Thursday, May 6, 2010

neandertals among us

This is seriously cool - a full draft sequence of the Neandertal genome. The best part is evidence for 1-4% admixture of archaic genes into the modern populations outside of Africa. I'm certainly not qualified to comment, but check out John Hawks' incredible post on the subject.

I'm beginning to think Science has read my syllabus. First, A. sediba is published the very week that I'm discussing the evolution of the genus Homo. Then, the Neandertal genome is published the day after I gave my "evaluating the models" talk to my Intro class. I'm very happy to say that this article fits nicely with everything I said in class. Human evolution isn't my field, so it's always nice to have some confirmation that I'm sufficiently up to date and knowledgeable.

Now that the semester is nearly over, and everyone in my family is over their colds, I hope to return to more regular posting, including more substantive posting about environmental archaeology. Until then, may your patience with student writing be long, and your red pen never run out of ink.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

scheduling score

For our sins, the faculty at Tiny Liberal Arts College are organized into a direct democracy. Yes, four times a year, every single one of us - all 120-some faculty members - is expected to find his or her way to the only auditorium on campus large enough to fit us all in. There, we are each allowed to cast our individual shards of pottery for whatever issue, candidate, or proposal takes our fancy.

If this sounds like a good idea to you, you've never sat in an uncomfortable folding chair while 100+ faculty members debate the merits of preposition placement in the institutional mission statement. OMFG. I have never truly appreciated the glory of representative forms of government until I came here.

This year, I accidentally found the perfect solution to the Faculty Governance Blues: I scheduled my BioAnth labs during the faculty meetings. Not only can I not make it to the meetings, but I have such a good excuse that nobody can fault me for not coming. Additionally, the fact that I've scheduled late labs means that I'm teaching outside of the "prime time", so I'm seen as a good team player, allowing other faculty to teach in more convenient slots. Hat trick!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

ten things I love about my students

I've been a bit of a downer recently, with all this talk about the job market. I thought I'd remind myself of how much I really do love my job, with a post on the things I love about my students at this liberal arts college.

1) engagement. Good God, these students are engaged in their learning! They are a self-selected bunch, willing to come out here to the middle of nowhere for an intimate college experience. Even the worst students in my class will e-mail me a link to some article they saw on-line about primate tool use, or will mention the Discovery Channel documentary on human evolution they saw the night before.

2) attitude. In general, they have a wonderful, responsible attitude toward their own education. They own their mistakes, and if they have a tendency to think confession is sufficient to make up for them, at least they acknowledge their own failings and don't just blame everyone around them, especially the professor.

3) sense of community. No surprise, since it's such a small school, but the students really have a great sense of community and commitment to each other.

4) involvement. It seems like all of my students are involved in something, whether internal (theater, student radio, etc.), or external (one of the environmental or labor rights clubs, etc.). This can be a problem, academically, when their grades suffer because they spend so much time doing other things, but they are remarkably committed to making the university and the world a better place.

5) diversity (sort-of). OK, generally this place is as white as Wonderbread. Still, for particular historic and geographic reasons, we're a Native American serving institution, with a very high Native enrollment. Considering the long and sometimes sordid history of Native American/anthropologist relationships, it's a privilege to help shape the on-going dialog between the two groups in this area.

6) lack of entitlement. Many colleagues complain about the sense of entitlement their students have, and this seems particularly the case at liberal arts colleges. Again, for particular historic and geographic reasons, that's lacking here. Many of our students are small-town kids, and first-generation college attendees. They're friendly, respectful (not in a creepy, down-trodden way), and genuinely happy to be where they are.

7) idealism. Both in and out of the classroom, they think they can make a difference in the world.

8) preparedness. On average, these are just much better students (in terms of SAT scores, class rank, etc.) than those I taught at some major state universities. Add in that these are self-selected for a liberal arts education, and you've got an excellent teaching environment.

9) education majors. This may seem strange, but at other institutions where I've taught, the education majors are often, well, awful. Students who could barely pass an intro class were hoping to teach my kids social sciences at the elementary and secondary level. Horrors! In contrast, the education majors here are often the best and brightest of the lot. I find that an encouraging sign for our future. (I'll leave out my continuing unease that most of these bestest and brightest tend to be young women who seem to be gravitating toward education as a more "feminine" pursuit than, say, medicine or law.)

10) energy and enthusiasm. The students continuously regenerate my batteries with their over-all enthusiasm for pretty much everything. Enough said.