Thursday, December 22, 2011

writing a statement of purpose for graduate school

It's the most wonderful time of the year...when I write about 3,000 letters of recommendation. Most are for students applying for graduate school. I ask students to give me a copy of their CV and their statement of purpose, to help me focus the letter on their strengths and interests. Over the last few years, I've learned that many students - even very good students! - are horrible at writing a statement of purpose. So, I'd like to present a short guide to writing graduate school statements for anthropology/archaeology students (but applicable to many other fields).*

Your statement of purpose should fulfill three main goals:
1) convince the graduate admissions committee you can write coherently, concisely, and well.
2) give the committee some indication of your personality.
3) tell the committee what topics or approaches you're most interested in pursuing in graduate school, including information about what you've already done in the field.

Most students understand goal #1, and write as well as they can. My students tend to focus their efforts on goal #2, because most of them are traditional students (meaning young and relatively inexperienced), and therefore feel a discussion of their personal background and character traits is easier/safer than a more professional discourse. Although your statement of purpose should indicate that you are collegial and hard-working, a focus on goal #2 is a mistake. Goal #3 is by far the most important, and should be the focus of your statement.

So how do you write about your professional background and interests, when you feel muddled, insecure, or uncertain about your future? Even if you're not sure exactly what you want to study in graduate school, your statement of purpose should be as specific as you can make it. Do not tell the committee you're interested in archaeology (or anthropology, or museumology, or Egyptology, etc.). They already know that. That's why you're applying to the archaeology program. Instead, focus on your particular interests. If you've wanted to be an archaeologist since childhood (as far too many statements of purpose claim), what was it that held your interest all these years? Can you name one region (or even two or three) that you find most interesting? When you say you'd like to study the Maya, what aspects in particular most appeal to you? Tombs and the elite? The hoi polloi? Inscriptions? Pottery and artifacts? Human remains? Do you consider yourself to have more of a scientific or humanistic approach to the subject? When brainstorming your statement of purpose, create a short list of regions, time periods, and methods/approaches that you find most compelling.

Now for the next, critical step: keep in mind that your statement of purpose is being evaluated, not for the excellence of the research topic/project discussed per se, but for how well your interests fit those of the faculty in the department to which you are applying. (I highly recommend you read this post about the graduate admissions process from the perspective of a faculty member.) Usually, a student is admitted because they expresses an interest in a particular geographic region and/or method (say, Paleolithic Europe, or ground-stone analysis), and the faculty member in the department who best fits that research interest agrees to take on that student. Depending on the program, agreeing to take on a graduate student is a big step for a faculty member. It means agreeing to work with that student in the field, or creating research opportunities for that student, or funding them through grants. Therefore, your statement of purpose should be tailored to a relatively specific faculty member, or subset of faculty members.

Once you've narrowed down your interests, talk to your undergraduate mentors, or do some looking on-line, and figure out what programs and faculty members fit those interests. Look at the research the graduate faculty list on their webpages. Read some of their publications. Then tailor your statement to make it clear how your interests intersect with theirs. This requires research, not a vague discussion of your interests. If you come from a big university, you may have had the opportunity to take in-depth classes in the methods or regions of your interest, but my students, who are limited to our small number of archaeology courses, don't have the background from classwork alone to write a truly excellent statement of purpose. It is necessary to research the topic (not exhaustively - that's for grad school!) to the point where you can write two or three knowledgeable paragraphs.

Many of my students reject this advice because they don't know exactly what they want to study in graduate school, and they don't want to commit themselves to only one topic. I have two comments on this: 1) if you can't come up with any specific research topics that hold your interests through a one-page statement of purpose, you shouldn't go to graduate school. That is the sign of someone who is just continuing their education because they don't know what else to do with their lives; and 2) Writing the statement of purpose does not stick you with a particular adviser or topic forever. Many students enter graduate school with an expressed interest in studying, say, faunal analysis of the Great Plains, but they take an inspiring class their first year, or are offered an unexpected research opportunity, and end up writing their master's thesis on the lithic analysis of a Neolithic site in the Middle East. Your statement of purpose is a statement of your current interests. It shows you are capable of articulating a research interest and that you have the background to do so well. But it's not a legally binding document. You can always find another faculty mentor and change to a different topic. If you are very undecided about your interests, I personally recommend that you pick one and focus on that for your statement of purpose. Writing about all of them, or too generally, will hamper your admission to graduate school. However, when choosing which program you want to attend, give consideration to the largest program with the greatest diversity of faculty interests, since that will give you more options for changing your mind.

Some common problems in statements of purpose:

Mentioning your childhood. Students love to start statements of purpose with "Since I was a child, I've wanted to be an archaeologist." This is followed by descriptions of formative trips to a museum, or excavations of the backyard sandbox. Imagine a committee member reading a hundred statements of purpose, all of which begin "Since I was a child...". Personally, I think you should leave your childhood out of it. Many of my students, being relatively young and inexperienced, think their childhood is all they can talk about. But your childhood stories do not make you sound older or more experienced. In fact, the opposite is true. If you want to share personal anecdotes to liven up your narrative, share something from your lab or field experience, even if that is quite minimal. This blog has some good advice about adding personality to your statement of purpose, without sounding stupid or cliched. The advice is meant for English majors, but the general guidelines are useful.

Fear of repetition. Some students fear to repeat information from their CV or other application materials in their statement of purpose. Don't be. If you have done anything pertinent (a research project, a graduate class, a publication), make sure to mention it in the statement, and not assume the committee will pull it out of your CV and transcript. Faculty members read a lot of paper every day. We read scholarly articles, memos, job applications, class assignments, etc.. Nobody is going to comb over your application and note, with horror, that you've repeated pieces of information. Instead, faculty members will be happy to see the most pertinent parts of your CV and transcript repeated, for their convenience, in narrative form.

Modesty. Don't sell yourself too hard - you'll come across as unfoundedly arrogant - but don't sell yourself short, either. Most of my students err on the side of modesty. As I said in the last paragraph, don't be afraid to repeat your accomplishments. At the same time, don't feel a need to apologize for any minor or common problems. If there is something glaringly unusual in your record, you should address it (for example, if you failed all of your Freshmen classes, or you had to take medical leave from school and there are two missing years on your transcript). Even better, ask one of your letter writers to address the topic for you, since they can do so from an outsider's perspective, and their words are likely to have more weight with the committee. Do not feel a need to apologize for every B, or your lack of research experience, however. You're only calling attention to the problems, and you're not alone in being inexperienced or having the occasional imperfect grade.

Don't sell yourself short on your research experience and classroom work. Especially if you're a traditional student (relatively young and inexperienced), you should fill in the details of your background, not leave them bare. I'm not suggesting you pad your CV, or exaggerate your research experience. I'm saying, don't leave your one and only field experience as a single line on your CV: "Student, Archaeological Fieldschool. July 2010". Instead, expand and explain: "Student, Archaeological Fieldschool (Anthro 330), Dr. I. Jones, July 2010. Excavation of medieval church site in St. Kildeen, Ireland, and pedestrian survey of medieval landscape in surrounding countryside." Don't be afraid to discuss exactly what you learned, and its impact on your academic development, in your statement of purpose. You're not going to sound arrogant or inexperienced (any more than you are!), and you're providing the kind of information the committee wants to know. Similarly, you can include more information about the specific classes you took that were relevant to your field, including foreign language courses or courses in other fields that the committee would not necessarily think relevant, but were.

Writing a statement of purpose is nerve-wracking, and many students find it hard to write the best possible statement because they are uncertain of protocols, the role of the statement in graduate admissions, and what they're allowed or expected to say. I hope this guide will help. Good luck with your applications!

*Warning: I've never served on a graduate admissions committee, and every department/faculty member has different ideas about what constitutes an "ideal" statement of purpose, so take this advice with a grain of salt.

cave lion diet breadth

This article summarizes a Quaternary International publication about cave lion diets in the European Paleolithic. (Once again, I can't get access to the original publication, only this summary.) The authors analyzed collagen to look, not only at the diet of the cave lions themselves, but at the diet of the diet. That is to say, they were able to tell not just that the cave lions ate meat (no big shock, since felines are obligate carnivores), but that the animals they ate primarily subsisted on lichen. Therefore, the researchers suggest that the cave lions fed mostly on reindeer.

The stable-isotope analysis sounds fantastic. I'll look forward to reading more about a technique this detailed. But, the lines that really struck me from the article are these:

The cave lion diet, Bocherens says, appears to have been much more finicky than that of today’s lions, which eat just about anything they can catch.

The results may provide new insights into why cave lions died out. When Europe’s climate began to warm about 19,000 years ago, the landscape gradually changed from chilly, open steppes to denser forests. That would have made an inhospitable habitat for reindeer and for the cave lions that depended on them for food.
We often underestimate the behavioral plasticity of non-human animals. Yes, humans are particularly known for their ability to change their social organization or diet in order to fit their environment. But lots of other animals do this, too. Fallow deer can follow a herd- or harem-type social organization, depending on the population density in their region. A similar density-dependent effect on social organization has been identified in barn cats.

Why should we assume, then, that cave lions had a biologically-determined more narrow diet than modern savanna lions (a narrow dietary adaptation that led to their extinction), when instead we could argue that cave lions had a narrower diet breadth for the same reason that Pleistocene humans appear to have had a narrower diet breadth than later human groups in the same region: the abundance of highly-ranked prey. There were lots of reindeer, and reindeer, due to their size, herd instincts, etc., were the top-ranked prey species for cave lions. Therefore, cave lions mostly ate reindeer.

We don't know if cave lions had the behavioral plasticity of modern savanna lions and could have diversified their diet, under favorable circumstances. When the reindeer went extinct, so did most of the other major prey species, and/or the species that remained, like elk or deer, were far less abundant and did not travel in large herds. Perhaps, if climate change had taken a different form (one in which some open habitat survived, and large groups of antelope had roamed the plains of Europe), cave lions could have also survived by diversifying their diet. The stable isotopes show that cave lions were reindeer "specialists", but that does not mean that they were biologically adapted to reindeer hunting, and therefore went extinct along with Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

academic career suicide: the third child

Am I crazy, or just happy?

Dr. Mr. Palimpsest and I are expecting our third child in May. This is neither wholly unexpected (we'd discussed the possibility), nor fully planned (I didn't expect to get pregnant when I did), but the timing works well. I'm due the first day of finals week.

My graduate adviser once told me that "everybody" understands if an academic woman wants to have one child, and two children is "normal", since that's culturally-defined as a "standard" family size. But more than that, she told me, would make it very hard to pursue an academic career. Indeed, I know only a small number of women who have managed it. (Men, particularly those with non-academic stay-at-home spouses, are another story.)

I believe the idea that "three is too many" comes partly from cultural values, particularly among middle- and upper-class white Americans, who make up the majority of academia, and who sometimes equate small family size with high moral standing. That said, I'll admit there are true challenges we face with three. Travel (to the field, to conferences, to museums, etc.) will be difficult and (possibly) prohibitively expensive. Most critically, my publication productivity takes a hit for at least one year, even two, after each baby. This is my own choice, since I spend as much time at home with a new baby as I can, but it means my ability to get tenure at a research-focused university takes a hit. I'll get tenure here, but if I moved to an R1, I would have to increase my productivity just at the time when I'm most invested in family. So, I've decided not to apply for new jobs this year. I'll stay where I am, at least for a couple years, and raise a baby.

The long and short of it: the third baby is not academic career suicide (I hope!), but probably is the death of my plans to leave the liberal arts and move toward a research position, at least for the foreseeable future. It's a trade-off I'm willing to make, especially since Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's job opportunities here are looking up, but it doesn't make me blind to the fact that it's a trade-off many academics (cough, cough - most men - cough, cough) don't need to make.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

job interview stories

Check out this post by Michael Smith on "War stories from academic job interviews." Interesting stuff, and may give some hope to those of you on the market!

He categorizes his job interviews as "successful", "in good faith", and "in bad faith". The "bad faith" interviews are those where someone else was chosen for the job before you arrived.

I've had six on-campus interviews (seven if you count a short-list interview that was conducted via Skype). Only one was "successful", and I don't believe any were "in bad faith", although I knew within the first couple of hours at the last interview that I wouldn't get the job. I don't think they had someone else already lined up, per se, but it was clear they weren't interested in me. Still, they were polite and I enjoyed the experience.

As for war stories: Two of the interviews went poorly. My first interview was at a large research institution, and the department put me up in the home of the search committee chair. Exhausting! I never had a break, until she got stomach flu and ended up in the bathroom for the last 12 hours of my visit. Still, I enjoyed meeting the faculty, and overall it was a good first experience.

The other regrettable interview was at a small, poorly-ranked undergraduate school. The committee created all kinds of problems, everything from keeping me up until 1am the day I arrived (I had left my home at 5am the morning to make it to the airport on time), to changing the venue of my research talk only hours before I gave it ("Hey, why don't you give your talk to our Into to Archaeology class? I'm sure they'd love it! Can you pitch it to first-year, under-prepared undergrads?"), to forgetting to schedule lunch. When you add in the horrors of the location itself (although I was assured by the faculty that their town wasn't the meth capital of the state, that was a town down the road), I left that interview fully intending to turn down the job if offered. In fact, none of the candidates on the short list were offered/took the job, and the department hired someone much more suitable to their needs by bringing in someone who had worked in CRM in the region for decades.

I'm not on the job market this year. For reasons I'll discuss more in a later post, I just can't face the prospect of moving this summer. Plus, things are looking up for Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's employment prospects here at Tiny U. Hopefully, more on this soon!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

are e-textbooks a publisher bait-and-switch?

Never change textbooks. Changing books hardly ever significantly improves your class, so pre-tenure, it just doesn't make sense to invest that level of time in something that won't pay off.

That said, last year I switched textbooks in Intro to Biological Anthropology. I had inherited the previous textbook, and I had never liked it. It was full of facts, but poor on interpretation. The book did little to help frame the class within an evolutionary paradigm, or to explain why all of the facts they threw at the students were relevant.

Despite these drawbacks, I wouldn't have changed textbooks (after all, I provide the framework in my lectures), if I hadn't wanted to save my students a lot of money. The new book came in a $35 e-text version. All of the other textbooks are at least $100.

So, last year I put the work into converting my class to the next text. This year, when it came time to order my textbook, I found that the publisher had a new edition out, and this edition does not (yet?) have an e-version. The price tag for the new edition? $130!

I don't know if this is a deliberate bait-and-switch on the publisher's part. Perhaps they will create an e-version for this textbook next year, to which my students will have access until they update again. (And gee, nothing ever happens in Bio Anth to make them want to update, right?!) Perhaps it does take more time to get an e-version on-line than to get the physical book to press, but I doubt it. The e-version was little more than PDFs of the physical book, and surely the publisher has those!

I don't have time to make any changes for next semester, especially since I'm teaching a new prep in the Spring, and re-doing the third class significantly, but after this, I'm switching to Open Source resources.

Does anyone have any suggestions where I can find good Open Source readings for Intro to Bio Anth?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

perils of anthropological parenting (aka: my poor kids)

Me: Please keep your pajamas on.

Pumpkin (2 years old): Why?

Me: Because you'll get cold.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because you don't have fur.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because our species is adapted to a tropical climate.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because we're descended from apes.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because apes are restricted to tropical environments.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: [pause] Biogeographical accident

Pumpkin: Oh.

turns out, toucans can't be trademarked!

I blogged previously about Kellogg's (of Fruit Loops cereal fame) suing the Maya Archaeology Initiative because MAI uses a toucan in their logo.

I don't know if Kellogg got better legal advise, or if the publicity over this poorly thought-out lawsuit changed their minds. But, Kellogg has not only backed away from the lawsuit, they're donating $100k to MAI to build a cultural center in the Peten, and they're going to feature major Maya accomplishments on their Fruit Loops boxes next year.

Wow, what a win!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pat Shipman has a new blog

Pat Shipman has a new blog about human/animal relationships. Check it out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

painful truths about grad school

This post about grad school in history has been making the rounds. It basically says the same thing most of us have been saying: there are no academic jobs, current academic lottery winners won't tell you the truth, the opportunity costs are too high, etc. Still, it's a nice re-statement of the problem.

Although I believe everything stated in this blog post, I'll admit I find it hard to quash the dewy-eyed dreamers that come to my office, seeking advice about graduate school. It's hard to tell them "no", without it coming out as either "you're not good enough" (no matter how often I say that's not the case), or "it's only anthropology that's this f#@ked up" (especially since students who are given a pessimistic view of the future by me often find a more optimistic faculty member in another field, and assume that they're better off in history or sociology).

How much reality do you inflict on undergrads?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Madonna Moss' new book

I ran across a nice article about Madonna Moss' new books. I haven't read them yet, but hope to soon. I'll be covering the Northwest Coast in my North American class next semester, which gives me the perfect opportunity. I'm particularly intrigued by references to fish resource management. Has anyone read it yet?

Buttlurch U

Did you see the fake job posted to the jobs wiki?

Buttlurch State University

The Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Criminal Science at Buttlurch State University invites applications for a non tenure-track faculty appointment in the archaeology of science, global warming, and interdisciplinarity. There is a preference for archaeology of the world, but all areas will be considered. We seek a candidate from a top-ranked graduate program (preferably Ivy League), regardless of publication record or teaching experience. The successful applicant will both complement and duplicate the research interests of the current faculty. Thus, applicants specializing in the archaeology of the past, the prehistory of Delaware, ancient DNA or stable isotopes, and dolphin-human interaction are of particular interest.

The appointee will have a 4-4 teaching load and will be expected to teach the same courses every semester: Complex Societies of Delaware (online), Primatology Lab, Pirates & Globalization, and a freshman writing seminar on the Archaeology of Cetaceans. Buttlurch University places a strong emphasis on teaching, with a 150-1 student teacher ratio and the expectation that faculty will pass everyone who pays tuition. The successful candidate is expected to hold an ethnographic field school every summer, run Buttlurch University’s CRM program, conduct NAGPRA compliance, and serve as the department chair after completing their first year (4 year appointment).

We strongly encourage applications from women and members of minority groups (heterosexuals preferred), even though we’re pretty much old white guys and don’t have room for more. Applicants will need to upload the following to our on-line jobsite: cover letter, CV, research statement, dissertation précis, teaching philosophy, plans for publications over the next 7 years, graduate and undergraduate transcripts, student evaluations, course syllabi, and 8 to 10 writing samples. You will also need to upload four letters of recommendation (these may not be sent directly by letter writers). For full consideration, all materials must be postmarked by yesterday. Preliminary Skype interviews will be conducted, followed by interviews at the Annual Meetings of the Archeaology Society of Delaware.

Please note that applicants will receive no verification that their application has been received, but in about eight months, all but one of you may get a snarky email indicating that “one of the other applicants was a better fit.” You were actually the lucky ones.

This is REALLY, REALLY funny. If you are editing the wiki, please leave it here? Us poor, unemployed suckers who are looking for jobs in this economy can really use the free entertainment-- and a little levity never killed a wiki. Plus, I don't think anyone will mistake it for a real posting.

There is a VAP currently in this position.
11/12 contacted for additional references and asked for high school transcripts
11/12 - request for urinalysis received.

That bit about the "VAP currently in this position" sent me over the edge.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

horses were spotted before domestication

Ancient DNA studies shows that "leopard spotting" was one of the phenotypes of Paleolithic horses in Europe, as shown in some cave paintings.

I don't much care what this says about the painters, but I think it's interesting commentary on the pre-domestication phenotypes of horses. We generally think of coat colors and patterns as being more variable in domesticated animals than non-domesticated, since animals may be bred for a certain look, or they may react to the relaxation of natural selection against brightly colored or patterned animals who were too easily spotted by predators. Had I thought about the issue, I would have assumed leopard spotting was an example of coat variation that occurred after domestication, like spots on dogs. Well, I would have been wrong.

Monday, November 7, 2011

progress in gaining life balance

I posted a week ago about picking life priorities, in an attempt to gain more work/life balance. I'm proud to report that I've made some progress in achieving one of my priorities: spending more down-time with my spouse.

I talked to three other young families at Tiny U, and we're going to share daycare so that we can have a date-night with our SOs once a week. Each family will take turns hosting all of the kids (there are 7) at their house every 4th week, and the other 3 weeks can just drop their kids off at someone else's house for a couple of hours. (And then all three of the free couples will head to the only decent restaurant in town. Maybe we should just carpool.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

is there a niche for anthropology as the "interesting science"?

This article from the New York Times got a lot of circulation this week: "Why Science Majors Change their Minds (It's Just so Darn Hard)"

The article is poorly titled. Yes, there is some indication that science majors switch to the social sciences and humanities because the grading is easier in those fields. But the article suggests that the real problem is that the natural sciences, math, and engineering just aren't that interesting. Or, more accurately, that the way they are taught at most universities, as huge lecture classes involving no real-world applications, is not nearly as interesting to students as the more discussion-based courses in more applied fields.

An illustrating anecdote from the article:

MATTHEW MONIZ bailed out of engineering at Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year. He had been the kind of recruit most engineering departments dream about. He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering.

But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’ ” And as he looked ahead at the curriculum, he did not see much relief on the horizon.

So Mr. Moniz, a 21-year-old who likes poetry and had enjoyed introductory psychology, switched to a double major in psychology and English, where the classes are “a lot more discussion based.” He will graduate in May and plans to be a clinical psychologist. Of his four freshman buddies at Notre Dame, one switched to business, another to music. One of the two who is still in engineering plans to work in finance after graduation.

Mr. Moniz’s experience illustrates how some of the best-prepared students find engineering education too narrow and lacking the passion of other fields.

This article reminds me of an article I read a few years ago (which of course I can't find a link to now! Can anyone help?) that suggested many women leave science careers because they don't find them very interesting. Women with top SAT math scores are more likely than men with top SAT scores to also have top scores on the verbal component of the exam. In other words, women with highly developed math skills are more likely (for whatever nature/nurture reason) to also be excellent students in other fields. There are fewer men for whom this is true. Therefore, women who started in math, science, and engineering fields often found they were more interested in the social sciences or humanities, and they also had the skill-based to thrive in those fields. So they switched. Men were less likely to switch, as they were more likely to lack the skills needed.

Anecdotally, I had many undergraduate friends who started out in math, science or engineering (my then-boyfriend was a computer engineer). Those who also had strong analytical and verbal skills (a group that did not include said then-boyfriend), did indeed switch to the humanities/social sciences or double-major. Most of these friends were male, not female. Dr. Mr. Palimpsest also fits this pattern, starting out as a physics major and deciding that anthropology was just more interesting.

Anthropology seems an ideal destination for smart, motivated, but dissatisfied science students. We straddle the divide between the natural and social sciences. A student with highly developed math and science skills can put them to use here, analyzing DNA, running stable isotope analyses, or building computer models. Yet, our research is clearly applied, hands-on, and critical to our comprehension of all that it means to be human. How much more interesting can it get?

So what can we do to bring in the dissatisfied math, science, and engineering students? I have two suggestions:

1) We shouldn't hide the scientific or technical aspects of our field. Here at Tiny U, my biological anthropology class is often used as "non-sciencey" option for students trying to get their general education science credits. They're often appalled when they find out how much real science (and gasp! even some math!) is involved. But I've had math and computer science majors tell me they've learned more in my class than in any other natural science class they've taken. We should revel in our science, and not have it a secret discovered only by those who happen to take the class to fill a gen ed requirement.

2) We must make students aware of the applications of anthropology. I've had a number of students tell me they like anthropology, but they're majoring in psychology or sociology because anthro is "all research and no practical application". We need to make it clear that anthropology is not just the study of the exotic or the distant past, with no current applications. Anthropology gains if we clarify that it is hands-on and practical for our modern world.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Break yourself of linear manuscript writing"

I frequently re-write my articles because the "main point" of the conclusions doesn't match the "main point" of the introduction. While writing up the results, my ideas about the purpose of the paper change, so I have to go back and re-structure the initial argument.

Apparently, I'm not the only one to have this problem, based on the post "Always Write the Results First" by Dr. Isis. She recommends that we put together articles in the following order:

1) data figures and tables
2) outline the argument
3) gather supporting citations [I never do this, but I can see the appeal]
4) write results and discussion
5) write methods
6) write intro and abstract

I'm embarrassed this never occurred to me before.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

black rat commensalism

PLoS ONE has an interesting article by Aplin et al. on the history of commensalism in black rats. The team studied mtDNA in rats and found three lineages that relate to prehistoric and historic periods of human population and trade expansion. So, commensalism occurred independently multiple times, and is clearly important for understanding black rat adpatation and biogeography today, as well as the importance of rat-carried pathogens in human history.

Monday, October 31, 2011

can you pick only 3 life priorities?

Although I swore never to read Mommy blogs again, I ran across a link to this one, entitled "The Myth of Everything" and a comment on the first, "Rejecting the Supermom Ideal".

The blog posts rehash some old ground, but I think we can all agree with their basic point: It's not possible for one person to do it all. We can't expect ourselves to do cutting-edge research, be full-time parents, teach 20 credits, keep our houses clean, run field projects, provide only home-grown and preservative-free food for our families, knit our own clothes from organic yak hair (preferably self-picked), etc., etc.

Fine, so we can't do it all. The "Myth of Everything" post suggests that we pick three priorities, and only engage in activities if they fit those priorities. (Does anyone else find it odd that the blogger doesn't name her priorities? I suppose it's very personal, but..) The "Rejecting the Supermom Ideal" post gives an example of three priorities. In her case: family, health, and writing.

I like the idea, but find the logistics difficult. Very vague priorities ("family") could mean almost anything. Activities related to "family" include everything from cleaning the house (so your family has a comfortable, safe space to live) to cooking healthy meals, to spending fun time with your kids. With priorities that vague, they would never serve to guide my decisions.

These kinds of priorities probably work better for someone who is not working, also, or whose work is freelance, or who works 40 hours a week and doesn't bring any work home. No matter what I feel about, say, teaching, my class prep and grading take up a huge amount of my time. To pretend it won't be a priority in terms of the time I spend (rather than in terms of my interests) would be to deny reality.

Still, I find the "three priorities" concept a useful thought exercise, but I want to add a twist. First, I'll list my top three priorities. Then, I'll list the top three things that take up too much of my time and discuss how I can minimize their impact on my life. Here goes:

Priority #1: Have some fun with my kids. This means arts and crafts, running around at the park, board games, cooking together, spending time that is enjoyable to all of us. We spend a lot of time together, but too much of it occurs while I'm keeping one eye on the kids and one on my computer. Too many of their requests for my time and attention are met with "Can you play with your brother/sister? I'm trying to get something done here."

Priority #2: More publications and external grants. Tiny U, like any liberal arts college, sucks most of my time into teaching and service. I need to prioritize that which will advance my career, whether here or at another institution.

Priority #3: More down-time, at least some of which is spent with my spouse. All work and no play... well, you know. I've struggled with depression for the last few years, and I think a lot of the problem comes from being too over-committed, and not having enough time to do what I want. When I do have time to do things for myself, I often feel guilty because of all the work piling up. Down-time, and my adult relationship, must be a higher priority.

Now, on to my plans to minimize the activities/needs that take up way too much of my time:

Time-Suck #1: Cleaning house. This includes laundry, dishes, and other tasks that much be performed daily or we're living in squalor. This does not include things I consider optional, like washing the windows or weeding the garden, which frankly can be ignored for years without greatly impacting my quality of life. My plan here is to minimize the amount of crap we have around the house. Our wardrobes, toy collection, kitsch, kitchen utensils, etc., should all exist in manageable amounts. My husband and I also dream of down-sizing our house (and cleanable space). Avoiding this time suck also, ironically, includes making clean-up a daily priority, rather than letting things fester until the weekends. We're also trying to more evenly spread the tasks, and insist that the kids help, even if it's just a little.

Time-Suck #2: Grading. Class prep can take a lot of time, but I generally enjoy it, and most of my classes are prepped already. What really sucks in my time is grading. One way I can minimize my grading is by continuing a trend I've already started, which is to create intro classes that have a strong on-line component, where all the on-line activities are computer graded. The other thing I can do, which I've really resisted up to this point, is to drop certain requirements. For example, every year I teach a 60-person Intro to Biological Anthropology class. In previous years, I've required two 5-page papers from each student. This year, I'm going to switch to only one. I don't have TAs who can grade those papers, and I find that grading 600 pages of undergraduate writing takes more time than it is worth, especially if I'm also grading the essays on their exams, their lab write-ups, weekly quizzes, etc.

Time-Suck #3: The Inter-tubez. OK, I admit, I have a problem. Twitter, Facebook, political blogs, cooking blogs, mommy blogs, anthropology blogs, random surfing...I have to get off-line more. There are a lot of good things about the internet. It helps me feel connected to the wider world, even from the middle of nowhere. It's also easy to surf while my husband and I spend our evenings sitting in silence in the dark dining room, while our kids sleep in the living room. (Long story short: we have no bedrooms due to on-going home improvement.) But time spent on-line can take away from true down-time - where I can do creative projects or talk to my husband - as well as research time. I've started limiting the blogs I can read, but I think the next step is to schedule more time away from the dark, silent dining room. My husband and I need a date night. (Not only does that help with Time-suck #3, but it helps with Priority #3! Double-score!) We need to create a space where we can spend our evenings while enjoying the benefits of light and sound. (This just requires bringing some comfortable chairs down to the kitchen.)

What are your priorities and time-sucks? How do you want to change your time budget?

Friday, October 28, 2011

care and feeding of your undergraduate research minions

In my previous posts on this topic (, and here), I talked about structuring research with undergraduates, and choosing good undergraduate RAs. This post is about keeping your research team running smoothly, once you've assembled them.

First, I should mention something that I left out of my post on choosing undergraduate RAs. I wrote that I announced the RA positions in my classes and had students fill out applications. But I didn't just "announce" the positions, I gave a short presentation in each class where I explained exactly what would be expected (hours per week, weekly meetings, readings, writing or independent research, etc.), and exactly what tasks I foresaw being part of the RAship (washing bones, initial sorting of bones, data entry into Excel, helping to format bibliographies in Word, library research on assigned topics, creating figures in Illustrator or Photoshop, etc.). I asked the students I chose for the positions to think about which of these activities they would find more interesting. Some students really want to work with their hands, others really prefer to crunch numbers, and others just want you to point them in the direction of basic tasks. Matching your RAs with their interests will make life easier on everyone.

Second, I insist that everyone on the research team attend a weekly meeting. It can take some doing to find a time when everyone is available, but it's too easy for over-stressed and over-committed students to just disappear for a week or two or ten. A weekly meeting greatly cuts down on the number of AWOL RAs, and improved team communication. At the meeting, we tell each other what we've done on the project during the past week, and I discuss and assign tasks for the coming week. My RAs have the opportunity to ask why we're undertaking certain tasks, and to get clarification on our ultimate goals. Often, the conversations turn to fieldwork opportunities, graduate school plans, academic problems, etc. These are smart, committed students, and they have lots of questions about how academia works, what career options there are in archaeology, and what the best course schedule would be for the next semester. I really enjoy these conversations, they're essential to the advising part of my job, and they add an aspect of mentoring to the RAship that wouldn't necessarily occur without those weekly meetings.

Finally, I try to push my RAs to get more out of the experience, so that it is as beneficial to them as possible, while at the same time keeping them tied tightly to my own research needs. An example of pushing my RAs: Not all of my RAs end up doing independent research. Depending on the type of RAship, they may just do the tasks I set them, and never really think about the context and purpose of those tasks. However, Tiny U has a number of fellowships/grants to support undergraduate research, so I strongly encourage my RAs to identify aspects of my research that they find most interesting and to pursue those as independent research projects in future semesters. I even come up with a list of appropriate topics, with some indication of the data that would be needed to test the hypotheses and the methods that would need to be employed. I help RAS to craft proposals for the fellowship applications, work through the research itself, and oversee the subsequent write-up (including co-authored papers or conference presentations).

At the same time, though, I find it critical to tie student's research very tightly with my own. Some of my RAs express an interest in doing something well outside my research interests, such as working in a different region, or with plant remains. I am very firm in saying "no" to their requests to take on directed studies or in any other way getting intimately involved with that type of independent research. I just don't have the time to walk them through the process if it means learning new literature and methods myself. If they want my help, they must work on materials I have in my lab, or on some side issue with the data that I've collected. I will work with them on other topics, but only if it relates so directly to my research that there is potentially a publication down the road (for example, the research may produce some useful comparative data to my own), or at least their literature review will help fill in holes in my own knowledge (for example, if the student wants to research stable isotopes, a topic I need to learn more about myself.)

Restricting my undergraduate RAs to my research has been incredibly important. I'm grateful that I'm allowed to do so. Some of my Tiny U colleagues in other departments are not so lucky. Many departments require students to do a senior research project, chosen by the student, and supervised by a faculty member. The faculty members cannot dictate or limit the students' choice, and frequently end up supervising research on topics very far from their own interests, sucking up a great deal of time and energy. If you're in a program like that, you have all of my sympathy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

gathering your (undergraduate research) minions

In a previous post, I talked about including undergraduates in your research. Mentoring and providing research opportunities is an important part of my job at a liberal arts college, and something the tenure committee will look at closely. On the other hand, supervising undergraduate assistants can suck a lot of your energy and time away from your own research, unless you manage it wisely. My last post was on the structure of undergraduate research as it integrates with your own. This post is on how to gather your undergraduate research team.

I find it hard to recruit good undergraduate research assistants. It's not that they aren't out there, it's just that I don't always know what characteristics will make the best RA. At first, I chose students who showed a great deal of enthusiasm in my classes, even if they hadn't been the top grade-earners. This turned out to be a mistake. They were pleasant and fun, but they didn't get top grades because they weren't consistent workers. They couldn't be trusted to show up on time, or to put that last bit of effort in to do the task right.

After that, I only chose students who were at the top of my classes. In general, this worked better, but I ended up with a student with unusual interpersonal skills (I assume she fits somewhere on the autism spectrum), which caused very severe communication problems for which I was not prepared. This also can lead to RAs who had overcommitted to other research or extracurricular activities and aren't willing to do as much for your research as you could hope.

My current approach has worked better. Last Spring, I announced the upcoming RA positions in all of my classes (and Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's archaeology class). I asked students to fill in a statement of interested that asked for their:
planned time of graduation
majors and minors
overall GPA and GPA in anthropology
classes taken in anthropology or archaeology
previous research experience
other jobs/commitments expected during the RA period
name of one reference

Most of the students who applied were already known to me, so I could judge their pleasantness, commitment to their work, eye for detail, etc., from personal experience. The information about how well they did in school in general, as well as how over-committed they plan to be, was extremely useful.

This semester, I have a cracking research team. Partly this is luck, but partly this reflects changes in the characteristics I value in an RA. YMMV, of course, but here's what I look for now:

pleasant personality, but not necessarily a social butterfly. I'm a complete introvert, but I have nothing against extroverts. I did learn the hard way, though, that enthusiasm for archaeology sometimes just reflects the student's extroversion, not their true commitment to the field. On the other hand, extremely quiet students may not just be "reserved", their quietness may mask an inability to effectively communicate with others.

attention to detail and pride in doing things right. These traits often separate the A students from the B students, but not all A students have them, and not all B students lack them. I can often see these traits in how well students write, and whether or not they go the "extra mile" in class assignments.

first- or second-year students. I find these students to be less over-committed, better able to balance the RA-ship and classes, and, ideally, willing to continue working with you for years to come.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

about inside candidates

Are you reading the archaeology jobs wiki? I recommend it, if you're on the academic market. We archaeologist seem a bit reticent about sharing too many details. Personally, I don't have a problem with saying who is on the short-list for a particular job. After all, they're giving public presentations! But, I understand the wish for privacy.

There are many comments on the wiki about inside candidates. Many potential applicants are concerned by visiting scholars or adjuncts already affiliated with the hiring department. In some cases, these concerns are particularly strong because the supposed inside candidate is a spouse of an existing faculty member, or the person was hired for the visiting position the year before under almost the same job description.

I think we over-estimate the "problem" of inside candidates. I've applied for a lot of jobs, heard about the inside machinations of job searches at many other institutions, and participated in search committees myself. Here are some of the actual situations I've seen (or heard about from credible sources):

1) The adjunct spouse appears to fit the job description, but there was never any intention of hiring him/her. The thought had never occurred to the search committee, or the spouse in question has some other part-time job that they wish to keep.

2) The visiting scholar who was hired last year (under basically the same job description) was hired out of an applicant pool of 12. The tenure-track job attracts an applicant pool of 120.

3) The visiting scholar received a job offer from another institution before their current institution can offer them a tenure-track job.

4) The visiting scholar managed to piss off the whole department within the first two weeks of her new job. She fits the job description, but wouldn't be hired in a million years.

5) The visiting scholar was hired because he was the protegee of the department chair. But, the department chair is hated by the rest of the department, so when it comes to a formal search for a tenure-track job, with a search committee and vote by the whole faculty, the visiting scholar doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell. Everyone will vote against the department chair's choice, just out of spite.

6) The committee that hired the visiting scholar had one member with a strong interest in hiring a faculty member who could teach in the Environmental Sciences program. That person is on sabbatical the next year, and when the tenure-track search committee is formed, he is replaced by someone who is passionate about hiring a faculty member who can teach in the Asian Studies program. The visiting scholar works in the Amazon, and is therefore screwed.

7) The department would never hire an adjunct from their own program. They think all the good candidates should be able to get tenure-track jobs right out of graduate school, and they're not interested in anyone else.

8) The department would never hire a faculty member's spouse. They think that any good archaeologists should have been able to get his or her own job, and if that person was unwilling to live 2,000 miles away from their 3 kids, that just shows they lack serious interest in their career.

I could go on, but you get the point. For heaven's sake, apply for the job, regardless of whether you think there's an inside candidate!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

becoming a "radical scholar" at a liberal arts college

Earlier this month, I wrote about Kate Clancy's call for women (especially parents) to become "radical scholars".

Here's what Clancy says about becoming radical:
But those of us who insist on playing with our toys in the academic sandbox need to be radicals. And I do think a lot of the ways we need to be radical involves how we perform our job: we need to set boundaries so that we aren’t always doing the service work no one wants, we need to make our passions our scholarly interests in the face of some who would invalidate it, we need to perform our confidence in front of people who might undermine us. We need to get tenure.

But I think it also means reflecting critically on what it takes to get tenure, and whether the way it’s done is the way it should be done. There are two problems with the current criteria for tenure: they don’t reflect modern, interdisciplinary scholarship, and they don’t include metrics to evaluate influence and perspective beyond peer-reviewed publications.

She goes on to discuss the importance of new methods of publishing and service to the field (like blogs), and developing new ways of counting interdisciplinary scholarship toward tenure.

Clancy's article is from the perspective of an R1 faculty member. But what about those of us at liberal arts colleges (LACs)? I don't know if women and mothers at LACs get tenure at lower rates than men and non-mothers, but we still face many of the same balance issues. How do we become radical scholars?

Here are a few ideas from my own experience:

1) Teaching counts for more in tenure decisions at a LAC, so include time-saving technology, child-focused research, and other mother-friendly activities in your teaching and sell them as pedagogical innovation. Seriously. I teach intro courses in cultural, biological, and archaeology. In those courses, I include a substantial on-line component, where students use their home computer to take exams, quizzes, do weekly assignments, on-line prelabs, participate in discussions, etc. In my tenure file, I call this "innovative use of technology" that "continues the opportunities for collaborative and interactive learning outside the classroom." But do you know the major reason I do it? Because most of those on-line activities are automatically graded by the computer, and the grades automatically added to the on-line grading system. When a question requires human attention, I can grade at my own convenience, on my own computer, without having to haul around stacks of paper, or deal with 75 different examples of illegible handwriting.

Another example: I'm obsessive about breast-feeding (Pumpkin is sleeping and nursing in my lap as I type). I've done a lot of research on it. I'm also interested in other aspects of pregnancy and reproduction. So, I've made that the topic of one week of my ecological anthropology class. It's not my field, but it's an interest of mine, and it allows me to apply research that's important for the care of my own children to my teaching.

2) Service may count more at a LAC than at an R1 school (depending on the LAC and the R1, of course). Here at Tiny U, community-service based class activities are considered particularly impressive in a tenure application. I'm focusing my community service activities around young children, so my mothering experience and interests will complement my professional service. This year, my North American Archaeology class will be putting together a presentation on archaeology and site stewardship, as well as local culture history, for the preschoolers and kindergarteners in town. Yup, I'm taking my "big kids" to my own Bunny's kindergarten class. I get double bonus points for volunteering in my child's classroom and doing professional community service!

3) Although LACs put more focus on teaching than R1s, at many colleges, research will also be rewarded. Here at Tiny U, a mediocre teaching record and a stellar research record will get you tenure, but a bad research record will not necessarily be balanced by even the highest teaching honors. At Tiny U, only a small percentage of the faculty do significant research, but we have little pots of money to encourage faculty to do more. I've never been turned down for any money I've applied for, including grants in the $5,000-20,000 range! If you're one of the few here who do research, you can have a significant advantage when it comes to available seed money.

Obviously, the reason so few of us do research is because our teaching and advising loads are so high. This is where it becomes important to say "no", and to refuse typically "mothering" roles that both administrators and students may wish you to fulfill. I don't listen to students' personal problems. I'm happy to serve as their academic adviser, but they need to come to me with coherent questions and plans, I won't spend an hour discussing their vague dreams for the future. I'm not their mother. I'm not rude when I refuse this role, I'm just professional and distant, and I refuse to take any conversational opening that invites more "sharing". Every once in a while, a student is unable to read the conversational cues that say "I'm not your personal counselor, I'm your professor, let's keep this professional", but in general, I find my more "hands-off" role easy to maintain. (I should mention that I'm neither young, pretty, short, nor particularly feminine in appearance, advantages that help maintain some distance and respect.)

4) Public outreach is a category of service that is also highly prized at some LACs. I often have great ideas for public outreach (I'll give a series of lectures on human evolution! I'll put together an archaeology day!). I've decided to avoid these as much as possible, unless I can "double-dip", for example, by having one of my classes put together the archaeology day as a community-service based component of their classroom experience.

That brings me to the topic of this blog. One of the original purposes of this blog was to create a forum where I could vent, which is one of the reasons I made it anonymous. (The other reason is that I am concerned my colleagues in anthropology would see this blog as wasted time that could be spent on teaching or publishing.) I have used this space to vent in the past, but I've since regretted making this blog anonymous. In general, I like my job and my colleagues, and I don't have that much to complain about that I can't openly acknowledge. I wonder, if I was more open about my identity, could I foster more dialog on the topics of zooarchaeology, teaching methods, and family/work balance which are the main focus of this blog? I never intended for this blog to influence the field, or impress anybody, but it would be nice to have more interaction with other archaeologists interested in the same topics. Obviously, the few people who comment on this blog already know who I am. I'm not really keeping my identity secret, especially from other zooarchaeologists, but I do regret that I didn't begin this blog openly. I feel it would be too difficult to change now.

As a final note, I planned to write this post 10 days ago, but I was delayed by the same sorts of life events that make motherhood and academia hard to merge. Pumpkin had minor surgery, and my parents were here for a week to help. Between the surgery, a day at home for Pumpkin, and a volunteer responsibility at Bunny's school, I lost most of last week. This week, Bunny doesn't have school Thursday and Friday, and Pumpkin has been sick at home the last two days. If I'm lucky, he'll be well enough to go to daycare tomorrow, so I'll have one day this week to work. I had a Wenner-Gren grant proposal 80% done on the 7th, and I've barely touched it since. (Hmm, maybe I should be doing that instead of writing this blog.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the anthropology job market

It's the academic job market time again! In honor of the season opening, I want to remind you all of the classic "archaeology academic job draft" post by Archaeonumeracy. Now, onto the job market joy!

These two links came across my radar yesterday:

The first article talks about how horrible the anthropology job market is, at least in academia. I'll admit, there are times when I wonder if I made a mistake going into anthropology. I love it, but would I have been just as happy as a paleontologist? Or a wildlife biologist? Would my job prospects have been much better in those fields?

The second article predicts strong growth in the anthropology/archaeology job market, mostly in CRM and government jobs ("government" as in Department of Defense). I've told my students that graduate school in anthropology can be a good choice, but if being a university professor is the only acceptable outcome for them, they need to find another field. On the other hand, even students who are interested in applied fields can have trouble finding the right training, as many graduate programs continue to give short shrift to the practicalities of the job market.

This past week, I sent out my first job applications of the season. I'm being picky about my applications. I already have a job and I can afford to wait until something I really want shows up*. On the other hand, this looks like a (relatively) good year on the job market. I've already seen five jobs I'm willing to apply for, and there will probably be more. Who else is on the job market this year? Are you feeling more optimistic than in previous years?

*I'm still debating whether or not to apply for the job at Stanford, which is clearly the faunal job of the year. Why or why do all the faunal jobs have to be in coastal California where nobody can afford to live?!? Does anybody else wonder if it's worth taking a great job, but in a place where your quality of living would be low?

Monday, October 17, 2011

chicken domestication in China

8,000 year old chicken bones have been uncovered at the Cishan site, in the northern province of Hebei, China. The archaeologists argue they are domestic fowl because they are somewhat larger than wild jungle fowl, but still smaller than modern chickens.

It's not clear how many chicken bones were recovered. I get the impression that there weren't very many. Given the sample, I don't want to make too much of the find. Still, I was struck by this quote:

Several bone fragments were identified to be from domesticated chickens, said Qiao Dengyun, head of the Handan Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology...Qiao said the bone fossils date back to 6,000 BC, earlier than the oldest domesticated chicken previously discovered in India that dated back 4,000 years.

"Most of the bones were from cocks, indicating that ancient residents used the practice of killing cocks for their meat and raising hens for their eggs," said Qiao.

If a site was occupied for a long time, then hens should still be found, even if their average life is much longer than that of cocks. If we find a strong sex bias in the chicken remains from many early Neolithic sites, we may want to re-think the original purpose of chicken domestication, or at least of chicken capturing. Sex biases could reflect a variety of cultural processes and values. For example, there is a bias toward male macaws in the Southwest that is thought to represent macaw breeding monopolies in sites to the south (southern traders kept the females and only traded out the males). Perhaps a male bias in chickens suggests they were first kept for fighting purposes, rather than food. Or perhaps they were display/ritual animals, or kept for their feathers, like red-tail hawks (again, in the Southwest.) This could account for the larger size, but not through selection, rather through the focused capture of larger wild males.

Lots of food for thought here. It will be nice to see more data.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

taphonomy as art

Check out this video (made with animated cut paper) of the stages of decay in a whale carcass. Even I, a zooarchaeologist, find it strange that this video is so beautiful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

another Pat Shipman article on people and animals

I would be remiss if I didn't link to this Guardian article covering Pat Shipman's work on the critical importance of human/animal relationships. Shipman's book, The Animal Connection, is on my Amazon wish-list (it even comes in a Kindle edition! Yipee!) I'll try to review it as soon as, you know, I can afford to buy it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"a letter to my daughter"

I came across this nice blog post by a PhD-mom-trailing spouse, nicely illustrating some of the anger and depression and resentment and frustration that can come from academic two-body problems.

Monday, October 10, 2011

talking to little kids about Columbus Day

My kindergartner came home last week full of exciting tales about Columbus. Needless to say, none of those tales included genocide.

I've only begun the process of talking to my kids about the hard truths behind our national myths. Last year, we tackled Thanksgiving, after Bunny's preschool fed her the whole Pilgrims and Indians story. This year, it's Columbus Day.

Here's what I told Bunny about Columbus. I'm interested in how others have faced this challenge, so please leave a comment!

First, I told Bunny that there were lots of people living in the Americans, and they built great cities, made beautiful art and music, and did all the things that we do today (i.e., made food, spent time with their families, worked, etc.)

Then, I told her that Columbus was sailing a ship from Europe and just happened to reach the Americas. I said that Columbus was a person just like all other people, he had both good traits and bad traits. I told her Columbus did some very good things: he was brave and smart to sail all that way, he tried to trade with the people he met, bringing them things from Europe that they didn't have, and taking thing from the Americas that the Europeans didn't have. (Bunny wanted to know what things. I told her "corn". Dr. Mr. Palimpsest suggested "syphilis", but luckily Bunny didn't pick up on that.)

But, I added, Columbus did some bad things. I told her that Columbus stole things from the people he met. We have talked about slavery before, so I told her that he took some of the people as slaves. Finally, I told her that Columbus and his crew were carrying bad diseases, and they spread these diseases to the people in the Americas, so many, many people died.

This last point took a lot of explaining, and was difficult to keep on a kindergarten level. Bunny wanted to know why the people in the Americas died from the diseases when the Europeans did not (epidemiology on a preschool level, anyone?!) She was also a little scared by this information, so her father and I were very careful to explain that this was a long time ago, and these diseases can now be treated by doctors. She was interested to learn that the shots she's forced to endure are vaccinations to ensure she doesn't get sick like the people Columbus met.

We summed up the whole thing by saying that some people celebrate Columbus Day because Columbus was brave and smart, but not everyone likes to celebrate because of the bad things he did.

How do you handle these issues?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

early domestic dogs: brains punctured and fed mammoth

Check out this story on early domestic dogs. The skulls were punctured, perhaps to release the dogs' spirit, and one of the skulls was found with a mammoth bone in its mouth, perhaps "food for the journey".

I can't get to the original JAS article, so I don't know the date/location of these finds, but they represent 1) another piece of evidence for very early dog domestication (I'm assuming); and 2) another example of the unique relationships we have with other species.

UPDATE: I was able to get to the original article. Here's the citation:
Mietje Germonpré, Martina Lázničková-Galetová, Mikhail V. Sablin, in press, Palaeolithic dog skulls at the Gravettian Předmostí site, the Czech Republic, JAS.

The finds come from the Předmostí site in the Czech Republic, and date to 26-27,000 y BP. What I find interesting about this assemblage is the high number of canid remains, some of which are identified as dog, and others identified as wolf. The authors mention over 1000 mammoths (MNI), and over 4000 canid specimens (NISP), for a MNI of over 100. Since carnivores are not usually such a high percentage of archaeological assemblages, I would be predisposed to consider the site a wolf den. Unfortunately, the skulls come from early excavations that were not well documented, and therefore the context of the skulls identified as dogs, not wolves, are unclear.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

bringing our whole selves to our careers

In my last post, I directed you toward Kate Clancy's blog, and her post "Three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: On being a radical scholar".

I was particularly struck by this:

Dr. Turner encouraged us to push against a job that forces us to “constantly abstract ourselves,” that we should bring our whole selves to the table because of what we offer but also because it makes us whole.

How many of us publicly admit the side of us that yearns for more childcare, but not also the side of us that yearns to turn off our computers and snuggle our kids for an afternoon? How many academics hide who they love, or what they love, for fear of not fitting in or not seeming serious?


So no more. I’m bringing everything that I am to my job. This isn’t just about loving my kid, or being an athlete, or writing a blog, though it’s a start to fully embrace these things. This is about wanting to push the boundaries of how anthropologists and doctors think about female reproductive physiology. This is about the intersection of feminism and evolutionary biology. And this means that I need to more explicitly make this passion my primary scholarly interest.

Two thoughts:

1) Even here, at Tiny U, where my research expectations are low, I hide the degree to which my family comes first. My colleagues don't realize how much time I spend with my kids, or that I want a larger family. Yes, you read that right: I have two kids, but I still want another one! This is such academic heresy that I'm afraid to tell most of my colleagues, especially as I near my tenure deadline. And yet, should this truly be something I hide? All I'm really saying is that I, like the average American woman, want more than two kids. We all know successful academic men with more than two kids, why should it be shameful for a woman to want three?

2) Unlike Clancy, issues of reproduction are not my primary scholarly interest. But that shouldn't stop me from integrating my career and my motherhood/wifehood/womanhood. I teach the biological anthropology classes at Tiny U - how often do I bring up issues of reproduction? When I teach intro to cultural, do I bring up issues of women's labor and gender roles as they relate to children? I have advocated for families when I serve on university committees, why not focus my mandatory service requirements on family issues?

More on this later, particularly on Clancy's contention that we should become "radical scholars".

Friday, October 7, 2011

article on tenure for women and mothers

Academic women, mothers, advocates for women and mothers: Read This.

Enough said.

Monday, October 3, 2011

9kyo domestic horse?

Better late than never: This BBC article highlights claims of 9k year old domestic horses in Saudi Arabia.

When I teach about animal domestication, I make a distinction between different types of domesticates:

commensals: These are mice and pigeons, but also pigs, guinea pigs, cats, and other, more acceptable, animal companions. These animals are domesticated largely through their attraction to human-created environments.

herd animals: sheep, goats, cattle, etc. These animals were domesticated from hunted populations, largely through substituting humans for the leadership positions within the herd structure. The original purpose of domestication was for the primary products (meat, blood), but secondary products (wool, milk, traction) could become important later.

transport animals: elephants, horses, llamas, camels, etc. These animals are often difficult domesticates, in that their social structure isn't as easily dominated by humans, or they cannot be allowed to stay in their normal wild social organization, because the males will fight, etc.

I usually tell my students that most transport animals were domesticated far later than the other kinds of domesticates, because they are more difficult to control, and because the domestication of animals for their secondary products alone (transportation, traction) is seen as unlikely before fully domestic economies had already formed.

This article on early horse domestication suggests that horses were originally domesticated for the meat, not the transport. If that's the case, it's not as surprising to find horses were domesticated just as early as sheep, goats, and cattle. Horses fill a different ecological niche than those other herd animals, and may have been a useful way to exploit some parts of the desert environment.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

lessons from cave art: kids are part of the family, too

There's an interesting article in the Guardian about the participation of young children in creating cave art.

The article is a wonderful example of the archaeology of childhood and children. We often claim children are invisible in the archaeological record, but of course that isn't true. I think we overlook the significance of indirect evidence for children, but here is some very direct evidence.

I'll admit, though, that when I read the article, I wondered if the journalist or the archaeologists were parents. Some of the statements were a bit odd, as if the authors were surprised to find that children were a part of their family's day-to-day lifestyle.

The research shows us that children were everywhere, even in the deepest, darkest, caves, furthest from the entrance. They were so involved in the art you really begin to question how heavily they were involved in everyday life.

"To be honest, I think there were probably very few restrictions on what children were allowed to do, and where they were allowed to go, and who they were allowed to go with.

"The art shows us this is not an activity where children were running amok. It shows collaboration between children and adults, and adults encouraging children to make these marks. This was a communal activity."

I'm not sure why this would be a surprise. What else would kids do while the parents made art/made dinner/cleaned the cave/gathered food/etc? Do we expect all families, past and present, to have the same kind of disconnect we do in the industrial world, where children are sent to daycare/school, while their parents pursue separate adult lives? If you've ever tried to take on any task with young children in the house (you know, like making a snack, or peeing?), you know that young kids want to be with you all the time. My five-year old daughter wouldn't, and couldn't, be left behind on the talus slope while I wandered into the deepest chambers to mold some clay.

Industrial societies tend to separate work from family, religion from daily life, children from adults. Most of us segregate children in schools while we work, keep them in church daycare while we worship, and consider art a subject in school, or the focus of a nursery project, not an integrated aspect of family life. But our attitudes are not descriptive of the majority of people, past and present, and we should be aware of that.

Another quote that caught my attention:

The majority of the drawings are flutings covering the walls and roofs of the many galleries and passages in the complex. One chamber is so rich in flutings by children it is believed to be an area set aside for them. The marks of four children, estimated to be aged between two and seven, have been identified there.

"It suggests it was a special place for children. Adults were there, but the vast majority of artwork is by children," said Jess Cooney, a PhD student at the university's archaeology department."It's speculation, but I think in this particular chamber children were encouraged to make more art than adults. It could have been a playroom where the children gathered or a room for practice where they were encouraged to make these marks in order that they could grow into artists and make the beautiful paintings and engravings we find throughout the cave, and throughout France and Spain. Or it could have been a room used for a ritual for particular children, perhaps an initiation of sorts."

This is very interesting. Yes, it could be a specific ritual place for children. At the same time, it could just be a place where people hung out. (There's no information in this short article about where this chamber is relative to the outside, or what evidence it produced for daily living.) By the end of the day, my children's imprint on our house is certainly far more visible than that of the adults. That's why we have an evening clean-up session, and I keep the permanent markers out of little hands. I'll be interested in learning more about the context of this chamber, and what makes the archaeologists believe it is a ritual area.

Friday, September 30, 2011

AAUP statement on partner accommodation

I saw a link to this interesting AAUP statement on partner accommodation (aka spousal hire). As I've mentioned before, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but not much new. I was particularly struck by this statement:

Such policies should be developed by appropriate faculty bodies or committees, not by the administration in the absence of meaningful faculty participation. The process for developing such procedures is arguably as important as the procedures themselves, and must take into account local conditions and institutional particularities.

I served on a committee that was charged with discussing appropriate partner accommodation policies. The fundamental problem we faced is the same problem faced by most faculty governance: we don't control the damn money. No matter how much the faculty support spousal hires, no matter how much we need them for faculty recruitment and retention, if the administration isn't willing to pony up the money, then what's the point of the policy?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011, guinea pig love

From the annals of interesting human/non-human animal relations, here's a unique way in which people are interacting with pets: as match-makers for grieving and lonely rodents.

Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up.

It turns out that Switzerland has a law requiring guinea pig owners to keep more than one guinea pig, since these are social creatures and shouldn't be lonely. When one animal dies, however, some owners don't want to replace it with a younger animal, lest they be trapped in a never-ending spiral of rodent replacement. So, they "rent" guinea pigs from a woman who loans them out for that purpose.

No, really.

Friday, September 16, 2011

automatic tenure clock stoppage: family friendly?

Tiny U just implemented a policy that automatically stops your tenure clock when you have a child. The policy applies equally to men and women, and to "natural" and adopted children.

In general, I support such policies and find them family friendly. But they make more sense at a research-heavy institution, where the "publish or perish" culture is stronger. Here, if one manages to teach one's classes, and maybe get a small article out in the year after your baby is born, you've done enough, and your tenure case won't be hurt (assuming is was strong before.)

I was asked by our Sainted Department Chair to stop my tenure clock when my son was born. She didn't think I needed to do so from a professional perspective, but no social scientist at Tiny U had ever stopped their tenure clock to have a child. She wanted someone to break the barrier, and she preferred it be someone whose tenure case was very strong. I ended up not doing so because I want to go up for early tenure.

And that's my problem with the policy. The only way to get a raise around here is to get promoted, since we've had frozen or cut wages almost every year since I arrived. Therefore, I would like to go up for tenure one year early (next year). I will have to petition the dean and department to allow me to shave one year off my required service period. I have reason to believe the department will grant my petition, but some people do have a negative reaction to junior faculty who ask for promotion when they don't seem to have "done their time."

If the new policy had been in effect two years ago, and my clock had been automatically stopped when my son was born, I would now have to petition to have two years (in effect) taken off of my required service. Hopefully, the faculty would understand that one of those years wasn't a "real" year off. Six weeks of maternity leave does not equal a year off of teaching! But it still could be a problem/annoyance to some young faculty members who are hoping to go up for tenure early.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

modernity and fish

An interesting article on the use of shellfish by Neandertals, this time 150kya in Spain. It's not too surprising, since Neandertals used shellfish there, and in other parts of the Mediterranean, in later periods, but this puts Neandertal use of shellfish almost as far back as the Pinnacle Peak finds in South Africa.

This brings up the issue of fishing and shellfishing as signs of modernity, as well as issues of diet breadth among premodern peoples. I'm not surprised to find Neandertals had the behavioral plasticity to use marine resources. I've always assumed that the use of fish, shellfish, and small game is a reflection of environmental/economic/demographic circumstances, rather than of inherent ability. Perhaps this find will strengthen that interpretation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

YouTube's Hohokam Archaeology Channel

YouTube has a new Hohokam Archaeology channel. It's mostly peopled with silver-backs right now, but I hope to see more diversity soon. Sure, most Hohokam archaeologists are older white men, but we could include a few older white women, too, right? Maybe even branch out into younger scholars? I also hope to see some diversity of topics (not just generalist/ceramicist archaeology, but also fauna, p-bot, lithics sourcing, stable isotope analysis, etc.) I assume production costs are relatively low, so this would be a nice opportunity to integrate some of the diversity of approaches and people that work in the region.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

undergraduate research: the basics

Many institutions - with or without graduate programs - value undergraduate research opportunities. Faculty may be under pressure to provide such opportunities, or may wish to take advantage of funding for undergraduate research to further their own research agenda. My personal experience is that undergraduate research is usually more valuable to the student (as a means of deepening their education, preparing them for grad school, etc.) than it is to the professor (in terms of providing material aid in their research). In fact, providing research opportunities for undergraduates can take a great deal of a professor's time and energy, for very little "pay off" in terms of substantive contributions to the research.

I take it as a given that we all wish to improve our students' education by giving them opportunities for independent and/or supervised research. But how do we make these undergraduate research opportunities work for us, and not against us, when it comes to our research productivity? I don't pretend to have all the answers, but my current research involves several undergraduates, so I've planned a series of posts on how to approach the issue. This first post will focus on the different ways one can structure undergraduate research opportunities, and the pluses and pitfalls of each.

1) Have some class. One of my undergraduate minions is working on my research through an independent study. Essentially, we created a class where much of the work is hands-on research. Tiny U requires that all independent studies have a written contract, which spells out in detail what is required of the student. Because this is an academic class, the contract must include readings, tests/papers or other evaluation techniques, learning outcomes, etc. If your university doesn't require such a contract, I highly recommend you create one, just to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.

The pluses of this approach lie in the academic requirements of the class. My student is not only working with data, she will be required to read about the archaeology of the region, and basic zooarchaeology. She will have a much better understanding of what we are doing, and why, than students who come to the research through a different channel. Additionally, the class structure requires a research paper, and I have outlined a series of small research projects that are the right length and difficulty for a single-semester paper. My student may choose to do something else, but if she chooses one of the projects outlined, I will get part of my research project written up through her classwork. If she does a good job, I can co-author a paper with her. If she does a lousy job and I have to totally re-do the work, at least she's found some of the essential references for me and summarized the data.

The major pitfall of the independent study is that it takes some work on my part. I need to provide her with the readings, make sure she's making progress on her research paper, and generally spend some portion of the time I would have to spend were this a normal classroom course. It's easy to fall behind on discussions of the readings, or in evaluating outlines of the research project, with the result that the class is not as academically engaging as it should be.

2) Be Practical. Many universities, including Tiny U, offer credits of "research practicum". Other universities may use a different name, but basically the student signs up for 1-4 credits or practicum, and they spend that time doing whatever tasks you assign them, as long as it is related to your research. There is no expectation that this represents an academic class, so it is not required that the professor and student have a contract, required readings, or evaluation opportunities.

The pros of this approach: 1) It's easier and more approachable for the student; they don't have to commit to a major research paper or readings. 2) It's easier for the professor. Obviously, the more background and context you give your minions, the better job they can do, but the research practicum is less work to set up and maintain than an independent study. 3) It's a good way to "try out" a new minion, to see if he/she will make a good long-term part of your research team, and to ease him/her into a more active role. One of my students this semester is taking this route, and I hope to continue working with her in the future, perhaps moving her into a directed study.

The pitfalls of this approach: The only real pitfall is that you can't require your minions to do background reading, and whether or not they will engage in a semi-independent research project depends on individual negotiations with that student.

3) Work 'em hard. Federal or university work-study money can pay for undergraduate research assistants. At Tiny U, we can only use federal work study, since we have no money of our own. RAs are paid at a much higher rate than TAs here at Tiny U, but the total amount of money they are able to make over the course of the semester is the same. In other words, RAs who work the same number of hours as TAs during the week will not be able to work the whole semester.

The pros of this approach are similar to those of the research practicum, with the added benefit of supporting a student in need of extra income. Unlike many of the jobs students use to support themselves, this job will enrich their education and experience.

The major pitfall at Tiny U is the limited number of students who are both work-study eligible and qualified and interested. I have one student working for me through the federal work-study program, and she is the least qualified and least engaged of my minions. But, they are all exceptionally bright young women, so that's not saying much.

4) Road trip! This summer, I took two students to Old Graduate Town to work in the museum with me. One of the students signed up for an independent study, while the other came just for the experience. I paid for their expenses while they were working with me, but they had to pay their own way to the museum.

pros: the students were thrilled to be in a cool, new city, with opportunities to explore in the evening and on weekends. They were enthusiastic about the work, and they were at my disposal, day in day out, for weeks. They did a lot of the data entry and metrics, while I identified the bones. If you have a project with a chunk of "grunt work", having a student with you in the lab can greatly contribute to your productivity. This summer was the only experience I've had with undergraduate research where the benefits to my productivity greatly outweighed the costs.

pitfalls: depending on what you're doing, students may not learn very much from the experience. My students this summer learned their bones very well, and probably have van den Dreisch memorized (poor things), but they didn't learn how to identify the different species, and they didn't get as much background on the reasons for the project as I would have hoped.

5) Seminar. I've never done this, but I know people organized entire seminars around their research. They use student projects (annotated bibliographies, class papers, etc.) to cut down on their own workload. This isn't possible at Tiny U, where we only teach three archaeology classes. Even a topic as general as "zooarchaeology" is too specific to attract sufficient students. But, depending on your institution, there may be ways to make this work.

pros: Like I said, I've never done it, but I imagine the pros are the same as those for an independent study.

pitfalls: Prepping a new class, teaching, and grading is a huge amount of work. On the other hand, if you were going to have to prep, teach, and grade that number of credits, anyway, then you're robbing your teaching time to pay for your research. Sweet.

Next post: the care and feeding of your minions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

landscape politics

If you, like me, are an avid fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates, you've probably followed his on-going debate with Matt Yglesias on whether or not the Civil War was "tragic". To summarize a complex and nuanced argument in one sentence, Coates argues the Civil War was not tragic because it is the last, blood-soaked, but ultimately triumphant chapter of a book that had been tragic up to that point: the story of African-American slavery in the U.S.

Coates' recent post features a quote from Mark Twain making a related point about the French Revolution (a.k.a "The Terror"). In his view, the real terror was the way the common people lived under the yoke of the aristocracy. Why should we mourn the vanished power of the usual reign, indeed?

As an archaeologist of landscapes, what struck me were Coates' ending lines:

This really sums up the dilemma for me. For the Civil War we have official cemeteries where presidents lay flowers. For our Long War we have nameless burial sites which people who want to build office parks routinely stumble over. For our Long War we have the Atlantic Ocean.

I've written before about the importance of archaeological landscapes to contemporary people, a well as the importance of protecting sacred places to African-American communities. Coates' article brings into stark relief how significant our choices of landscape and site preservation can be to our presentation and interpretation of our national history, and our commemoration of what is important to our national, community, and individual identities.

Cemeteries without markers and the Long Passage are neither impossible to commemorate, nor to popularize. Cathedrals can be built over the resting places of nameless martyrs. Tombs of the unknown can take pride of place in the national cemetery. The anonymity of the slaves is not the problem, the problem lies in their invisibility to most white Americans. As archaeologists, more of us need to prioritize the creation of archaeological landscapes that make every community's past visible, in all of its terrible beauty.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

toucans can be trademarked?

Kellogg is suing the Maya Archaeology Initiative because they use a toucan in their logo, and this might be confusing to children who associate toucans with Fruit Loops cereal.

In my Environmental Anthropology class, we spend a fair amount of time talking about bioprospecting, and the patent laws as applied to naturally occurring phenomenon (like human genomes, and "wild" plants). This strikes me as a similar problem. The toucans in question don't look much alike, so Kellogg wants a trademark on all toucans.