To be the Brave and Imperfect Female Graduate Student

To Celebrate International Women’s Day, I decided to forgo my typical academic-esque post. I am not one for personal stories, but a recent realization has inspired me to address one particularly significant issue we ladies of academic face.

Over the last few weeks, I have noticed an unsettling pattern in my conversations, particularly with my professors. For the past two semesters I have been enrolled in two classes that have been particularly challenging for me: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Statistical Inferences and Analysis. Both classes have, to put it lightly, tested my patience. There were times in the GIS lab, as a realized I was closing in on hour 6 of time spent on a project, that I wondered what on earth possessed me to follow this particular career. I tend to pick up concepts quickly, be it from an innate ability to understand information quickly or just working hard. Yet, in both of these classes, that immediate, satisfying comprehension did not necessarily arrive in the timely manner I am used to. Instead I struggled. Instead I’d agonize over whether or not I was typing commands correctly in ArchGIS. I’d get frustrated when I did not immediately understand the different types of z-scores. It was not until the other day when both of these professors told me, independent of each other, that the main reason I struggled with these classes was because I was afraid of not doing the assignment perfectly.


This struck a cord with me, and it wasn’t a happy tune. Yesterday evening, I stumbled across a TED talk by Reshma Saujani titled, “Teach girls to be brave, not perfect,” in which Saujani discusses how woman have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and are therefore overly cautious. Saujani cites studies of fifth graders found that the more intelligent the girls, the more more likely they were to give up on a difficult assignment, while the more the intelligent the boys, the more likely they were to meet the challenge. Young girls were more afraid of showing their imperfection while attempting to complete the assignment. Saujani says women do not necessarily suffer from a lack of confidence, but it is this socialization of perfection that causes women to take less risks in their careers. If women were socialized to be brave, rather than socialized to be perfect, that could move society forward.


All graduate students already, shall we say, encounter a daily  crisis-of-self (or maybe that’s just me). Be it from coursework, grant writing, or just the ongoing battle of “will-I-get-a-job-that-isn’t-at-a-banana-stand?” saga (though there is always money in the banana stand), I think there is an additional issue that plagues graduate students, particularly females. I think that many of us were (and continue to be) socialized to strive for perfection.Why are we so concerned with being perfect? Wouldn’t it be more useful for our academic careers to be socialized to take risks, to be unafraid of failure, to be brave?

During my classes, I notice that females are not particularly vocal in class. Maybe we don’t speak out in class because we don’t want to sound unintelligent. In her insightful guest blog for “The Professor is In”, Karen Cardozo also explores this topic, noting that women take fewer chances and risks than men. “For example, in test-taking studies, researchers found that upon closer inspection, perceived gender differences in performances resulted not from wrong answers, but from women’s greater tendency to leave an answer blank when unsure about it (thus eliminating even partial odds of hitting upon the correct answer).  When the experiments were revised to insert the instruction “do not leave any answers blank,” there was no gender disparity in performance.” Furthermore,  studies have shown that males tend to dominate classroom discussions compared to females, possibly because, “women prove to be extremely vulnerable to interruption. Numerous studies have demonstrated that in mixed-sex conversations, women are interrupted far more frequently than men are…Moreover, once interrupted, women sometimes stayed out of the discussion for the remainder of the class hour.” While, luckily, my male peers do not interrupt my female colleagues, I should point out that in order to change the socialization of perfection into bravery, it will take the efforts of both females and males.


Since I began applying for graduate school, I had multiple professors (all female) ask if I applied for external funding, specifically the NSF. Thinking that I was not qualified, or worse yet, that I would devote all this time to apply and therefore put myself in the position of possibly failing, I didn’t bother. It was not until last fall when I was reading advice on how to write a successful NSF application, did one of my professors (once again, female), ask me what I was reading, and then inquire why I wasn’t applying for the NSF. It is absurd that I talked myself out of applying so many times. It was the encouragement from my female professors and colleagues that drove me to apply for the grant last fall. It took someone explicitly telling me that yes, I am qualified, and even if I weren’t, I should apply anyway.

Regardless of the outcome, I think having the courage to apply for these grants is a personal success. Unfortunately, women are less likely to apply to major grants.  While the social sciences have noted that women are beginning to be more fairly funded in the social sciences (specifically in the UK), there are still issues in gender balance of how many women apply for grants, and the percentage of them who receive them. Similarly, in the job market, Saujani notes that men are likely to apply for jobs when they meet approximately 60% of the requirements, while females only apply when they meet 100% of the requires. With these discouraging numbers, it’s no wonder that women think we cannot apply for grants because we don’t have enough publications, experience, or simply don’t want to risk failure. We need to change the perception of perfection: socializing women to think they are only valuable if they are perfect hinders us more than it helps us.

So in order to remedy this whole socialization of perfection, I think we, female academics, need to socialize our colleagues and peers in the process of being brave. Those of us who spend our field seasons working in deserts, rainforests, and mountains littered with poisonous snakes, bugs, plants, basically all manner of creatures that could harm us, may disagree: to do these things does require bravery. What I am talking about is having the bravery to take risks in our careers. We need ignore that pesky and unproductive manta, “I may fail at this, if I do, I’m not perfect,” and instead replace it with, “I may fail at this, but oh well, I was brave for trying.” To achieve this, it will take a concentrated effort for all of us, fellow female peers and colleagues, not to mention male peers and colleagues, to encourage bravery, and show that perfection is overrated.

On a final note, public outreach is an invaluable tool academics can use to encourage the next generation of women to be brave, so show how perfection is harmful. This past weekend, in collaboration with GiST (Girls in STEM at Tulane), I hosted a workshop that taught middle school girls about human osteology, bioarchaeology, and forensic anthropology. I made sure to tell the girls to ask questions, and share their ideas–there were no stupid questions and ideas in my lab. Whenever I asked a question (why do you think female pelves are different from male pelves? When do you remember when you got your first adult molar? ), the girls were not afraid to call out answers, nor were they afraid to answer my questions incorrectly. In fact, they loved sharing their ideas. In other words, they were brave, and did not care about giving the perfect answer. Hopefully this is a trend that continues.



Science and Sexism in the South

My hiatus from the inter-webs can be contributed to several things; the main reason being my temporary, part-time job. As I have mentioned, I am starting a PhD program at Tulane in the fall. Though I am receiving a generous stipend package, moving and paying a rent deposit cost money. So, alas, I had to take a part-time job to fill in the months before I head off into the second phase of my life: graduate-school-induced-melt-down.

I have several qualms with this job. Well, not several, a better description would be “thousands.” I should not explicitly state where I work, so I’ll just say that we sell books. The topic of today’s post isn’t necessarily about books, the store where I work, or even the customers (though, let’s be candid, I could write volumes on each aforementioned subject), it is about science and sexism in the South. Broad, huh? I try to avoid going on too many tirades and being completely biased to a place that enjoys its way of life without being told what to do…but I can’t let this rest. It’s exhausting.

I have written about the misconceptions, mistrust, and general issues the South has with the sciences and sexism. Once I wrote about it during the local museum’s Darwin Day celebration back in 2013. I’ve posted on Facebook and Twitter about failing science standards and the general dislike some people have towards science. I wrote a post about the sexist comments I received when I told people I was starting my Phd in the fall.  I attribute it to age: older people are products of their time and are set in their ways. Understandable. Not ideal, but I get it: you grew up in a small community devoted to your religion and enrolled in a school system that taught you…well…it taught you what it taught you. Boys had to be strong, silent, and play football. Girls had to be pretty and think about marrying their high school sweethearts. You are a product of your time and place.

I feel less sympathetic towards my peers. Other men and women my age, who have innumerable resources that could answer all their science questions, and proudly state “I don’t believe in evolution.” You don’t “believing” or “not believing;” you accept it, or don’t.  I encounter these people at work. We are allowed to check out books from the store, and I decided to read “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert. I liked the book generally, sometimes I wish it was less a narrative about her trudging out to the field to hunt for fossil and more fact- and research-based treatise, but I understand that she wanted to give the reader a picture of what natural scientists actually do. One chapter is about how climate change is impacting coral reef systems by increasing the acidity in the ocean. When one of my co-workers asked me how I liked my book, I reiterated what the author wrote about the endangered coral reefs. His response, “I don’t think global warming is an issue. I don’t think people are the ones who have altered it. What would recycling even do?” I thought he was kidding at first, but alas, he was not.

Our store also participated in a book drive for a local elementary school. I was super pumped for this philanthropic endeavor, especially since we could pick the books to display for customers to donate. The day of, when I arrivedI saw that they shelves were covered with kids fiction, familiar and unfamiliar titles. What didn’t I see? Any science, history, or educational books. So I went to the kids education section and grabbed books on rain forests, mammals, snakes, US history, Ancient Egypt, algebra, mummies, anything and everything educational. As I was setting up the books, one of my co-workers exclaimed; “great idea Rachel! There are too many girly books up here, I’d glad you grabbed some books boys would like.” I wasn’t aware that science and history had a gender.  I wasn’t aware that it was “girly” to like fiction and “boyish” to like math. I was shocked by her comment, and said, “These aren’t subjects for boys, girls can be scientists and historians too.” And my co-worker didn’t even understand that what she said was sexist.

These men and women, additionally, are given the same opportunities, but I still see many females wearing teeshirts saying, “I’m too pretty to do math.” One co-worker outright stated to me, “I don’t understand why we waste space with a Women Studies or African-American Studies sections.”  I can’t even get into that comment right now. (Actually I can, if she could have articulated why she didn’t think those groups deserved sections, then I would have been willing to listen. But she didn’t. She just thought they were given special treatment. I’ll remember that when I am honored with the special treatment of begin cat called.) I digress.

So the store has special displays for Mother’s and Father’s day. For Mother’s Day, the store had tables with books on gardening, cooking, style, with a few romance novels thrown in. For Father’s Day, tables were filled with titles about hiking, home-brewing, and raunchy comedians. I mentioned it to my coworkers, and no one seemed to think that this blatant gender divide was shocking. Personally, I liked the Father’s Day books more! What if moms wanted to make beer at home and dads wanted to learn more about gardening? Why can’t men be stylish and women learn more about the species of trout in Tennessee?

So there you have it. 31 Days until I move and begin my new life, but just for good measure, this town is making sure that I get one taste of narrow-mindedness before I leave. Fantastic.  I wonder how everyone will react when I tell them I’m leaving to start my PhD in a social science. Probably call me a boy and say my career path is a lie.

This week in anthropology, bioanthropology, bioarchaeology, and archaeology

Scientists find that Neanderthals were not less intelligent than modern humans 

DNA tests can trace your ancestral origins back 1000 years 

Interactions between humans and scavengers have been decisive in human evolution 

Dmanisi “single species” claim draws criticism among paleoanthropologists 

Study shows that white, male professors more likely to respond to other white, male emails than females and minorities 

Sa Huynh site discovered in the Quang Nam providence, China 

Excavations in Nashville Zoo reveal Native American remains 

Archaeologists search for ancient temples and pyramids in Sudan 

Stone darts and dismembered bodies shows 5000 years of violence among Central California Native Americans 

What happens when an orangutan and the slow loris meet 

Who majors in anthropology? This infograph reveals that many successful people did! 

The war over science continues in Congress, Republicans trying to push out scientists from peer reviewing 

Desert geoglyphs in the Chincha Valley, Peru, made by Paracas culture to help point travelers to settlements, possible divided by ethnic and kin groups 

A caring graduate advisor is the key to whether or not a graduate student thrives 

Why do scientists ignore female genitalia and sexual reproduction? 

New center in Arizona helps identify remains of people who attempted to cross the US-Mexican border

Archaeologists find 5600 year old tomb in Hierakonpolis, Egypt


Excavations unearth Roman basilica in Bursa, Turkey

Looters destroy tomb in southern Turkey

Researchers find chimpanzee have distinct, individual behaviors, similar to humans 

A look at the Penan hunter-gratherers of the Sarawak rainforest, Borneo 

Inca culture in the Sacred Valley includes sites Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and Moray, Peru

Scientists examine carbon atoms found in mummies reveals vegetarian diet among ancient Egyptians

Black death skeleton reveals harsh life of 14-century Londoners

Rice theory: Why Eastern cultures are more cooperative, see also New Scientist 

Ramesside tomb of Egypt’s royal ambasador discovered at Saqqara, osteological remains reveal individual died suddenly at young age 

Someone had to build Qin Shihuang’a terra-cotta army, archaeologists just found their grave, China

You’ve been accepted to graduate school! Now here are some sexist comments

On my computer desktop, I have approximately a bagillion post-its. Some feature inspiration quotes, others a list of songs I need to get around to downloading, and a few lists of books I’ve been meaning to read. In the center of the screen, there is a large post-it reading “Move to NOLA Countdown 84 Days.” I haven’t had a countdown like that since high school. During the final semester I was so completely miserable, mostly because I disliked my classes and I wanted to just get on with my college life already. My current countdown started for several reasons: I’m super excited, I’m ready to get my academic life started, I’m tired of living in this tired town. The main reason, however, is a little more straightforward. If ONE MORE PERSON asks me when I’m settling down, getting married, or having babies, I may scream.

Since accepting an offer to join the graduate program at Tulane, there has been this subtle shift in how some my peers treat me. Notice how I used every font emphasis on “some.” I am completely taken aback, surprised, befuddled, and irritated by some of these comments. Comments came from both men and women. Some of my friends said the comments were made due to insecurity and jealously. Others said I was reading too much into what people were saying. I think the meaning behind these comments is a little more sinister. A little more sexist. I wonder if all women, beaming with joyous success, filled with a sense of accomplishment having just achieved the near impossible, heard these comments when they told their friends, family, and peers their wonderful news. I wish I could say that I was able to write off their comment as snide and uninformed, or even come back with a witty retort, alas, I know myself better: if I didn’t walk away or ignore the comment, I would descend into a rage-filled tirade and probably punch someone in their sexist mouth.

So to you women who are planning to begin the arduous journey to Phd-hood, expect to hear some obnoxious comments from your jealous, immature, sexist peers. In the last month, here is what I’ve heard so far:

“Now that you are starting your PhD, now let’s find you a husband so you can get married and settled down” Oh thanks for reminding me! The whole publishing, research, dissertation, having fun being single thing was getting in the way of what my true goals are!

You got into your top choice? Well, then that’s SUPER WEIRD that *insert male’s name who has less experience than you* wasn’t accepted ANYWHERE. You got in because you went to a good school.” Yeah it had NOTHING to do with EXPERIENCE or GRADES.

Me: “So I’m moving to NOLA” 
Unhelpful person:”That’s going to be a lot of work. If you had a boyfriend with a pick-up truck he could help you move.” Because in 24 years of living, I never learned how to pack and move a box. Is it like tetris but real life?

Former high school teacher: “It’s so great to see you! What are you up to now?”
Me: “I’m starting my PhD at Tulane in the fall!” 
Former high school teacher’s follow up question that wasn’t relevant, like what program are you starting or where do you work now: “So are you seeing anyone?”
Me: “No”
Former high school teacher: “Well don’t worry you’ll find someone”

And, this gem, occurred during an awards ceremony, where I was presenting an award to a student on behalf of scholarship program.

Student’s farther: “So where did you go to school?”
Me: “I got my BA from Vanderbilt, and now I’m starting a PhD program at Tulane in the fall”
Student’s farther: Says nothing

Teacher announces that the complimentary dinner is ready
Student’s farther says to me: “How about you go make me a plate”
Is that your subtle way of letting me know that no matter how educated, poised, and well-spoken I am, my main job is to provide food to the helpless male masses? Oh okay, good, glad I didn’t misinterpret that.

I have been told by a few very wise and very sensible grown-up, mentors, and friends that these comments will never end, especially for women in a “boy’s club” academic field. Some people will never change, but the trick is to let people know, early on, that comments like these are NOT okay. For now, my goal is to set these people straight and let them know that I won’t put up with such nonsense.

A Year in the Life of an Average Graduate School Applicant

I believe congrats are in order…to me! I officially accepted an offer to begin my Phd at Tulane University in the fall! After an amazing campus visit, I am pleased to report that the department had everything on my check-list along with extras I didn’t even know I wanted (hilarious department traditions, diverse personalities, and a resident mummy, you know, normal things). It’s been an eventful year for me, and that’s not even considering the time I put into the whole application process.  Luckily I had a lot of support and feedback from amazing friends and colleagues. It wasn’t all luck however: I also had to be quite the savvy, calculating, and determined aspiring social scientist to achieve this goal.  What if you have the drive and dedication need to achieve this goal, but don’t have the network of academics to help?  Turns out once I was accepted, tons of undergrads and other aspiring academics started bombarding me with questions and asking for advice. Well, look no further! I’m here to help.  (I was accepted to three out of the five programs I applied to, and offered funding from each, so I did something right). Below I’ve created a timeline interspersed with information to help with the process.

Approximately 1 year before applications are due (also corresponds to approximately six  months after graduating from undergraduate) 

You need to seriously consider if you should/need to attend graduate school.  It is not a place to hide out until the job market improves. It is not a place to relive undergrad. And more importantly, it is not a place to go just because you have no idea what to do with your undergraduate major. It’s a commitment, and I had to do A LOT of soul searching and take tests to see if I had a death wish/personality disorder (okay, the last two are jokes…but I think the GRE is sort of the same thing). Take the time and energy to consider your options, your ultimate goals, and even your strengths.  I spent time doing productive CV-building and networking activities (visiting sites, working on projects, etc.) as well as getting out of the US to give myself some space. Once you graduate, you find that all your peers immediately jump into new careers and seem to have direction and everything figured out. Being around that can be stressful and pressure you into making rash decisions just so you don’t feel like an unproductive hobo in comparison. To avoid this, I spent time abroad doing not-so-serious things as well. I went on glacial treks. I spontaneously took a 19-hour bus ride to a town I ended up not even liking that much. I worked as a bartender. All of these decisions seem irresponsible (and a little insane), but honestly, I had so much distance and alone time to allow myself to assess what I wanted. In the end, all I could think about was starting my PhD and beginning my career.  Whenever I was working at the bar, I kept talking to people about my research, and made attempts to education people on the archaeology in the region (side note, the number of beers a person consume correlates with how interested they become in archaeology). Trust me, when you have the chance to day-drink every day as a dysfunctional bartender and all you can think about digging in the dirt, you know this is something you desperately want.

9 months before applications are due (after you realize that yes, you want to do this) 

The main draw of a graduate program should be the cohort of professors, funding, opportunities for professional development, and the department’s resources (facilities, labs, collections, etc.).  Yes, I know it would be great to live in a cool new city. Yes, I know that living in the middle of nowhere sounds terrible, but if it is the perfect school, then you have to deal with that. If you are really serious about continue your education, then the city shouldn’t be the deciding factor. That being said, I lucked out that most of the programs I wanted to attend were in cool cities!

Also, to anthropologists, see if the department shares your thoughts and preferences on theoretical approaches…

Additionally, funding is a huge part of the decision. If you are continuing your education in a field that doesn’t have the largest or a guaranteed payout, then try to avoid going into debt. Check out funding opportunities, the competitiveness of the stipends within the department, and for how long you receive funding. Also, it might be worth checking out graduate programs abroad, since they are sometimes considerably cheaper than programs in the US, and are only for a year.

Check to see the application requirements (CV, statement of intent, writing sample, etc.). Some applications might require additional essays. For instance, one school required that my friends write an essay about how they could add diversity to the department. Also, it might take over a month for your undergraduate institution to send your transcript, so take care of that asap.

See what other graduate students are researching. It is similar to your research goals?  Do they seem like they are participating in conferences? Publishing? You want to be around an active cohort of students. Maybe email a few students. Ask them questions about their advisor. I found that I learned A LOT from quick exchanges with students. I wanted to be around a supportive group of scholars, and it is obvious when students view potential incoming students as threats and will not be welcoming. I also wanted to have a supportive, even-tempered advisor. I was lucky that I was able to meet a few professors before applying; some were fantastic and encouraging, and others acted like I was wasting their time. Trust your gut–if you feel uncomfortable around a potential advisor, then you probably won’t get along with them as a student.

At this point, I recommend emailing professors who share your research interests and ask if they are taking students in the year you plan to enroll. They have just accepted that fall’s new cohort of students, and it’s before midterms/finals for their undergraduate students, so they are less busy (just kidding, they are always busy), and more likely to email you back.  Better point: they’ll have an idea of how many PhD students are leaving, and how big the newest class is, so they’ll have an idea of how many students their department will take the next year. In some cases, students are rejected not because they are qualified, but because there are a limited number of positions. Some departments/professors might not take students in certain years. So if someone doesn’t email you back, or a professor doesn’t encourage you to apply, don’t take it personally. (But spell check and reread your emails, just to make sure).

Work on your CV/Resume. If you don’t have a CV/Resume, make one now. If you have one, great job! Just make sure you update it. This might seem super far in advance, but trust me, if you don’t read it at least 45894076 times before submitting it with you application, there will be the smallest, stupidest mistake on it. Keep it simple, NO crazy fonts (if you write it in Comic Sans, congratulations, you are the Jerry of your friends). Bold and capitalize all headers, avoid italics (they are annoying), and make sure you have everything in order according to date (higher- more recent, lower – older). As for placement:

1) academic history

2) awards/honors

3) field/lab research

4) publications (if several, maybe put this before field/lab research)

5) conference posters/symposiums

6) leadership

7) volunteer work/community service

Depending on the nature of your graduate work, some of these things might need to be reshuffled. If you are going into public health and you volunteered at a clinic for 2 years, then you should considering moving that up the list. Basically, the items of highest importance should go first. 

6 months before applications are due 

TAKE THE GRE (and/or required tests). Some studies say you should take the GRE while you are still an undergrad because you are better at studying and retaining information while in school. Other people say that you should take it when you have more time to study, so wait until after you leave school. Then some people don’t take it seriously at all, manage to get a decent score, and get into their first choice. Those people are the worst. Kidding! It simply depends on your personal study habits. Personally, I could only study for a few hours a day before I’d collapse in on myself like a dying star, so I would spread out my study schedule. I suggest to take the test as soon as you are sure that you are applying to graduate school. It is NOT fun to schedule the test close to deadlines only to realize that you won’t have your scores before a deadline and have to spend $50 to change the date. Trust me.

Email and ask previous professors/employers if they’d be willing to write your recommendation letters. I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT leave this to the last minute. That being said, it is almost 134% CERTAIN that your recommenders will turn in their recs last minute. That’s okay, they are totally used to doing that, but you cannot expect them to drop everything and write your recommendation 2 days before it’s due. You will be expected to supply 3 recommendations (maybe less depending on the program). Have three back-up recommenders. If possible, pick recommenders who have a connection to your potential advisor’s research and to the department. If you took a few classes from a professor who is an alumnus from your grad school, it would be a good idea to have them write your rec. Ask professors who know you best, they will write the most personal recs that will stand out from other generic letters. Not to sound simplistic, but applying to grad school is like a game, you have to play your strengths and take advantage of your resources.

Ask current graduate students for their statements to get an idea of what professors look for in statements of intent. I read dozens of statements, and everyone’s was different. I was able to express myself while following a well-organized format.

3-1 month(s) before applications are due

If you haven’t already, starting writing down ideas for your statement. I recommend that you start seriously writing your statement about two months before applications are due. You will need to revise it several times. You will need people to read it. For my first statement, I had several people read it. After I had it completely edited, I used the outline to write other statements, but still had people read those statements as well. Ask for help! The more people who read and edit your statement, the better. Ask people who know you well to read your statement since they have a better idea of your writing style and long-term goals.

Some schools give a page or word limit. One school asked for 3-5 pages, then another school wanted 750-1000 words. Even better, some schools don’t tell you anything.  In general, your statement shouldn’t be longer than two pages. Mine were at least two pages, single spaced, double spaced between paragraphs. Your potential advisor (and the rest of the department) have to read hundreds of statements a semester– so be succinct, eloquent, and get to the point.  Your primary goal is to demonstrate that 1) you have the experience 2) you have thought out a specific research goal and 3) you have shown that you are a perfect fit for the department.

Basically a statement should include…

-Introduction (your name, where you went to school, who you studied under, what you want to study, and who you want to study with)

-Your background (what have you done in the past that has lead you to apply for grad school, so list all relevant experience)

-Your research focus (should be like an upside-down pyramid, with big picture, then narrow down to your specific topic)

-Why this particular school would be perfect for your research goals (it has these professors, these facilities, etc.)

-Future career goals, and summary (I find that putting these two together in the final paragraph made for a neat and orderly ending)

Me writing my statement

A lot of people have different styles and want to stand out. Here are things you should avoid…

-Don’t point out your weaknesses in your statement. This might seem obvious, but I’ve heard that this is actually a huge mistake students make. Don’t apologize for a low GRE score. Don’t point out that you have a terrible GPA. Don’t tell the professor that you have little or no experience. Your statement is meant to demonstrate that you are a perfect candidate for this program, so it should have nothing but positive information.

-Don’t write a long statement. Stick to the program’s guidelines.

-Use appropriate language, don’t “beg” your potential advisor to read your statement (avoid words like “please”). Avoid diffident and passive language (“I would like to study *blank*”), and instead use strong, confident phrases and active verbs (My research investigates *blank* /My research focus is *blank*).

And last…remind your professors to write their recommendations! In fact, send reminders at least once a week until applications are due! Don’t worry if they don’t send them right away, I know for a fact that graduate schools expect professors to send in recs late, so if they take a few extra days, don’t flip out.

Last but certainly not least, send a quick email to your potential advisor letting him/her know that you are still interesting in their program and you look forward to submitting your application for consideration. Basically, remind your potential advisors of who you are. 

Week applications are due

PROOF READ!!!! Harass you recommenders to submit their recommendations! (just kidding, politely remind them, they are doing this as a favor to you after all.) Call the graduate school and make sure all documents are were they are supposed to be. 

After submitting your application

Enjoy the brief moment of elation and then freak out. This is really happening! Send thank you letters/emails to your recommenders. Let them know that what they did for you was very nice. Plus, if you don’t get into any programs, then they’ll have to do this whole, fun process again! But that won’t happen since you followed my helpful advice!

My last bit of advice…BE YOURSELF! I cannot stress this enough. Don’t say what you think the professors and department want to hear. State what you want to research and what interests you most. Be candid and passionate about your ideas and goals. It is glaringly obvious when a student has no idea what he/she wants to study and when he/she is saying what they think people want to hear. Do yourself a favor and take the time and energy to shape your ideas and set some goals. It will pay off! Now go apply to graduate school!


This week in anthropology, archaeology, bioarchaeology, biological anthropology, human evolution

Representation and perception of death in Neolithic Near East site Tell Qarassa examining funerary site, human image, and similar iconographic conventions

3 million year old fossil skeleton Little Foot (or Australopithecus prometheus) oldest most complete Australopithecus ever found; also believed to be oldest Homo skeleton found (see Archaeology Magazine and Science Now)

australopithecine “little foot”

New study shows that Native Americans and Russians share same language traits, dialects reveals how ancestors migrated 13,000 years ago 

Archaeologists want to explore human origins, Georgia wants to mine gold, which is worth more? 

Archaeologists tired of unearthing unspeakable ancient evils 

Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science 

1600 year old basilica dedicated to St Neophytus discovered in Turkey’s Lake Iznik architecturally similar to Hagia Sofia 

Burials in Greece linked to Macedonian kings 

Learn how archaeologists in the rural highlands of Peru are supporting the local schools by providing young boys and girls with opportunities (read more about the field school PIARA at the wordpress blog the Ancash Advocate)

Egyptians may have domesticated cats around 6,000 years ago based on cat skeletons found in cemetery, see also Live Science 

3200 year-old skeleton has oldest known example of cancer (metastatic carcinoma) associated with modern lifestyle  (such as environmental–carcinogens from wood fire smoke, genetic or from the parasite schistosomiasis), for more information see Archaeology Magazine and great photos visit Popular archaeology 

Graduate students should be encouraged to explore jobs outside academia and seek advice through campus career services 

Evolutionary fitness is not the most important determinant of success 

Classical archaeologist looks to shipwrecks and harbors to examine economic networks during Roman Empire 

“An anthropologists walks into a bar…” beer company hires social anthropologists to figure out why business is waning 

20+ skills that make PhDs employable 

Architecture analysis offers new clues to Petra’s culture 

Styloid process, an osteological genetic mutation that may have enabled humans to make tools, found in ancient fossil

Shocking facts from the scaffold 

Grad student deciphers 1800 year old letter from Egyptian solider 

What is plaque? 

Footless body with sheep bones discovered in UK 

Thinking more about teeth, dental anthropology

Study shows that race determines earwax scent

Why dark chocolate is good for your heart 

Cavities (tooth decay) causes, symptoms, and treatments 

Archaeologists use lasers to map site of Angkor, heart of SE Asia’s Khmer Empire 

Human nose can distinguish between a trillion smells

Amazon Warrior Women: Any truth behind the myth? 

High demand for underwater archaeology in Vietnam 

Conche shells evolved to be smaller because of hungry humans 

Vatican library to digitize its archive and put it online 

Epigenetics: the controversial science behind ethic and racial health disparities

Archaeologists are learning more about the Roman baths between Mġarr to Gћajn Tuffieћa in Malta 

A lot is known about Colonial India, but less about Ancient India 

Primatologists study infant chimps to get at root of gender differences in humans 

Applying for Graduate School in the Social Sciences: What on earth possessed me (possibly the spirit of Margaret Mead)

I am just going to admit it: I absolutely love school. I love sitting in classrooms, taking detailed, organized notes, engaging in heated debates over metaphysical ethical dilemmas, and that moment when you’re researching a paper you realize that it’s not a bore it’s, dare a say it, fun. Of course, the non-academic scene is wonderful as well, if not better, than the post-college world (especially since I’ve realized that in the real world Thursday night is not a weekend night, and you are expected to come into work Friday functional and not hung-over). Despite that disappointing setback, I do want to attend graduate school for my Ph.D., even if means I must continue to adhere to that ridiculous “Thursday night isn’t a weekend night” rule.

However, any graduate student, professor, or other academic will quickly inform you that you can’t simply apply graduate school because “you love school.” You must have some sort of grand scientific question that explores a troubling short-coming of a specific field while also contributing to the knowledge of the greater scientific community. If that wasn’t daunting enough, your research must also solve some greater global issue and ultimately improve the quality of education, government, society, and life. You are expected to sell your soul to some faceless institution, engage in wicked little diatribes with your cohorts, and try not to feel too stupid when meeting with your advisor. So you can’t just apply to graduate school, an inordinate amount of confidence is required before you even email the godlike, herculean professor who shares your research interests. No wonder I’ve taken a circumspect approach to this whole graduate school business in an effort to focus on how I must articulate what it is I want to do with life. It is during this journey of self-discovery that I’ve realized you must be not only self-assured, but also considerably unhinged to apply to graduate school.

I am half joking and half serious (probably an early sign of some psychotic, double personality disorder brought on my graduate school applications). If you attend a professional school other than doctoral (i.e. medical, business, law school), your path is clearer, but it is still be a difficult one. From what I’ve experienced, jobs in academia are incredibly difficult to obtain. Some opine that students who major in a liberal arts or social science are simply doomed when it comes to graduate school. Others, like me, would like to point out that doctoral programs aren’t a cake walk for ANYONE.  I have always advocated that you must, no matter what your field may be, gain as much relevant experience as possible. From the moment you step onto your undergraduate campus, you must be actively pursuing your interests and take any opportunity you can.  Today, the Atlantic posted an article called “What College Graduates Regret,” outlining a study investigating what college students regret most from their undergraduate experience. One might expect the most common answer to be “majoring in the liberal arts and not a STEM field.” Though that was a popular answer, the study found that the most common answer was that students wished they had gained more work experience and put “their knowledge to practical use while they’re still in school.” If you want to work for a internet start-up, you better gain some experience doing that in undergrad. If you want to attend graduate school, you should try to tackle a thesis project or submit a paper to your campus’s undergraduate research journal. That is all relevant experience.  So I am optimistic that liberal arts and social science students are not completely doomed. Students in these majors simply have to start gaining field-related experience as soon as possible. If their experience and goals lead them down the dark, ominous path (also known as “academia), no matter if they are in STEM or humanities, the journey will be difficult for all.

On a happier note (just kidding, it gets worse), once you do earn your doctorate and land that impossible-to-find job, you are clawing your way up the tenure ladder. You are constantly begging NSF, your department, and local well-to-dos for money. Not to mention you have zero time for an actual social life (and forget long-term, serious relationships, the only one you’re allowed to have is with your research. If you are a professor, the relationship is with some other deranged graduate student who is a shadowy image of you from a decade ago). After years of publications, conference presentations, and maybe a guest appearance on Discovery Channel, you end up teaching some intro class that people take as a requirement for graduation. You invest incredible amounts of time and effort, only to have students skip every class and then ask for paper extensions (whaaa, it was on the syllabus? Bro, can I have, like, one more day?). Of course, one small ray of light remains: you hope that to inspire a bright, ambitious student to use the knowledge you so selflessly gave for some greater good. Or maybe over the years you become disenchanted and you consider it a class well taught when people actually raise their hands to ask question, even if the questions are, “uhhh…is that on the test?” Well, beggars can’t be choosers.

So, my question is this: why do I, and countless others, want to go to graduate school? Is the abysmal job market that encourages us to hide out in an institution until conditions improve? Do we want to justify that pointless degree in Russian Literature and force others to take it seriously? Or do we strive to use academia to achieve some greater good? It is possible that the latter contains some sort of truth to aspiring scholars. Hopefully, all those Ph.Ds will go forth and positively improve and change the world. Or have a complete mental break-down, move back in with your parents, and plan you life around the next happy hour.