Institute for Field Research

Why choose Institute for Field Research?

The Institute for Field Research (IFR) was created in March 2011 by a group of leading academic archaeologists. Operating as an independent, nonprofit academic organization has allowed us to break down traditional institutional barriers and deliver archaeology field schools to students regardless of the university in which they matriculate. Furthermore, by working with leading scholars from universities across the world, the IFR can deliver a broad range of regional and temporal programs and ensure excellence in research and in teaching. Students are no longer limited to the expertise of faculty members at their home campus; and, faculty can recruit the best students from universities across the world.


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Yes, I recommend this program

Beautiful Island, packed with archaeology

Bornholm is dense with archaeological sites, and the fieldschool staff made a point of giving us chances to get a sense of them in context. They were also great at responding to the interests of students, and making sure we had chances to see the specific things that interested us most. Finn Ole Nielsen, especially, made a point of throwing in a few mini-fieldtrips on the way back to the guest house when I asked about places!

If I could have given the guest house 11/10 I would have. I have to say the bikes they gave us for touring around on days off were a bit sketchy, but once we got the tires pumped up they were a solid 8/10... If you are not a distance cyclist, it's worth getting a bus pass for part of the time, if only to make sure you see the white sand beaches, and the western coast south of the castle, which are beautiful and a bit different from the rest of the landscape.

Nick Caretta is a consummate teacher, who consistently went out of his way to make things work for the students, explain the big picture, and also to ensure that we ate a enough wild cherries. We saw a little less of Michael Thorsen, but he is an incredibly kind teacher who is willing to repeat things as many times as necessary without getting flustered, and is also endlessly willing to help students out with understanding the details of what they are encountering as they dig, suggest multiple approaches to the same task, and so on.

The weather at that time of year is extremely comfortable, the coffee and pastries are good (It's Denmark, after all), and the showers are hot.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
The white sand beach. Apparently the sand is used for hour-glasses. It's like a temperate version of the Caribbean. If I had it to do again, I'd have gone to the beach earlier in the month, and brought my readings...
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Yes, I recommend this program


IFR itself was great! I loved the site that I was working at and I had such an amazing experience in Ireland!
I could have used a little more guidance with the process of making travel arrangements and the application process was not very user-friendly, but I was able to figure everything out!
Overall, I think field schools are incredible experiences and would recommend that everyone try to have a study abroad experience!!

What would you improve about this program?
Make the application process more user-friendly and make sure all of the hosts are ready and able to receive study abroad students.
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Yes, I recommend this program

IFR - Cova Gran de Santa Linya

The Cova Gran field school was such an amazing experience for me. I originally selected this program because of its involvement in ongoing Paleolithic research, especially in regards to late Neanderthal culture, which has always been one of my primary interests. I learned a lot more than I feel I ever could have in a traditional classroom setting. I learned so much regarding archaeological field methods, as well as how to interact with others in a field setting. I first chose this program in order to evaluate which direction of Anthropology I wanted to pursue; I had never before participated in an excavation, so this was entirely new to me. The staff was so helpful in explaining everything and offering guidance to those of us who were fairly new to the discipline of archaeology. We were involved directly with the project, and consulted along every step so I really felt included and engaged during the duration of the project. If something didn't quite make sense, it was explained and demonstrated in more depth to ensure that all students had a well-rounded grasp on what we were doing and why we were doing it. All of the students and staff were amazing individuals, and I really feel like I made some lifelong friendships that will continue to benefit me in the future. I had also never left the USA prior to this trip, so it really opened up a whole new perspective about the rest of the world. I still use what I learned during this program in my regular life, and I am going on to pursue a MSc in Archaeology; part of me attributes this to the IFR program as it really convinced me that pursuing archaeology successfully was something that I was capable of. The community where we stayed was amazing as well, as Sant Llorenc is a small Catalonian village lying on the banks of Rio Segre - the landscape is breathtaking. If you're interested in outdoor activities, this place is exceptional for that! On free days, myself and other students would spend our time hiking, swimming, and kayaking around the local area. Sant Llorenc is relatively close to Lleida as well, offering us the chance to take day trips to explore other parts of Catalonia and really indulge ourselves in the local culture. I have recommended this program to a number of my friends and colleagues, and I have nothing negative to say about my experience. If you're considering this program, I highly recommend it! I treasure all of my memories from the field school and really would like to return in the future, if I had the opportunity.

What would you improve about this program?
This program was so well-rounded I feel it would be a disservice to say it needs improvement. I honestly have no complaints about the program.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Inis Airc & how I fell in love with archaeology

I am one of the most indecisive people I know. To overcome this, I've developed the tendency to make snap decisions about important things, which is pretty much how I ended up in Ireland last summer.

I took an introductory archaeology course the first semester I was at college and found it the only class that I was excited to wake up for at 8 in the morning. When I started thinking about how I wanted to spend the summer after my freshman year, I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather do. I chose the Inishark program because my archaeology professor knew the professors running it and told me I'd like them. Part of me expected to hate it - dirt, early mornings, digging. Things I hadn't enjoyed since elementary school. But I packed (and bought) all of my gear for the summer and shipped off to Dublin at the end of May, figuring that at the very least, I'd get to spend some time in a beautiful country.

The first day in Ireland, I got on the wrong bus, got off at the wrong stop, walked an hour through Galway with my suitcase, and showed up too early to my Airbnb. It was great. I spent a few days in Galway by myself, exploring the city before I met up with the IFR group I'd be spending the next month with. We took a van across western Ireland, then loaded onto a ferry to cross the ocean to Inishbofin, a small island that now holds some of my favorite memories.

Inishbofin is a breathtaking mixture of craggy cliffs, long grasses, white sand beaches, furry pigs, and a depth of history I'd never encountered in America. The Doonmore, the hotel & restaurant we stayed at while on Bofin, was welcoming and supportive of our ragtag group of archaeologists (and archaeologists-to-be). It's where I fell in love with sticky toffee pudding, discovered the appropriate ratio of Guinness to Smithwicks, and heard the kind of tales only Irish storytellers can create.

Leaving Bofin was hard, but leaving Shark a few weeks later was even harder.

The brunt of our field school was spent on the island of Inishark, twenty minutes by ferry from Bofin. Shark was abandoned in 1960 but bears the marks of habitation from as early as the Bronze Age. The twentieth century stone settlements are more obvious, but history became visible the closer I looked.

Living on Inishark is one of the most challenging things I've ever done. It didn't quite register while I was there, but once I returned to my parents' home in Pennsylvania, I realised how much I had grown over the month.

There is no running water on Inishark. No electricity. We brought everything we needed - water, food, toilet paper - on one ferry and took it back on another when we left the island. The bathroom was wherever camp was out of sight, though this illusion of privacy never quite extended to the sheep that wandered the island. The buildings that were still standing were, for the most part, without roofs and dangerous to sleep in, so our homes were bright orange tents that dotted the rolling hills by St. Leo's church. The sky never seemed to go dark until ten or eleven, and the sun and its chorus of birds frequently woke me before five. It was the best I've slept in years.

During the days, I worked on Clochán Leo, a medieval Christian beehive-shaped stone construct perched on the edge of a cliff that slowly sloped down into the ocean. It was frequently windy and rainy. For a week, I took my waterproof pants and jacket off only to sleep at night. Every morning, I woke excited to take up my trowel and went to bed exhausted but immensely, wonderfully satisfied. We moved buckets upon buckets of dirt and sod to return to a medieval layer of soil in the clochán and the surrounding area. We found the remnants of a tea party and of early Christianity, every day going back a little further in time.

I'm sure my friends and family have since grown sick of how much I talk about Shark and Bofin. The people I met on the dig were a unique group that I still stay in contact with and think about today. The history I helped recreate brought a passion back into my life that I realised I had been missing for years. As a result of my IFR experience, I taught a course at my university on Irish culture, worked on another excavation in south Texas, learned how to play a ukulele, discovered a surprising interest in medieval Christianity, and fell even more in love with archaeology than I thought possible.

I don't know where I will go in my next two years of college or what path I'll take after I graduate, but I know that archaeology will be a part of it. And for that, for my time on Shark, I am unimaginably grateful.

What would you improve about this program?
More time. Then again, I doubt I ever really would have been ready to leave.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Awe Inspiring

The Ciudad Perdida field school is without a doubt one of the the best experiences I have ever had. The field school not only gives students the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of field work from a truly amazing staff but also provids a setting unlike any other. The location offers a true taste of extremely remote, off grid archeological work. Add to this the chance to learn about an amazing culture both past and present and it provides a unique life changing experience for any who may be brave enough to attend.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

It involved everything I love – Archaeology and traveling! It had a special focus in Bio-Archaeology which was something I had been looking for. It could not have been in a better location. Ireland has always been a country I wanted to visit, and it is absolutely stunning! The people were fabulous, and the food was out of this world!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I had just graduated when I enrolled in the program, so my university didn't help or organize anything. I wanted some real world experience before potentially trying to get a job in the field. I just happened to stumble upon the IFR Program and thought it would be fun to try and enroll. I signed up, got accepted, and paid for it all on my own.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish I had known how much money I was going to spend! It is not cheap overseas, and even though housing and most meals were provided, I still wanted to venture out and do things on my own. All of these things cost money. I really wish I had known how expensive everything is. So for everyone thinking of going overseas, especially to Europe, I tell them to save money way ahead of time.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I woke up, got dressed, and walked to the site. It was always a beautiful scenic walk that took about 10 minutes. Once at the site, you sign the attendance sheet and wait for everyone to arrive. Then you get assigned to your cutting, and the instructor guides you in your digging the rest of the day. There is tea break and lunch break, then before you know it, the day is over!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was very nervous about traveling overseas for the first time by myself. I had no idea what to expect. The first day was certainly a shock! Everyone I stopped to ask for help was very patient and so friendly. Once I realized how helpful everyone was, it really helped me relax and transition to the new environment very quickly.

Did you have regrets?

The only thing I wish I had done differently is to stay a while longer after the program ended to see and do more of what I wanted to do. The program has a very tight schedule, and while you have the weekends free, you're so exhausted from working hard all week you just want to sleep! I managed to get out a few weekends and do some things, but I wish I had stayed longer.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Kerby Bennett

Job Title
Associate Director of the Institute
Kerby Bennett is the Associate Director of the Institute for Field Research. Trained in Linguistic Anthropology, Kerby brings a fresh perspective to the IFR. Kerby is passionate about teaching through research and dedicated to expanding IFR course offerings to other field disciplines. At work, Kerby is an enthusiastic professional committed to calling every accepted student. On time off, she enjoys hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains and trying new recipes from far away places.

What does the future hold for IFR - any exciting new programs to share?

Kerby: The IFR is active in recruiting and vetting accomplished scholars and their potential field school sites. For 2016, we plan on increasing our course offerings in the US to be able to showcase the excellent archaeology we have in our backyards. The IFR is also growing to include field schools from disciplines outside of archaeology.

We are committed to our mission of creating research communities of young scholars, regardless of university affiliation, major, or life goals. By increasing the scope of programs offered, we are expanding the number of students we can teach these valuable critical thinking and research skills.

Which study abroad destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?

Kerby: Misconceptions about Africa as a continent have led students to shy away from some amazing opportunities there. We have a new program in Southeastern Senegal focused on using methods from archaeology, anthropology, and history to carry out research in a village on the Bandafassi Plateau. It is no wonder that this site was acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to the beauty of the rolling hills and the incredibly complex history of the Bassari, Bedik, Peul, and Mande people living there today.

Study Abroad data shows us that most students go to Western Europe when they decide to study abroad. I think that some students may not realize that going off the beaten path can be incredibly rewarding. We are strong supporters of adventure and the nontraditional destination.

For example, at our field school in Spain at the site of Cova Gran de Santa Linya students participate in research that seeks to improve our understanding of our Paleolithic ancestors and their interactions with Neanderthals. It is opportunities like these that really set our field schools apart from other study abroad opportunities. The mundane is overrated; adventure awaits.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Kerby: The IFR is unique in the study abroad industry in its goals and its oversight. We are the only organization that conducts peer review on all of our programs every year. We have a large academic board whose members take great care in making sure our field schools are academically rigorous and rewarding.

We also take great pride in being able to offer the incredible amount of great archaeology projects that we do. We currently offer 33 field schools and we are constantly growing. All of the field school directors who work with us are active researchers in their fields, and our students have the unique opportunity of working with accomplished scholars on active research projects.

Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of the IFR team.

Kerby: Reading student reviews after they come back from the field is an especially proud moment for me. There’s a good reason why we describe our programs as transformative experiences. I get to see students’ nervous excitement to leave for the field turn into an impressive confidence and newfound understanding. Student learning doesn’t stop at archaeology. These people become culturally sensitive, team players with critical thinking skills that you can’t get from a classroom.

It is humbling and satisfying to read their stories, and it reinforces for me how important it is to have these opportunities available for everyone – from recent high school grads to lifelong learners. Archaeology has a way of bringing people together and engaging people in a really powerful way. We are lucky to have great field school directors who are committed to teaching through research and sharing their wisdom in the field.