I am speaking only for myself, but if I'm being honest, Alabama was not my first choice location to move to teach anthropology. The State of Alabama has a reputation for political conservatism and football. Both of them are well earned. When I was looking for jobs, I was concerned about where I would raise my kids and was not particularly interested in football (that has changed, big time). And that is not a knock on Alabama really---it is simply that I grew up in Indiana, which is also pretty conservative, and I am not. I am pretty liberal. I lived in New York City for 15 years and love the cosmopolitan diversity of that place. Then my wife and I lived right outside of New Paltz, NY during my graduate school years, which I often refer to as Portlandia East. It's about a liberal a place as can be.
But the University of Alabama has turned out to be a great place for my career and family, and it's a great place to consider graduate school in anthropology. I've been the Graduate Director for UA's Department of Anthropology for over a year now, so certainly I'm biased. And recruiting you is my job. But I thought I'd wake our blog site back up by writing a new column to tell you all the awesome things about our program toward that end. At the end of the day, reading my propaganda should just be a first or initial step. I stand by everything I will say and suggest you talk to our students and find out about their experiences to verify my claims.
To get this column started, I'll share 3 things that make our graduate programs special: (1) our collegiality, (2) our 4-fieldness, and (3) our funding.
First, what's collegiality mean, and why is it important? It means that faculty and students get along and help each other in their career and research pursuits. We take pride in our collegiality at the University of Alabama Department of Anthropology. I have never been part of or even visited a department that gets along as well as we do. Our faculty like each other and like to work together. We collaborate on research and teaching, and many of us hang out together. On the one hand, we think it models what a good workflow can look like. And we want our students to find us approachable, to treat us and their colleagues with respect, and to enjoy the hard work of completing their graduate work. On the other hand, I've been in toxic departments where people hate each other or talk smack about their colleagues, and those departments are awful places to be for everyone. People are less motivated to help each other, and, I would argue (without any statistics handy), the success rates for those students are worse than they are for comparable programs with similar resources.
Second, we walk and talk 4-field anthropology. Admittedly, we have only one linguistic anthropologist, Dr. Sonya Pritzker, but she is an integral part of our department. We are in the process of pioneering a program in biocultural linguistic anthropology, and linguistic anthropological training is as important to us and our students as biological, cultural, and archaeological anthropological approaches. Our first-year master's students no longer have to take comprehensive exams (more on that in a future post), but we do have them write a conclusion to their thesis proposal (for thesis track MA students) or an essay that explains their research idea or vocational goals in the context of 4-field anthropology. In a time when anthropology departments continue to fracture along disciplinary lines or where subdisciplines within departments do not get along, we feel it is important to maintain this tradition and to help students make explicit connections in with all 4 subdisciplines in their efforts.
Finally, many MA programs don't provide a lot of funding, but we do. We don't make any promises for the MA program like we do for the PhD, which includes 3 years of guaranteed funding for those admitted who already have an MA or 5 years for those admitted to the direct-to-doctoral program. However, we do our utmost to relieve the financial stress of graduate education and think it's as important to fund MA students as it is to fund doctoral students. Why don't we guarantee it for MA students then? Simple pragmatics. We have more applicants to the MA program, which is only two years, than to the PhD program, which takes several years more. Paying out of pocket for an MA might be manageable if necessary, while paying for one's own PhD is untenable. We don't want our students to be in student loan debt for the rest of their lives. We'd like to guarantee funding for all our students, but we don't have enough available to guarantee two years for as many students as we'd like to admit into our program. However, we have funded 100% of all our MA and PhD students for the past two years and have a good record of funding most of our students at some level for the past decade or more. What tends to happen is that we admit x number of students, some of whom we guarantee funding right out of the gate because we know it's a buyer's market out there. Then we scrounge and scrape to find other sources of funding for those who we could not make initial offers to. For instance, one of my jobs is to write letters nominating competitive applicants for the limited fellowships offered by the Graduate School. And we've been pretty successful with those because of the quality of students that apply to our program. So keep it up people---you make us look good, and we do everything we can to return the favor, providing quality education along the way.
Next post I'll write a little about what you can do with a degree in anthropology besides being an anthropologist. The world needs more people with the anthropological perspective than it needs more anthropology professors. In the meantime, email or call with any questions about our program and funding.
Dr. Christopher Lynn, Graduate Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, (205) 348-4162