graduate school

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.

Ban Bossy in Academia, Female scholars of the world unite!

As a female working towards her Phd, a university career, and respectable academic career, I realize that there are particular hurtles females must overcome. True, women have more opportunities now more than ever. More women hold bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees now than they have in history. There are more women in STEM careers than ever. That being said, there is still room for improvement. Women are still underrepresented in academia. A huge gender pay gap exists in the US, some states even pay women $10,000 less than men on average. More startling, studies have shown that women are less likely to be hired than men, even when they preform the same tasks just as good as, or better, than their male peers.  Sexism is the job market and in academia still exists.

Dr. Kelly Baker of Florida State University conducted an experiment in her classroom. She dressed in traditionally feminine clothing and asked her students to evaluate her on her self-prensetation to demonstrate how pliable gender identification can be. When she asked her students how they visualize a “professor” they said she didn’t fit the description. Rather,”they explained that professors seemed to be male, older (or younger), bearded, and white.”  Even in the 21st century, we are fighting against how people visualize the “traditional professor” in academia. Why is this? Have we simply been bombarded with images of the elderly, absentminded cookie-cutter professor in movies, television shows, and other media? Or have we made these inferences based on what we’ve seen in real-life classrooms? In the aforementioned venues, males are overrepresented in academia. Is that because universities don’t hire women? Are women not applying for these positions? Studies have shown that women are more likely to be adjuncts and part-time professors than men. Yet, like I already mentioned, women hold just as many if not more master’s and doctoral degrees than men. So why is there is underrepresentation of women in tenure-track positions?

Dr. Baker opines that it is possible that women aren’t, as Sheryl Sandberg coined, “leaning in” to their careers as much as they should. However Dr. Baker states that women can “lean in” until women’s “backs [are] permanently bent forward and still face discrimination, bias, harassment, and more recently, rescinded job offers.” There are gender-baises engrained in the system. I agree with her on both accounts.

I’d like to examine the idea that women are hesitant to “lean in.”

In her excellent blog, “The Professor is In,” cultural anthropologist Dr. Karen Kelsky gives amazing advice to women on how to succeed as a graduate student, during the job search, and as a professor. She gives wonderful advice on how to be confident, professional, and how to not self-sabatoage with diffident and passive language. The fact that most of her posts stem from emails she receives from women in academia, I am willing to believe that women sometimes unintentionally hold themselves back because they don’t want to appear pushy, unlikeable, or, dare I say it, bossy.

I believe that women start holding themselves back long before graduate school. Personally, I have witnessed how women held themselves back. Growing up in an area of the United States that placed a particularly non-negotiable value on male superiority on dominance, I immediately realized that  my actions, attitude, and personality were not welcome. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, whenever I raised my hand or called out an answer in class, I was almost immediately mocked by one of my male peers. If I answered a question incorrectly, my male peers would call out, “wow, YOU were wrong?!” I always wanted to be in charge of discusses and projects, and despite the negative feedback I’d receive from my male peers, I loved school too much to care what they thought. What got me through the day-to-day was knowing that I had a clear goal in mind, that I wanted to be the best I could be.  I loved learning, thinking, helping my peers with their work and make them as passionate as I was.  My current location and circumstances were temporary, but my work ethic and determination would stay with me forever. 

In my small town, high school graduation was a big deal, so huge that there was  a special edition of the local newspaper to commemorate the event. There was a blurb about my success (my valedictorian speech, extra-cirrculars, and the top university I was going to attend). But who had the full page story on his success as a mediocre athlete? Who was everyone gushing over? And who ended up dropping out of his university the first year, and changing schools several times over the course of the next few years? That’s right, the best male student in my graduating class. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this bothered me. I let it bother me a little too much. So what did I do? It made me even more determined to succeed. No one was going to forget about me. I was a force to be reckon with. 

My male peers who weren’t accepted into the incoming class of my university said that they were victims of female privilege. They said that schools didn’t want to accept white, middle-class males because too many were applying. There was too much pressure to select girls and minorities. These guys made me feel guilty, like I had taken something from them. They made me feel as if I hadn’t earn my success, I was granted concessions I am female. It wasn’t until years later when I realized that my academic record, essays, and involvement was simply more impressive than theirs.  I was done with being blamed and being told I received special treatment. That makes me, and other females, suffer from impostor’s syndrome–why females won’t attribute their success to innate skill or ability, but rather, to luck and other people’s help–because there are these guys telling us that we didn’t succeed by our own merit.  I no longer have time to listen to those types of people. 

I wasn’t what the males in my region considered to be the ideal female. Quiet? Hardly. Empathetic? If it was a competition, I was prepared to win. I didn’t understand our newest topic in math? I figured it out and was happy to help any one else, even if it wasn’t endearing and attractive to my male peers. Whenever I campaigned for any sort of student government position in my school, I was almost never elected. Was this because I was a detestable person? I don’t think that is true; I was well-liked by my teachers and peers, and was involved in more student organizations than anyone in my grade. I gave my campaign speech, a well thought-out, point-by-point outline on how I would improve life in our school, yet, everyone voted for the soft-spoken, quiet girl who wasn’t pushy or bossy. After that happened, my teachers approached me and said how they couldn’t believe that I wasn’t elected. Maybe I would have been elected if I fulfilled what the school thought “girls” should be. Would I go back in time and be nicer, more polite, less competitive, and less outspoken? Not at all. I realized later that my ability to stand up for what I believed in, to be a figure representing strength and a challenge to the antiquated norms, is far more rewarding, and closer to my personality, than being what guys wanted me to be. 

One event that stands out in my head was during college. I was in an upper level seminar of only 12 students. There were 10 girls, and two males. Part of our grade was a presentation we gave at the end of the semester; each student had to give a 20 minute talk on their final paper topic. Simple. As my peers gave their talks, I noticed a startling pattern. The guys always stood up for their presentations, using the laser pointer to change the slides. The women, on the other hands, always sat down and controlled the powerpoint from a wireless keyboard. The guys stood up and commanded everyone’s attention. The girls didn’t want to be the center of attention so they stayed in their seats. I was blown away. I was the last student to present, so YES, I stood up and gave my presentation. After my presentation, our professor, an amazing female archaeologist and art historian, made a point to tell me that she was glad that I stood up, and wondered why none of the other girls stood up for their presentations. Was it because they didn’t care about the class? Were they tired? Or did they not want to see too pushy and bossy? I’m not sure which option I hope is true. There were practical reasons for me to stand up and give my presentation: people speak better while standing and it was good practice for future presentations where sitting will not be permitted. I truly believed that standing made the room take notice, I wasn’t afraid to be the center of attention, in fact I love(d) it. I was not, nor will I ever be, afraid to own the room when I am speaking. 

Bottom line, attitudes need to change. They are changing, true, but not fast enough. Personally, I plan to embrace my personality and goals, charging forward no matter what changes and what doesn’t. I don’t know what all graduate school has in store for me, but I’m telling you now that I plan to give those presentations standing up.

This week in anthropology, archaeology, bioarchaeology, bioanthropology news

Skull of homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray 

9 Things you won’t see on display at the American Museum of Natural History 

AAA president defends social science research at NSF 

20 things you didn’t know about hoaxes 

Mausoleum go Augustus to be Restored, Rome 

Evolution of Irrationality in humans, learning from primates 

Pros and cons (and costs!) of taking your graduate studies abroad 

Tomb with pyramid entrance excavated in Egypt 

Looted bone boxes recovered in Jerusalem 

Maya skulls show evidence of wooden-club warfare 

Harvard discovered books bound with human flesh in library 

Illustrated story teaches kids natural selection 

Exhumed bones from Franco period bring crimes of Spanish dictatorship back to surface 

Traumatic skull injuries show that Maya used spiked clubs 

Byzantine monks used asbestos in wall frescos 

Byzantine mosaics uncovered in Israel 

Visit Angkor Wat using Good street view 

Things I wish I had known before beginning my Masters 

Jane Goodall celebrates her 80th birthday this week

Why anthropologists join an ebola outbreak team

10 reasons why everyone should love Jane Goodall 

Neanderthals genetic legacy among modern Europeans and Asians

Prehistoric artifacts found in Nashville ball park 

Tunisia returns stolen Mask of Gorgon to Algeria 

Early humans and saber-tooth cats co-existed 300,000 years ago 

New evidence exonerates rats as bearers of Black Death 

Did modern humans get fat from Neanderthals? Europeans have three times more Neanderthal variants in genes involved in lipid catabolism than Asians and Africans 

(a) Schematic representation of genomic distance calculations between contemporary human populations and Neanderthals. The genomes of out-of-Africa individuals were compared with the genomes of individuals of purely African ancestry (YRI). Single nucleotide differences from the Neanderthal genotype in an African genome were referred to as ‘ABBA’, while sites with the Neanderthal genotype in an out-of-Africa genome were referred to as ‘BABA’. (b) Average proportions of NLS in contemporary African (AF), European (EU) and Asian (AS) populations calculated based on sequence data from the 1,000 genomes project13; blue: genome wide (n=1,158,559 sites), red: LCP genes (n=498 sites). The error bars show the s.d. of the NLS proportion estimates. (c) Genomic distances between 11 contemporary human populations and Neanderthals; blue, genome wide; red, LCP genes. The maximal bar length corresponds to a NLS frequency of 30%. Placement of ASW and CEU individuals in sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe, respectively, reflects their approximate historical geographical origins rather than their present location [Credit: Nature Communications, doi:10.1038/ncomms4584] Read more at: Follow us: @ArchaeoNewsNet on Twitter | groups/thearchaeologynewsnetwork/ on Facebook

Sensors and satellites deployed to save Pompeii 

Ancient nomads spread earliest domestic grain over Silk Road 

Developers destroy Roman wall in UK 

Homo is the only primate whose tooth size decreases as its brain size increases 

Indigenous societies’ “first contact” typically brings collapse, but rebounds are possible  

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!