On the mentoring Facebook page we began by asking specialists to come and talk to the group about their jobs. This spread rapidly into general question and answer sessions with people in the group and has provided foundations for discussions around dyslexia, mental health in the workplace, periods and menstruation, setting up your own company and many more!

Here you will find questions and answers from the Facebook conversations. These have all been put up with permission by the authors and all personal information redacted.

Debbie Frearson: Small business partner
Q and A on: Self-employment and working short contracts.

I am in partnership called Historic Investigations with a fellow mature student called C. We started 10 years ago. I also work for a company as I used to do their books years ago. I have found that Self-employment worked best for my situation, so I am going to let you know about the partnership which does house histories (like a Desk Based Assessment) but with personality!) and being on random outside heritage jobs. I also volunteer in heritage but there is only so much unpaid work I want to do.

C. and I registered with HMRC as self-employed. We have a partnership agreement that was free to download. We filled out a tax partnership form and our own tax. We use a simple spreadsheet and no accountant. We went on a free HMRC course for this and got a lot of advice. If I get any other employment then they give you a P60 and the information goes on the tax form as well as self-employed. I opted not to top up NI and just pay basic as I earn.

We bought a web domain 10 years ago and went on web design course and realised that as we get none of our business through this as it is word of mouth or our lectures on house histories. So, we have taken down our page and are having a rethink. I offset my IT, phone, and travel against my income. The partnership has a free Santander account, but my own income goes into my own bank.

We make it clear we are not providing Heritage Statements for planning. We got caught by a bloke who thought this. He was looking to cut costs. The owner of the property came back to us and apologised profusely and said it was clear this was not our remit. She recommended us for other work, but it was a stressful time.

How and where did you sign up for this free course, please? Taxes and tax codes are doing my head in.

Our local tax office. They ran every 3 months. I think they do webinars as well now more frequently which is easier. I found contrary to myth that the people were helpful and wanted me to get the best out of the system.

How did you initially advertise or approach potential clients to do ‘house histories’ for them?

We made postcards and put them in village shops and we lectured to WI (Women’s Institute) and school groups.

How do you balance your work? Freelance work can be a bit “feast & famine” I imagine so how to you balance this against your smaller side-lines so you don’t end up with all or nothing?

At the beginning we had a contract with English Heritage writing the Strategic Stone Study for our local area. This was great but then I need a minimum amount to pay bills. CBA work gave me that 3 days a week. Now the 2 day a week job gets me basic and the smaller stuff gets me extra. I must make sure I have a contract for at least 2 days outside heritage.

Hi Debbie! Do you have any tips on home working itself – is it important to have a designated workspace or to break it up with coffee shop usage? When I work at home, I tend to follow the light around the flat (so move throughout the day) etc but am considering setting up a proper designated space

I have an office away from family/TV etc in house. We bought a shack, did it up and put an office space in as I was doing access to education course at time.

How did you learn how to do house histories?

At university there was a built heritage module and we had to do a level 4 report. C. and I both were on the archaeology and landscape history course. Then the people who had let us do their property told their friends and it went from there. We have fine tuned it to make a narrative so it is not dry. We also tell people if we can’t find info. We provide a summary of what we have found along with a description of phasing…no one wants a full survey. We have worked in our area now for long enough to know what records exist.

Is there anything you’ve seen online that would be useful to read up on or any course or do you provide training?

I am happy to train. We produced a house history guide for talks on how to do it. We also subscribe to Ancestry, the census is fab. Our library does it for free but shuts at 5!

Are there any useful skills or training that you would recommend archaeologists learn alongside “how to be an archaeologist”. My partner is really suffering because even though he’s a good arch (10+ years!), his CV is really lacking in transferable skills.

Public speaking as in chatting and listening. Understanding what people want rather than telling them what you are going to give them. Lots of skills re communication. Our clients respect us because we not only do what we say but if we can’t do it we tell them as well. Also know your archives.We have an area we work and we know the archivists and what is available. Not sure that is transferable but we made sure we do not waste time going to one. I would recommend brushing up on Word or the apple word processing as the report messing around with pics does our head in!

I have been self-employed since last year, and struggled through my taxes for the previous tax year but that’s all done now. I am not looking forward to doing next year, but I can’t get around that…. however, I have now got a paid job which is temporary. I haven’t got through all the HR stuff yet, but I heard HMRC will tax you at emergency (or whatever it’s called) tax rate and you’ll have to claim it back. Do they have to? I won’t be doing much freelance work this year with that job on, so I am not sure how to deal with this situation… all that tax stuff is a huge mystery to me!!

No you wont. Ask the tax office for a normal tax code. Not emergency. If they put you on emergency then you can get it adjusted really quick and tax will be paid back at April. But you have to get letter off tax office. This happened to me last year!

I’ve been thinking of starting a company but struggled to work out how much to charge and how to predict timescales for this kind of work. Could you point me in the right direction? Any practical tips?

The timescale depends on how much we find. Some take a month some a couple of weeks as we are p/t. We charge £– an hour per person plus travel expenses. If they want a full report it can take a few days but most want our summary and digital copies of the archive (we pay a camera licence). £– per hour full time would equate to £–k per annum. We felt we were skilled professionals and worth it. If we charged a flat rate for a report we found we earned £3! As we put so much in.

Hi Deb, how do you calculate your £– per hour? Do you include additional time for admin, finances, etc alongside the work you do researching and writing up the reports?

Admin takes very little time so not really. What we do is charge the client. It goes into the business. We take out costs then split. We do most if our work for individual home owners. If we get an organisation who want more commercial work we look at a contract price and use HLF guide. Our initial start up admin took ages but as a business owner you take this on the chin. This is a small partnership though and different charging to say a PLC. We charge more for lectures. These are now prepared so any cost is zero prep wise that way we make some money on work done already. Also as a self employed outside of heritage I charge according to the job. The ad hoc gardening is less per hour than the project manager role. I have to be realistic if I want to earn money to tide me over.

Dr. Cat Jarman
Q and A on: Appearing on film, TV and media

I finished my PhD last year on bioarchaeological analysis of Viking Age remains and excavations of the Great Army camp in Repton. I’ve also worked on diet and land use on Rapa Nui and studied Viking women. On Easter Sunday 2019, Channel 4 showed the documentary Britain’s Viking Graveyard, which was based on my thesis. I’ve featured as an on screen expert and/or consultant on documentaries on BBC, Discovery & History and recorded several podcasts and radio programmes. This has been part of a deliberate effort to get media work & publicity for my research, and has involved a lot of blood, sweat, and tears!

I’m now taking some time out from full-on academia, researching independently and writing a popular history book to be published by Harper Collins. And fingers crossed, getting some more TV projects off the ground too!

Can you describe what a days filming is like?

Filming days are typically a combination of a lot of waiting around and repeating things over and over again. On set shoot days (rather than when a crew is just following work) they usually take some time to set up the room to be used. You’re then miked up and asked to go through specific questions/points that the director wants to cover. They then usually film it again at least once from a different angle/camera and finally, film close ups of anything you hold or point at. All the teams I have worked with have been really brilliant at responding to what I want to say and cover, so it’s usually a great interactive experience.

How did you go about engaging with the media initially?

My first involvement with a BBC documentary was by somebody recommending my research as being relevant, so very much right time / right place and contacts. But most of the rest has been through the publicity around my other projects and publications – I’ve sent out press releases through the university and taken part in podcasts & written for popular magazines. I’ve also tried to use Twitter to make a profile for myself and this has been great – I’ve had several BBC interviews and even the Washington Post contact me based on what I’ve tweeted! It’s not something we get much training or advice on in academia but personally, I think we should do more. I got a lot of help with the press releases from the University press officer.

Do you think that female archaeologists are portrayed acutely in the media? If not have you any ideas on how to tackle this portrayal?

This is a really good question… I don’t think that media currently portrays how many of us there are and that so many of us have responsibility and lead projects in archaeology and heritage. I think we need to be better at self-promotion.

Was there any pressure to look or act a certain way (that is, to be “attractive”)?

Surprisingly not, and I’ve been very grateful for this! My appearance has never been commented on and I’ve never been given any requirements for what to wear, whether to put on makeup etc. To be fair, I do feel pretty self-conscious and will be all vain and do my hair beforehand, but if anything, I’ve felt that they’ve wanted to portray me as a hard-working scientist!

Hi Cat! Thanks for doing this! I’m still really hesitant to do media engagement despite a fair few radio & newspaper interviews. Have you done any formal training or could you recommend any training opportunities?

No, I actually haven’t had much training so it’s been very much a case of jumping in at the deep end and hoping I’ll float…. I haven’t been able to find any suitable training opportunities, otherwise, I would definitely have gone for it! Maybe this could be an idea for a workshop or training organised by this group in the future, if there’s enough interest?…

Did you feel pressure to adapt your research presentation to fit a narrative or were you allowed to present as you wanted?

Definitely to a degree, but not to an extent I wasn’t happy with – at least for the BVG film. For my first TV interview I definitely felt pressured into giving a simple ‘are they or aren’t they Vikings’ answer and that was tricky. Now I feel far more confident about telling them what I DON’T want to say, but you have to be pretty careful in how you phrase things anyway. I recognise that simplification is necessary for formats like a documentary so the challenge is to find a balance between a simplified narrative that satisfies them but that you still feel is true to the academic background. With this latest film I had a really great dialogue with the production company and felt that they understood and respected my views. I deliberately chose them over others because I felt they wouldn’t misrepresent anything. This is definitely the scariest part though. My advice for anyone in the same situation is to decide in advance what you are / aren’t happy to compromise on and stick with it, even if they try to push you

Hi, thanks for answering questions. I’m curious about the proportions of female Viking warriors in the graveyards?

This is actually one of the things we don’t know. We can’t conclusively prove that any of the women buried there were warriors (there are some very lengthy discussions on this for graves elsewhere in the Viking World, most recently discussed in an Antiquity paper by Neil Price et al) . In the charnel/mass grave, around 20% are women where sex can be determined. But we can’t currently prove whether they were definitely part of the Great Army and if so, what roles they had.

Dr. Hayley McParland
HE Science advisor for SW England

Hello! First off for me is the weekly meeting at Historic England to discuss weekly cases and deadlines; I sit in and see where I can offer advice on cases e.g. cases with waterlogged archaeology which might be impacted by development; cases where there are human remains; large infrastructure projects etc.

Do you have any experiences of mentoring, and if so, what was the best piece of advice you received?

I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from the advice of many exceptional colleagues. The earliest advice I received during my MSc at the University of Exeter, to listen to feedback on papers even if it wasn’t something I wanted to hear, and then to use it constructively to move forward. Sounds simple, but basically don’t be put off if you receive feedback you didn’t want to hear, and use it to develop an even better piece of work. The second I received from my line manager and it was to know my strengths and the situations in which I work best and use them to my advantage. Particularly to try to arrange situations where possible to play to those strengths.

How did you get to where you are? Did you follow a specific career path or did you just take opportunities as and when they arose?

I started out not sure if I wanted to go to University and volunteering with a local archaeology unit for work experience, I then attended Exeter to do archaeology and focused on Heritage Management and museums! In my third year we had our Wetland Archaeology module and I was hooked! I did an MSc in Wetland Archaeology and Environments whilst working in commercial archaeology, I then went into commercial archaeology following graduation. I decided to take the opportunity to follow up on the phytolith specialism I’d developed during my MSc. with PhD research at York. I had long admired the work of the Science Advisors through engagement with them during my MSc and it was a role I aspired to. I had a broad background in post-ex and fieldwork and a specialism and academic research which provided me with the skills to be able to do my current job. I wasn’t appointed the first time, but I listened to the feedback and reapplied for the next post to come up.

Do you feel like being in a STEM related job has changed for women in the past 5 years and do you believe it will get better for women in the next 5 years

I started out not sure if I wanted to go to University and volunteering with a local archaeology unit for work experience, I then attended Exeter to do archaeology and focused on Heritage Management and museums! In my third year we had our Wetland Archaeology module and I was hooked! I did an MSc in Wetland Archaeology and Environments whilst working in commercial archaeology, I then went into commercial archaeology following graduation. I decided to take the opportunity to follow up on the phytolith specialism I’d developed during my MSc. with PhD research at York. I had long admired the work of the Science Advisors through engagement with them during my MSc and it was a role I aspired to. I had a broad background in post-ex and fieldwork and a specialism and academic research which provided me with the skills to be able to do my current job. I wasn’t appointed the first time, but I listened to the feedback and reapplied for the next post to come up.

I think I’ve been lucky to have entered my career at a time in which there are lots of women entering and progressing within archaeological science careers. At Historic England there have traditionally been more female science advisors than male. I think that the more female role models there are in STEM careers, with the caveat that not all sectors have as many female scientists as Heritage, more girls and women will be encouraged to consider STEM careers. I think things will continue to improve on that basis.

I would love to know your thoughts on using apprenticeships within archaeology to help existing practitioners follow a more technical/arch sciences route without the need for FT PG study? I know that higher level apprenticeships are something HE have looked at and with the increasingly prohibitive cost of PG study, do you feel this qualification led, official mentoring would work in your job or those of your colleagues?

Many of our archaeological colleagues have entered archaeology through a non-academic route and there are several colleagues who are exceptional archaeological scientists who have trained on the job as it were. This is actually a really complex question, and yes it’s possible and yes we need more routes for specialist training, and I think traditionally this has been successfully achieved in part through training and mentoring relationships. I think perhaps though that this is a process that is still developing. I would add that not every HE Science Advisor has had a PhD, and the role relies on experience and broad knowledge and ability to build relationships, as well as a specialist skill set. A small flavour of what I do – this morning I’ve advised on a sampling strategy in a WSI, I’ve discussed on-going national infrastructure projects and the inclusion of appropriate strategies for environmental archaeology, palaeoenvironmental assessment and human remains; discussed marine geophysics and read a new report on a Palaeolithic cave site.

What you do is really broad, what skills do you think help you cover such a wide remit? And do you ever get a bit stumped? If you were to, what avenues would you follow to come to a solution?

So, the most useful skill is self awareness, enough to know when I don’t know enough about something and when I need to discuss it with a specialist. I’m really lucky that I have a great team of science advisors (our hive mind is quite impressive!) and specialist colleagues who support me and I also have lots of contacts outside HE who I can speak to. I am very keen to make sure that the advice I give is well considered and practical, whilst being in line with accepted standards. Sometimes I can’t give an answer immediately, but instead I say that I need to consult with colleagues and I’ll get back to them. Our role isn’t to know everything, it’s to draw on our experience and to know who to ask and when to ask! People are always welcome to speak to us, and if I’m completely honest I’m often stumped as I usually only see the complex things. I love a good challenge though and so relish those cases and I love that my role enables me to constantly learn new things. Whilst some people will perceive saying you don’t know something as a weakness, I think that it shows strength as you are not afraid to admit to what you don’t know and to find out!

Kath Hunter-Dowse: Archaeobotanist
Q and A on: Self-employment and returning to work from maternity leave
I’m trying to go back to work after maternity leave and have faced some problems at work due partly to having a baby. I know this is very different from commercial work but any advice appreciated!

I would always advise being a member of a union as even if your employer does’t recognise them they can give you free legal advice.

How do you achieve a good work life balance?

I’m not sure I always do. I find that the feast and famine nature of freelance work means that I may not know one week from the next when the next project will arrive. This can be very stressful when there are bills to pay. I also don’t feel I can turn work down so can be working on several projects at the same time then on nothing at all. I think being sensible about charging a good day rate and being honest about timings with the client help. You need to develop a tougher skin when chasing clients for money and when they want you to do more work for less money( this is where being clear about costs and timings before starting really helps). Working from home I do have the flexibility to take time off to escape into the garden if I am too stressed and even the washing up becomes tempting when trying to write a report. Of course all of this is much easier than it was when the children were smaller.

What age does it get easier with managing kids and family?

each stage has its pros and cons. The baby and toddler stage especially with the first is the most exhausting and stressful I found. Once you have more than one child you worry less and your standards have to drop. Once they can get themselves to and from school, operate a washing machine and cook life is much easier.

I was lucky that living in a city there was a lot of available nursery places and child minders to chose from. All of my children went to nursery and I worked on projects evenings and weekends.I actually found it more restricted when the children went to school as the days were shorter even with after school clubs and managing during the holidays. Also it was never assumed that just my wages would have to cover the child care. The down side was I was based in an environmental archaeology “black hole” where we live so was reliant on work from other areas and worked for a number of years for a unit 2 hours away from home. They were very flexible so I could work from home two days and my ex had to do the school pick ups 3 days a week and we had to juggle work when they were sick.

I am a Small Finds Specialist with over 20 years of experience of identifying, dating and researching objects. In the past, units would send me assemblages, or pay me to come down to their offices, to record the artefacts, then go home and write the report. However, I am rubbish at blowing my own trumpet – I guess I need to advertise my services better…. how on earth do I do that? A twitter follower suggested making fridge-magnet-business cards and sending them to ALL units in Christmas cards….

I really like the Christmas card fridge magnet idea.
I would suggest a Linkedin presence and advertise on the BAJR specialist register (Find on the resources tab).

How would I go back to work while making sure I’m kept on local jobs and not sent away? I look after our toddler 95% of the time.

Its best to be upfront and just ask if they will try to keep you on local jobs I found. There wasn’t really another choice I had to be back to pick them up from childcare and could only get to site once I had dropped them off as there was no one else as my husband works weird shifts and at the time we had no family here. You can request flexible working which they will have to try and accommodate.

Kirsty Dingwall: Field archaeologist
Q and A on: tips and tricks for surviving away accommodation

Hello! A few general tips and tricks, if you are able and where you’re staying has the facilities – do as much of your washing as possible during the week rather than taking home a bag of dirty laundry and spending your weekend resenting the fact that ‘work washing’ is taking up your time. keeping sane is as much about the weekends as about the weekdays. Definitely do pub quizzes! Archaeologists are incredibly good at them! Not a site I worked on, but colleagues entered a Christmas quiz, beat all the locals and won the Christmas turkey hamper and then had a massive Christmas dinner for 25 of them the next night!
I know a lot of people might think that going to a pub on your own is a terrifying prospect, but i found working away hugely liberating for this. I’d take a book and know that if someone asked why are you on your own I’d have a genuine reason. If no one spoke to me, then i’d still have had a nice hour or so effectively in the company of humans, but without having to ‘make friends’.
Also my advice would be Get Organised. By the end of my longest stints away I could pack and get my stuff ready in about 20 mins. I sacrificed a bit of money and just forked out on having two sets of shampoo/conditioner and other toiletries.

How do you keep your “work rhythm” going while travelling, especially in terms of writing and more office-based work? By travelling I guess I mainly mean for conferences etc rather than specifically fieldwork?

The down side is that it has pretty much ruined me for being enthusiastic about going on weekend retreats to lovely cottages in the country with my pals. I’ve been on a few hen weekends where a cottage has been booked in the middle of nowhere, and everyone is naturally excited about the prospect, apart from me who thinks oh great, another cottage in the middle of nowhere with no wifi…

What was your favourite away job and why?

It would have to be when I was lucky enough to work for a couple of phases of work on a privately owned island off the west coast of Scotland. We went to work in a speedboat every morning, the archaeology was just brilliant and the team were folk that genuinely, 15 years later, are still some of my best pals.

What’s the worst accommodation you ever stayed in and the best? Why was that?

Worst accommodation without question was a guest house/hotel where I turned up and the whole room reeked of smoke, there were unusual stains on sheets and ceilings, incessant noise from the pub downstairs… close second was a place where there were pubes on the soap in the bathroom.

How do you maintain your work life balance when working away?

If I’m being honest, I think it takes a fair chunk of planning and effort, which isn’t necessarily the most appealing thing. For me, it’s really important to think about what you want to achieve out of your period staying away. I was talking to a friend about this earlier this week, she said the best thing for her was to make sure she had her running shoes with her. It’s not much to pack in terms of space, but it makes all the difference knowing you can get out for half an hour, away from your colleagues(!) and get your head straight if it’s been a tough day.. I genuinely tried to see a long drawn out boring week away ahead of me as a chance to a) sit on my arse and watch all the crappy telly i never got a chance to do at home and b) do the stuff that i don’t get time to do at home, like making more of an effort to call friends and actually talk to them, or keeping a diary.

How do you cope when the team isn’t dream, working and living together how do you keep the peace?

I suppose it depends on your role on the project. As far as I’m concerned, if you are in charge of a project, then you have at least some responsibility for sorting out any problems, although with the understanding that own time is not site time. It really is difficult, and i think it maybe needs to be a case by case basis. I can’t speak from a legal/HR point of view, but i would never see any of my supervisory staff on site as being liable for the behaviour of others in the evening, unless they were actively egging them on. Our company actually has various policies which cover behaviour when staying in rented accommodation, so it might be something to look into – at least if you manage to agree on a minimum expectation and it’s written down, you have something to fall back on if someone challenges you getting involved.

Have you ever worked away for extended periods (i.e. weekends also away – not coming back for longer periods), if so, what particular challenges did you identify which were unique to this and how to did you deal with them?

Yes, I’ve definitely done a fair bit of that. The longest example would be when i was working in Northern Ireland, and cos of the practicalities of going home, it just wasn’t feasible to get back every weekend. I think even in situations where the conditions aren’t as favourable and you’re not getting a deal like that, pushing (or at the least, asking) for occasional extra days off is a good thing for your personal state.

Mental Health

This thread combines multiple authors who have open mental health diagnosis and how they cope at work. *Trigger warning applied*.
All documents referred too are found within the resources tab on this site.
MH- Mental Health
BPD- Borderline personality disorder
NHS- National Health Service
DBT- Dialectical behavioural therapy

How open are you with your at work about your MH and what has the reaction to it been?

I’ve honestly found a mixed reaction. In my early career I was too scared of being fired or made redundant due to the short term contract issues to mention, So I very much suffered in silence. But recently I’ve been lucky enough for two very supportive units who I have been brave enough to talk to and have support with.

I do see a correlation though where the most supportive units are the smaller ones with no regional offices, rather than the larger ones. I think the most incredible reaction was a manager turning round to me and saying that he doesnt think I should work for them anymore, because I hadn’t recognised how ill I was, and they supported me in going back to uni and taking a year out and wanted me to start getting better. I am forever grateful to that manager, because while it was awful at the time, MH is very retrospective and looking back now I should not have been at work.

What are your symptoms and how do you cope with them at work, if that’s not too personal? If so, what coping strategies would you hypothetically advocate?

So my symptoms for BPD is that I “tantrum”. The BPD spectrum is not being able to recognise what your actions are and have significant emotional instability, so if something annoys or upsets me, I can lash out without warning. Its like a rapid version of bi-polar, where I can cycle through every emotion in a very short space of time, and then be absolutely fine, like nothing has happened.

This then often leads to severe anxiety for me, as I’m then terrified I have hurt or upset someone and I can then go for days thinking that I am a terrible person. At work this has resulted in me very untactfully telling people exactly what I think of their actions and just going ahead and doing stuff. The idea of committees and group work is an absolute nightmare for me!

So I handle it at work by asking to do certain tasks, like being the paperwork monitor, or by just asking for a massive feature I can excavate! Medication has definitely helped a lot on this to stabilise me.

That really sounds exhausting, how have work helped you to manage this?

So when I came out to a couple of units, I sent them an email asking to meet and I went armed with the NHS documents on BPD. Having formal NHS based stuff, while not always totally accurate for the individual really helps management understand what it is, and how they can officially help you. I also used the resources from Mind.

At the end of the day, you can’t fix people, you can only support.

Thanks for sharing your experience. What strategies have you found that help? Have you tried DBT? I believe there is also a ‘quiet’ response where anger and frustration are turned inwards?

Absolutely. The turning inwards has very much been my experience. This led to some very dark days prior to getting help, as a coping strategy I would not recommend it! Unfortunately MH is a postcode lottery. I have been unable to access further help as where I live is dreadful for it.

However I am on good medication which definitely helps stabilise me and though Uni I am able to access counselling services. Although as a private citizen Im not sure what to do in my area as I cant afford the private services, and Im “not bad enough” for the NHS in my area!

The best strategy I have found is being open and honest. I tell every super/PO/ manager now that I work with, and take along the mind and NHS resources as well. My partner has been amazingly supportive as have my friends and colleagues. While BPD is certainly an odd condition to have, in general if you feel safe to do so, I would recommend being open to your community about your mental health struggles and start pushing for better understanding and access at work.

The attitude of “you wouldn’t work with a broken leg, so why work with a broken mind” while crude is effective at making me stop and think to take MH time.

Do you think being open about it will realistically effect future employers hiring you with preconceived ideas?

Yes and no. With a greater industry impetus for mental health discussions, if an employer wishes to treat me negatively due to my condition, then that is their problem. Through being open and facilitating discussions I tend to find that my employers, while having preconceived notions, are able to work with me and find ways around my symptoms that don’t impact on work. I also know that as a union member, if i am discriminated against, I have significant support. Unfortunately preconceived notions, and stigma is still a huge problem within the MH communities and sadly it is likely to still happen. If your condition (ie BPD) could impact you at work, I would recommend discussing this at interview alongside any other “this could impact my work” related discussions.

Probably a good point is that a number of conditions are covered by the Equality Act, technically you are protected however this isn’t always how life works in the day to day.

Hi! I have a question for any MH first aiders. Id like to ask how equipped you felt to approach members of staff you had concerns about after the course…? The hardest part can often be asking someone if they are ok.

Hello, well the course definitely helps with that. It gives you everything from phrases to use and ways to do it, to handling the answer you might get. mostly, the training did a lot for my confidence in this area.

So I thought I’d explain why I wanted to get trained. I’d been a First Aider at work for years. Then a few years ago I moved to a new department. Very soon I realised that we had staff who needed assistance/support, but I didn’t know how to give it. I stumbled across Mental Health First Aid England by accident on social media, and asked to do their 2-day course. At about the same time, two of my colleagues (one in HR) were also looking into this kind of training. I and one other member of staff got trained just before a team of volunteers did.

Did you pay to do that yourself?

No, work paid for me. £200 for two day course, but I did it in a town where I could stay with a friend for free!

Following on from all that, the role is mostly like being a (physical) First Aider. Let’s unpick that. Both courses teach you the essentials to deal with a crisis situation. Like a heart attack or major bleed: or someone who is suicidal. Both courses teach you how to deal with other situations, like someone who is sick: or experiencing a down-turn in their mental health. Both courses teach you the importance of looking after yourself too. And loads of other similarities, because health is health, regardless of which bits of your body are involved. The big difference for me was learning about/talking about difficult situations. Like, you know it might be bad if someone has a terribly broken leg or burns. But you have to talk about suicide and self-harm.

I’ve been wanting to get this training for a while. Where are the best places to do it?

The course content is determined by Mental Health First Aid England, but delivered by local trainers usually through charities like Mind. Go to the MHFA website and look at their calendar of courses, find one at a location/time that suits you. You also need to find the right course. There are differences e.g. for at work, or in educational contexts/pediatric, and so on. I just thought I’d add I went to the CIfA one in England although I work in Wales and apparently the guidelines differ for Wales and it’s a separate company that deal with it.

Have you used your MH in the work place first aid in a work setting and if so how did it go

I have used my mental health training more than my physical first aid training. Important caveat: my work is mostly office based – low physical risk! mostly I have talked with colleagues in need of a confidential ear and support.

I do notice behaviours in colleagues that cause me to ask how they are, or to raise a concern with a colleague.

Most recently I and my trained colleagues were providing support at our staff conference.

it’s often quite subtle, not like launching yourself at Resussie Annie on the Red Cross training room floor! As a mental health champion I speak up/out in work contexts. For example, one of my recent archaeological zines is about stress management.

Do you find that there is more reticence from site based staff or office based staff to come forward and talk about their mental health?

I think that it depends who they have available. Certainly if field staff have access to MHFA they feel they can talk to (its key they are not just supervisors or managers) then that makes a big difference. But as a general I’ve seen office staff feeling more open as they usually have a more static support network.

The biggest difference is made though if you have supervisors or managers willing to be open about their own mental health. Not being afraid to say how they are feeling that day in morning briefings or staff meetings gives others confidence to say the same.

Thankyou for doing this 🙂 from Prospects perspective if a member goes to them with mental health issues, what is the process for them to raise the issue with prospect?

Prospect itself doesnt offer any MH services directly to members. It does offer reps mental health first aid training and will provide accessible help to trained professionals.

Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia

This thread combines multiple authors and their experiences of the three D’s and how they manage in the workplace.

Note all resources mentioned here are found within the resource tab on the site.


What is the most useful adjustment that am employer/university has made for you?

Interesting question, I would say that I didn’t seek the support I needed when I started Uni, this was a mistake that I have since learned from.

With my employer the best adjustment they can make is just getting it.

What would be your advice overall for the most important useful piece of equipment you’ve used that aids you and potentially could support others?

I want to stress before I start that everyone’s brain works a little differently so what works for me may not work for everyone on site.

I really struggle with blue gridded paper especially when planning, a previous P.O. knocked me up a red planning board, I found I was much more successful at undertaking on site drawings.

I also keep really copious notes in my site book with all the plan, section and context and photo numbers that way if I am having a bad day I can write up sheets a little bit later, I have also used it as back up when there was a really bad number wang I can easily fix it.

Do you inform your employer if yes how do you bring it up with them?

Yes I always inform my supervisor before I start on site and give them information about reasonable adjustment that I need. I will also warn them for things to watch out for with my work, such as mixing up numbers and spelling mistakes.

Hi Fellow dyslexic here! Have you had any instances of visual stress on site? If so how do you tackle it?

Stress and tiredness are big contributors to it, generally it takes extra care and time but there will be days when I just can’t deal with it and I have to do something else for a little while until I’m in a better frame of mind.

Hi. What advice do you have for someone trying to support a colleague who has dyslexia?

I think that as with most things if they are comfortable with it have a good chat about what they need from you. Symptoms (if that is the right word) can vary massively so it is important to remember that although you may have broad applications which can help, a lot is quite specific to the individual. The same with coping strategies, they are really varied. The most important thing is to know you are there and that you have their back. It took me a long time to feel comfortable to open up about finding things difficult because I had some really insensitive supervisors and POs early on who publicly made fun of my spelling. One memorable occasion was a piss taking session over “towel” rather than “trowel” excavation. I think that it is also important not to make assumptions that someone can’t do something because they are dyslexic – again from personal experience I’d been doing report writing for a while but I had never disclosed my dyslexia to my boss. It came up in conversation as a reason why he wasn’t keen on another staff member report writing and I pointed out that it didn’t matter with me. He admitted he had just assumed that he wouldn’t be able to do it and that had he known I might not have been put in that role either!!! Same with site paper work from my perspective having people try to help by not having you do the sheets is really insulting if not discussed first, especially if it is based on discovering that someone else who was dyslexic didn’t want to do them so they thought was universal! Finally don’t sweat the small stuff – I got more confidence by having a lovely supervisor who had the “no one makes mistakes on purpose” attitude and made it clear that all he needed from me was the information in a legible form. He couldn’t care less about the spelling as it was all getting typed up anyway, same with bullet points instead of sentences. And just not worrying took so much pressure off and meant that I made far fewer mistakes and worked quicker! The fact that you ask shows that you are a support and recon you are already doing the right thing by being a “safe” person they can confide in and ask for help as and when and know you won’t make a big deal out of it and won’t make it public. Especially early on I felt scared I would be found out and that employers wouldn’t choose me over someone who wasn’t dyslexic so having support is vital to feel comfortable to be able to ask for help.


What reasonable adjustments does your employer need to be aware of?

This will vary from person to person. I have an agreement that my line manager wants me a head up checklist for work. I don’t have to use the phone but can text or use email instead. Some work I can do from home where I have a home office which is quiet. I have headphones to put on while writing and people know to leave me. I can type rather than write. It is important your employer does make adjustment and get it in writing.

How do you adjust your own working methods on site?

I am very lucky in that I am usually working on a contracted basis when extra archaeology has been found or in community archaeology which is a much slower pace. I structure as much as possible and I carry crib cards to check things especially if it not an everyday type of site work. As I have got older I have got much better as saying no. So I can do task a and b, but if you want c you either need to wait or find someone else. It is important not to overload. However, I think the natural instincts and abilities you carry mean people are willing to put up with this.

My daughter was borderline dyspraxia as a child some of the symptoms you mentioned she has even today at 25 years old should she get re tested?

It depends if she is having problems or not. Many people develop coping strategies in adults. If she needs support in the workplace or is experiencing emotional difficulties by trying to cope alone (I had anxiety for a while at around her age) it may be worth having an official diagnosis to try and get help. I would recommend her phoning the dyspraxia helpline and talk it through with them. I got a new diagnosis because I did my MA as a mature student as that helped me access funding and support as a student. It is worth saying that although dyspraxia used to be known as clumsy child syndrome you don’t actually grow out of it.


What is the best way you have found to help with dyscalculia at work?

So I split my time between academic research archaeology and contract field archaeology. I find for the field archaeology I just check all my numbers and have any supervisors check my numbers.
Now for research archaeology that is bit different and I have had to set up strict guidelines with my team that I have them adhere to or we have problems. ! Other small piece of advice! It is okay to let your supervisors know you have dycalculia. At higher levels of education people do not doubt your skills but it is totally okay to have there be communication for when you need it. I have also told my directors in Italy on the dig I work at and they are always cool double checking my numbers. As long as you are upfront and clear you have made the necessary preparations to help you when you need it, everyone else is cool too.

Have you ever experienced discrimination at work because of your dyscalculia? If so how have you combated it?

Mostly I get people who say, “oh but you are so smart!” As if a learning disorder is directly in relationship to my intelligence. That used to hurt my feelings a lot but now I just say essentially what I mentioned, “learning disorders do not equate intelligence.” I also reassure people I use a calculator and work collaboratively. I also do not downplay my skills. I am a good field archaeologist. I triple check all my numbers. I have other people check them. I also have learned when things are hardest for me. As I said in my other post, my dycalculia is worst when I am tired, stressed and rushing. I work very hard to start projects early and keep on top of them because I simply cannot do things at the last minute. I make too many mistakes. However this really good work ethic had clearly paid off! Even if people are discriminatory first, they usually stop being so when they see how hard I work.

What advice would you give your 16 year old self?

Many things! Right now, as an almost 25 year old who is an archaeologist and living her dream and finding out more everyday I would tell 16 year old me to continue to be passionate despite assholes telling me otherwise. With having a learning disorder (an extreme testing anxiety) I had to pick up slack in the classroom in other ways since I so badly bombed tests and could barely read in math class. I did everything in my power to show my teachers I cared so much and I love to learn it was just a bit harder for me and took me a bit longer. Supported in my learning disorder and have had help in numerous ways to succeed without detracting my love of learning. Its been eye opening. I would also tell 16 year old me that having a learning disorder does make you stupid and everyone learns at different paces! Also that just because something is hard for you does not mean you should not pursue it! I was actively pushed away from science because I struggled so bad at math but in my many learning disorder tests, I have also gotten tested for learning styles. I am a kinaesthetic tactile learner, so I learn best by doing which is perfect for archaeology. I think with my hands! I actually thrived in high school in physics lab and psychology and astronomy, all more practical based, but I did very bad at exams and teachers were often confused. In university I did brilliant also in practical based, again in geology and astronomy and archaeology. I find with writing, as long as I get a good editor I am fine (though I have lots of good writing guides if you want them that have helped me tons).

Do you have any advice for anyone managing a site with an individual with dyscalculia? What are the practical adjustments that can be made to make the individuals life easier?

My biggest advice is come in with a set of goals and an outline for project aims. Keep a very clear field journal you write in clear font you can read and any important you can get is easily legible. Transfer all notes to text because text is a lot easier on the eyes with dycalculia and you can use different fonts that help a lot. Ensure all staff you work with that you need everything written CLEARLY in print in block letters if possible NO CURSIVE. Double check all numbers with staff. Have someone else check any math if needed. If doing measurements, create clear lines. For example for archaeobotany I do a lot of floatation, I have certain measurements on buckets outlined in electrical tape that show certain fill lines I need to meet for certain experiments, have these lined up clearly ahead of time. Mostly be super organised and neat. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have all of your paperwork be legible by you and double recorded in two places that are easily accessible and easy to look back on and all numbers have been overseen. I have been strict with my co-supervisors that their paperwork is neat and legible and we are on the same page. It will save loads of headaches later.

Suzanne Taylor: Maritime and Performance Archaeologist
Q and A on: The Rose Theatre. London

Suzanne is a Shakespeare performer and member of the London Sea Shanty Collective who combines archaeology and theatre. She recently produced a short film about the history and archaeology of the Rose Theatre starring Sir Ian McKellen and has continued performing in lockdown.

When did you first become interested in combining archaeology and the theatre?

I first became interested in combining theatre and archaeology when I started volunteering for the awesome archaeological site of the Rose Playhouse-back in 2001.Up until that point, I only considered myself an actress. I never envisioned this amazing life of archaeology that awaited me when I set off from Vancouver, Canada.

Just wondering how the collaboration with Sir Ian McKellen came about?

I had been acquainted with Sir Ian McKellen for quite a few years at the Rose before I embarked on my film about the Rose with my two friends-Antony Lewis and Siegffried Loew-Walker. Sir Ian McKellen is Patron of the Rose, and because he was always so lovely with me and always so passionate about the Rose, I wrote him a letter and asked if he would kindly consider being interviewed in a documentary film I was helping to produce about the Rose.

Hi Suzanne, where can we see your film please?

Shakespeare’s Secret Playhouse (Part 1)

What was your favourite find or moment of excavation at The Rose?

I was still living in Canada at the time of the Rose excavations in 1989. The Rose Trust would like to complete the dig as a part of the Rose Revealed Project. http://www.roseplayhouse.org.uk/
Dr Jane Sidell very kindly allowed me to assist her in monitoring the preservation water at the Rose. It was an incredible experience-and wow is that water cold!