will share with you a breakdown of my Honours experience in the hopes that it will make the entire Honours process easier to understand.

  1. In Spring 2022, I had a research topic in mind. Because I was only an undergraduate student, I felt that the best way to get credit for my work was to complete an Honours, two birds with one stone, if you will.

  2. My research topic had to do with death and commemoration throughout the Klondike Gold Rush. Because Dr. Jamieson had been very kind to me in the past and because he is THE Historical Archaeology guru in our department, I approached him to see if he would be interested in taking me on as an Honours student.

  3. Dr. Jamieson agreed to be my supervisor, and we got to work filling out the forms. We decided for my Honours Readings that I would be graded based on 6 tasks:

    1. 2 Essay Proposals

    2. 2 Final Essays

    3. 1 Thesis Proposal

    4. Participation - Weekly meetings where we would discuss the weekly assigned readings and progress on the other tasks.

  4. I submitted my application to the archaeology advisor at the time, which was approved by the department.

  5. Throughout the semester, I read about such topics as transportation and common means of death during the Gold Rush, the evolution of burial practices in North America, archaeology and heritage management in the Yukon and settler/colonial culture in North America. Additionally, I began researching known burials from the Klondike Gold Rush and compiling a data set of the dead, what's known about them, where they passed, where they were buried, and their means of death.

  6. I completed all my work, and Dr. Jamieson assigned me a grade.

  7. In Fall 2022, I met with Dr. Jamieson again, and we determined the application for my Honours Thesis. We decided that I would be graded based on 4 tasks:

    1. 1 Thesis Outline

    2. 1 First Draft

    3. 1 Finished Thesis

    4. Participation - Weekly meetings where I would present a fixed amount of written work I had completed in the last week, and we would discuss that work.

  8. I submitted my application to the archaeology advisor, which was approved by the department.

  9. I began writing my Thesis! In the end, my topic evolved to rediscovering the dead of the Klondike Gold Rush and answering questions regarding why they were forgotten in the first place. I still had some research to do as I was attempting to locate thousands of missing dead, so I continued working away, collecting data alongside writing my Thesis for as long as I could. The two essays I wrote during my Readings course concerned the evolution of burial style in North America from the Colonial Era to the present and an overview of Archaeology and Heritage work in the Yukon and how it is impacted by the environment there. I was able to take the research that I conducted for those papers and incorporate them into my Thesis through a section analyzing the differences between the traditional Victorian burial and burial during the Gold Rush and a section on how the environment of the Yukon impacts the stability of graves and their associated markers.

  10. I completed all my work, and Dr. Jamieson assigned me a grade.

And it's really as simple as that and relatively painless! If you are a student considering doing their Honours, there is a good chance you are someone with passion and determination. As long as you do what you're supposed to be doing, you will do it amazingly! The most important thing that you need to keep in mind is time management. If you don't manage your time properly during this process, particularly if you are taking other courses at the same time, your mental health and your grade will suffer. Be organized and pace yourself appropriately. Remember that you're not alone. Your supervisor is there with you every step of the way, and all they want to do is help you and see you succeed.

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How does completing an Archaeology Honours benefit you?

Damon presenting his research poster at the CABA-ACAB Annual Meeting

There are really three ways that Honours work is beneficial to your future.

  1. It looks good on a transcript/resume. As with Field Work and future employers, if you are planning on applying to a Graduate program, having completed an Honours program shows the university that you are capable of undertaking the same type of work that you would be as a Masters or Ph.D. student. It also shows that you are willing to go above and beyond what is required.

  2. Completing the Honours Program will significantly increase your confidence in your writing and data analysis. Two essential skills that you will need regardless of where you hope to find yourself in your Archaeology career.

  3. Because you are actively participating in research, if you choose, you can apply to present a research poster at relevant conferences. If you plan to continue into Academia, this will give you a good idea of what conference culture is like and what will be expected of you in the future.

Me presenting my research poster for potential future SFU students

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That being said, if you wish to learn more about any of this from the department's perspective and the professors' perspective. If you have any questions at all, there is an INFO SESSION coming up this week on Thursday the 26th at 1:30 through zoom that I STRONGLY advise you to attend.

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