A potential grad student I met with a few weeks ago said, I'm a first generation college student, so I know there are probably a lot of questions I'm not thinking to ask. Maybe you can tell me the answer to one of them without me asking it.
Did you ask us about our mental and emotional support of grad students? We don't believe in lone ethnographer pull yourself up by the bootstraps anthropology. It's dangerous for your health, and it's bad for scholarship.
Grad school can be a very lonely place. Most students go from being the smartest kid in their class without even trying to being completely average. We don't pit our students against each other, but it is still very hard to ramp up your game that fast, especially at such a young, vulnerable, and largely untested age.
Furthermore, college inculcates or at least perpetuates anxiety and depression in those susceptible by default---our goal as instructors being to train students to develop compassion and critical thinking skills. We all but tell students to care a lot about everything, worry a lot, and try to save the world. It's a recipe for disaster.
Finally, anthropology studies how families and communities and health systems and such work among peoples of the world. What about among us? Why are we so good as parsing it out there and so bad at seeing how we perpetuate poor emotional and mental health within our own systems and departments?
Unsure we're so troubled? Just a few data points then. US teen and young adults suicide rates have been rising the past few decades, according to an October 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My colleagues and I studied work-life balance among anthropologists a few years ago and found, unsurprisingly, that grad students have lower sense of balance and higher stress than professional by a wide margin and across all categories.
Finally, so many of us have experienced the emotional toll personally way too much and seen the damage firsthand. A grad student from a cohort a year or so after me who shared my same adviser took his own life during graduate school. Just a few weeks ago, a teenage boy at my children's high school did the same.
I imagine students feel like they are making themselves look weak or unstable if they ask about mental and emotional support, so I am happy to bring it up. We do our best to support our students. We are there to help guide you, not torture you. We will be watching for warning signs and trying to reassure students that the sadness associated with academic stress is temporary. We try to keep students working with each other, not in competition, and to support each other. We do our best to provide funding so you don't have to worry about that too. We keep our doors open and are there to talk and have plenty of tissues. It's fine. It's normal. Use them.
If you have anxiety or depression in grad school, you're not alone, you're in the majority. And we should be helping you with those needs as much as training you in theory and methods, or we are not giving you sufficient training to prepare you for a successful future.
Article an adaptation of introduction to SEAC symposium in honor of Jim Knight by Amanda Regnier
After over 24 years of the service to the Department, Dr. Vernon James "Jim" Knight, Jr. became Professor Emeritus in May 2014. Jim Knight's history with UA is much more extensive, however, as his legacy stretches over the past 40+ years.
Dr. Knight’s first field experience in Alabama occurred working alongside the father of Alabama Archaeology, David DeJarnette, north of Mound R at Moundville in 1973 (Figure 1). After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1975, he went to work for the early incarnation of the Office of Archaeological Research at Moundville (OAR). In that same year, Dr. Knight published “Some Observations Concerning Plant Materials and Aboriginal Smoking in Eastern North America” in the Journal of Alabama Archaeology. We wonder how many archaeologists can say that an article they wrote just might have inspired numerous unofficial experimental studies among the archaeologists of the 1970s, and probably beyond? Or more seriously, how many archaeologists can say that their first published work in a state journal is still being cited?
In 1977, Dr. Knight completed his MA at the University of Toronto. His thesis was based on materials from survey work done in the Rother L. Harris reservoir (Figure 2) along the Tallapoosa River of east central Alabama in 1974, where he worked with John O’Hear. His thesis resulted in an initial culture historical sequence for this portion of the Alabama Piedmont. Dr. Knight continued to work in the Coosa and Tallapoosa drainages of eastern Alabama in the 1980s and authored a number of reports detailing surveys in east Alabama.
Dr. Knight’s long tradition of research into Mississippian ritual dates back at least as far as his work along the Lower Chattahoochee, particularly at Cemochechobee, where he worked alongside Frank and Gail Schnell for the Columbus Museum of Arts and Sciences. (Figure 3) Whispered graduate student legends state that he may have been thrown from the mound by an angry crewmember during that field project. Dr. Knight’s work in the Chattahoochee followed in the footsteps of Mr. DeJarnette, who worked in the Lower Chattahoochee in the mid-20th century. Anyone who has worked in that region has consulted his work on chronology at Cemochechobee and Singer-Moye, as well as his later Walter F. George survey and excavation reports to familiarize him/herself with the lower Chattahoochee culture historical sequence. In the past several years, he has worked with Karen Smith, who received her MA with Dr. Knight in 1999, on Swift Creek paddle designs and Woodland period chronology in the Chattahoochee and Lower Appalachicola.
Dr. Knight returned to OAR in 1981 after completing his doctoral research at the University of Florida in just three years and rose to the level of Senior Research Archaeologist. Dr. Knight directed or contributed to several studies of Woodland ceremonialism in Florida and Alabama during this time, (Figure 4) including his dissertation advisor Jerry Milanich’s work on McKeithen Weeden Island culture in north Florida and the OAR excavations of the Copena mound at the Walling site in the Tennessee Valley of northern Alabama. Based on these and other excavations at Woodland sites, Dr. Knight created a model of Woodland platform mound symbolism focused on feasting and gift exchange with an emphasis on world renewal ceremonialism. These are intriguingly linked to historic Green Corn ceremonialism.
Dr. Knight’s work on Upper Creek archaeology goes back to his MA work in the Tallapoosa (Figure 5). His first Creek publication was in conjunction with Marvin Smith in 1980 and focused on ceramic changes at the Big Tallassee site between A.D. 1550-1800. His mid-1980s report of excavations at the Tukabatchee site in Elmore County established a chronology of Late Mississippian through Removal-period occupation in the lower Tallapoosa. His study of the importance of European goods and political leadership during the Early Historic period laid the groundwork for subsequent research on leadership in the Creek confederacy. Dr. Knight continued his work on the emergence of the historic Creeks, Creek ceramics, and the role of Creek clanship and political organization into the 1990s.
In the mid-1980s, as the 450th anniversary of the Hernando de Soto expedition approached, Dr. Knight served as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Alabama De Soto Commission (Figure 6). The goal of the commission was to evaluate new evidence for the route of the expedition through Alabama in 1540 and revise Swanton’s map created for the 400th anniversary. Working closely with geographical, historic, and archaeological scholars, notably Alabama geologist Douglas Jones and esteemed southeastern ethnohistorian Charles Hudson, the Commission tackled the thorny issue of the location of major Alabama sites along the route. The central focus in Alabama was the location of Chief Tascalusa’s attack at Mabila; arguments over its location proved as heated as the battle itself. The work of the commission ultimately resulted in the publication of the updated translations of the expedition narratives, a pair of volumes that sit on the shelves of countless archaeologists, historians, and amateur enthusiasts. In 2006, working with Dr. Jones, Dr. Knight once again convened a group of archaeologists, historians, and geographers to evaluate new evidence and reconsider old evidence. The end result was an edited volume that synthesizes the work of scholars from multiple disciplines and narrows down a location for Mabila.
Dr. Knight is probably best known for his work on Mississippian cultures, where he has published seminal works on Mississippian religion and ritual, symbolism and iconography, and social hierarchy. His dissertation and resulting publications explored Mississippian ritual, religion, and symbolism via structural theory, Muskogean ethnographic data, and archaeological evidence. This study described the symbolism in the Mississippian platform mound and identified three distinct branches of Mississippian religion.
In 1988, Dr. Knight joined the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama. He promptly set to work developing a research plan to work at Moundville (Figure 7). His decade-long NSF-funded excavations at Moundville began in 1993. In the 1990s and 2000s, his work researchers from other institutions and numerous projects by his graduate students turned the previous interpretation of the site onto its head (Figure 8). Working with Vin Steponaitis, Dr. Knight created a new site history that demonstrated the site reached peak population early in its history and later became a vacant center used for burials. His work comparing Moundville to a Chickasaw camp square provided a new way of looking at the arrangement of mounds around the plaza. The mound excavations at Moundville trained a decade’s worth of UA undergraduates in basic field methodology and resulted in an award-winning monograph (Figure 9).
Dr. Knight’s research into Mississippian iconography and the methodology of iconographic research has led to some a series discoveries on the nature of Mississippian religion. In 2001, along with James Brown, George Lankford, and the rest of the Iconography Working Group, Dr. Knight put forth the notion that so-called “Southeastern Ceremonial Complex art” depicted mythological heroes engaged in acts detailed in legends, many of which can be attributed via ethnographic research (Figure 10). Dr. Knight bade the term “Southeastern Ceremonial Complex” farewell a few years later and then proclaimed we shouldn’t refer to these representational images as “art” either. Regardless of what you call this corpus of representational images found on artifacts from southeastern Mississippian sites, this realization about southeastern iconography opened up a whole new world of iconographic studies, and allowed archaeologists to tie motifs to particular site histories (Figure 11). Dr. Knight’s work with Vin Steponaitis on the iconographic style of Moundville demonstrated a preponderance of death or Beneath World images, according well with the use of the site as a burial place for residents of the surrounding Black Warrior Valley for much of its history. After years of teaching the intense graduate Iconography seminar at the University of Alabama, Dr. Knight really did write the book on New World iconographic methodology (Figure 12). It is a clear, concise summary of how to go about this research with the most rigorous methodology and avoid traps into which many other researchers have fallen.
In the early 2000s, Dr. Knight began branching into the Caribbean, working in Cuba (Figure 13). At the El Convento site, a large Late Ceramic Age village with a post-contact component, he reinterpreted ceramic chronologies and provided a basic occupational sequence. He then correlated the revised site history with existing ethnohistoric accounts to provide evidence that El Convento was the site of the encomienda of Bartolomé de Las Casas. Las Casas was the first person to argue on behalf of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the New World. In multiple years of fieldwork at El Chorro de Maíta, Dr. Knight and his research team sought to identify correlates of sociopolitical complexity in residential contexts at a large Late Ceramic Age chiefly center. These excavations provided new data regarding the production of highly crafted ritual items, the extent of post-contact material throughout the site, and offered a new model for the occupational history of the site. Artifacts and dates indicate the site had no early component and was very likely to have been established as a chiefly center. These data have implications for emergent complexity in Eastern Cuba and for the archaeology of the Late Ceramic Age. Knight has also conducted a formal analysis of ceramics from Chorro, resulting in a new interpretation of ceramic vessel shape and data regarding potential foodways of the peoples who lived in the Caribbean.
More recently, Dr. Knight has started an iconographic analysis of ceremonial gear from Cuba, including engraved shell gorgets, carved stone idols, and engraved shell beads. When this study is completed, this will be the first time someone has assembled the corpus of such items from Cuba. This will be critical for understanding the relationship of Late Ceramic Age Cuba to contemporaneous peoples throughout the Caribbean, addressing questions of rapidly adopted religious constructs, population movement, and new cultural practices.
Dr. Knight has influenced many careers in archaeology. His attention to the details of training students extends to lessons not evident in his publications but is obvious in the ways other working archaeologists now conduct fieldwork.
Lessons Learned from Dr. Knight
When working in the field:
Keep your field equipment clean, organized, and in working order at ALL times!
Seriously, no, I mean it. Keep your field equipment clean, organized, and in working order at ALL times!
Don't be the guy with a trowel holster. In fact, why do you even need to have your own trowel? Just use one from the field desk.
Keep your field skills sharp, so when you occasionally jump into a unit to show your students how it’s done, they are in awe of your ability to flatten a floor or straighten a wall.
When working in the lab:
Field rules 1 & 2 also apply to the lab.
Leaving a tray of anything out on the lab table and walking away is asking for a disaster.
When dealing with students:
Never underestimate the power of a raised eyebrow and uncomfortable silence to bring a wayward graduate student into line.
If that doesn't get the message across, lean back in your chair and press your fingertips together.
If that fails, take off your glasses.
When a graduate student is hiding from you, call them and ominously say, "This is your conscience calling," whenever they answer the phone. Maintain an uncomfortable silence while they inform you of their progress. Repeat on a weekly basis until they finally turn something in.
Knight’s rules for writing:
If it is obvious, then you should never have to state it.
Be intentional and decisive in your writing, and choose sides. Remind your students, following Marvin Harris, YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE!!!
Don't worry about following theoretical trends. Do what you are interested in, and do it well. Regardless of whether someone notices down the line, you will still have made a good effort doing what interests you.
“In regards” is NOT to be used. There is always something else you can use.
Good writers do not use the phrase “in terms of…”.
NO POSTAL ABBREVIATIONS.
Avoid words like “important” and “valuable.” One assumes so.
Nothing is ever unique—so don’t use that word!
Never say “interesting” in formal writing.
“Great” is a word widely used by sportscasters. Please discard it forever.
“As well” is never a good way to start a sentence.
“Drastically” is a word much misused. Means an extreme or radical effect, almost violent, not simply unsuitable. Make sure this is what you mean.
For emphasis, use italics. All caps is shouting in prose.
Good writers never say “looked at,” as in someone looked at something in their research. Instead, good writers use words that are not as vague.
If You Have a Job in Anthropology, Agree to be a Workshop Panelist About Getting a Job in Anthropology
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving [watching Alabama kick Auburn's @ss]!
Thanks again for agreeing to be part of our BAS student workshop. The workshop will be held Saturday December 6, 2014 from 3:15-5:15pm in the Cleveland 1 (Marriott Wardman Park).
Would you be willing to lead the table entitled "Perfecting the teaching and research statement"? I think you would be fantastic.
Please let me know if you need me to photocopy any handouts to bring to the meeting.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Sure [Michaela]! I will make/gather some handouts to make myself look unusually prepared & professional.
Make sure you make your mustache extra curly!!
Why You Need Research & Teaching Statements (Even if No One Ever Told You About Them)
Research & Teaching Statements are in the same category for graduate students as Student Opinions of Instruction---things you may think don't apply to you. In fact, they are in an even lower class of things you don't think apply to you---things you've probably never even heard of.
Rest assured, your life as a academic will be an endless series of documents that you never knew you would need, have no template for, & that may or may not ever be read by anyone. Consider it good practice to compose these documents now & have them in your package. And good practice for, er, other aspects of academic life.
But, more importantly, consider them an important exercise. In composing these documents, you may find yourself giving structure to what was previously only loosely connected in your mind. And this is only the start. There is actual theory on teaching that we anthropologists are not taught in graduate school (or anywhere else, more likely than not). You will likely learn it along the way as a series of professional development workshops your chair or dean will "suggest" you (& sometimes even pay you to) go to when you get an academic job.
The Research Statement may be even more important, especially if the institutions to which you apply consider it important (chances are, they do, very important), so have a clear sense of how your research interests integrate is critical, whether it's written down or not. But humor me---write it down.
The Research Statement Connects Your Research Past to Your Research Future
Here's the thing about getting a job---you get hired to do a thing. You don't get hired because of what you've done. Likely, the thing you've done is related to the thing you're going to do, or you probably won't get hired. That means you're still not done with your dissertation. You will be hired based on the expertise you have developed & need to describe how that expertise will come to bear on developing your next project. It's important that these connect because you won't have the time to develop the expertise to study something completely new & publish enough to get tenure. You need to translate your current skill set into a new project that makes sense to your dean & tenure & promotion committee & that results in continual production.
You will start this process by enticing search committees with the arc of your vision. Here are the important bullets about a research statement based on my experience in writing them to get a job, reading ones composed by colleagues, & as a member of half a dozen faculty hiring committees.
outline your overarching research agenda. This should demonstrate how your various research projects fit together.
mention why this agenda is important and how it contributes to the discipline (think NSF's "intellectual merit" and "broader impacts").
briefly summarize your important findings.
mention any grants you've received related to these projects and what they are for.
mention any publications that have resulted from this research.
mention your unique contributions to the field.
demonstrate that you are a team player without giving away the credit for what you have done.
mention the direction your research will be taking and the grant proposal you are or will soon be working on to fund this.
mention how you have involved community members and/or students in your research.
talk about your research in linear narrative, starting with your master's, then your dissertation, etc.
reiterate methods and statistics.
use jargon. I know it's tough, but the degree you're getting shows how smart you are. Big words just make you look insecure.
be flip or conversational like I'm doing here.
use passive voice. Own your research and your findings.
go over two pages. Editing your genius to clear & concise nuggets is a skill you will have to develop.
produce less than a page. It looks like you haven't done anything or don't know how to communicate. We don't know what's in your head, so you have to unpack.
The Teaching Statement Should Portray Your Passion for Teaching, Not Say "I Am Passionate About Teaching"
It's difficult to write a teaching statement that does not sound completely schmaltzy & full of cliches, on the one hand, or overly hip & cool-sounding on the other. As others have pointed out, the best way to tread the middle is to stay as concrete as possible. You start with a generalization---e.g., "I employ use activities to emphasize and explore issues inside and outside of class." OK, well enough. You should be doing that, but how do you do that? Give an example. "For instance, I have sent students out to observe human courtship behavior using checklists designed for non-human primate observation and discussed the similarities and differences to behaviors we observed among zoo primates or read about in the literature." Finally, explain the importance of your activity. "In reflecting on their experiences in class, students remarked on easy it was to notice stereotypical courtship behaviors but also how frequently their own prolonged staring were misinterpreted as signals of desire." As Dr. Karen points out, these are the stories that are going to be remembered by search committees.
mention your overarching ethos in the classroom. I say something like, "My primary teaching modality is through experiential learning." Actually, I don't think I do, but I say it in so many words (since going on the market, I've split between a Philosophy of Teaching & Teaching Methods & Strategies). This is, of course, all the rage, but some faculty still say, "I'm a traditional lecturer." That's OK too, but
justify your ethos. Don't just say what it is & move on. Explain why you feel that is a good way for you to teach, give some examples of how you employ that strategy, & mention the results of implementing your approach in one of your courses.
use the word "pedagogy." Yes, it's jargony, but in this case, it signals that you take teaching seriously enough to know there is a method to the madness. But don't go overboard. It's like salt---a necessary enhancer in moderation but can make the reader blanch if overused.
mention your varied experience at teaching undergraduates, graduates, and other students of varied backgrounds if you have it.
summarize the student evaluations of instruction you've received, and briefly reflect on the good and the bad. Show that you're valued and that you take constructive criticism.
fail to have a teaching statement simply because you've only been a GTA or haven't taught. If you plan to become an academic, get yourself some teaching experience. Period. Teach an outreach class. Teach at the local museum. Something. And formulate a philosophy of teaching. Or borrow one you like.
be as stiff as I told you to be in your Research Statement. Students like being taught by humans. Show a little humanity, but, again, don't be flip or smug.
tell the linear narrative of your teaching story.
simply relive past glories about going to the zoo (I did this, I admit it). Talk about your teaching style as something you do apply & will apply, & only draw on past experiences to provide clarity or illustrate your vision.
plagiarize. This goes without say, really, but it is very tempting to find something online that sounds good & adapt it to your experience. Read a few, then close the browser, think a minute about what is most important to you in your teaching style, & type that."
use words like "epistemology" or "synergy" or "constructivist" (even though, again, I am guilty of this). Show that you're familiar with how to teach, not just words you think would be used in papers by people with EdD's.
These statements are the kinds of things you will cull from & craft to put on your website to attract students to come work with you or want to take your classes. In other words, they will have more importance to you going forward. Why do you think the verbiage about the work of Professor So-and-So is always the same? S/he uses the same statement over & over. These are like press releases for your research & teaching. You can & should tweak these documents throughout your career, & it is appropriate to start on them now, even though stretching them up to a page might be challenging. Very soon, whittling them down will be the labor.
And if you have a great statement & want to share (which you should--consider it service & put it on your CV), send a link in the comments below.
Finally, if you support your discipline & want to see it grow, do what all the other growth industries with good PR do, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, post this to your page, RT, email it to your mom, & print it out & mail it to your grandma.
Christopher Lynn is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama. He is a part of the biocultural medical anthropology program, runs the Human Behavioral Ecology Research Group, and co-director of the Evolutionary Studies program. His Research & Teaching Statements are available upon request, when he has edited them to reflect his own advice.
I have increasingly been making my students blog about their assigned readings for class for a few reasons. One, I assume that forcing them to write in a public forum will increase their self-consciousness & encourage them to actively try to write better. Two, I believe in transparency & inclusiveness to the maximum extent possible. In the age of social media, it is fun to be able to include the author of an article or chapter in a class conversation as we are having it. We can Skype authors in for guest appearances, engage in live Tweeting with them (do you live Tweet your courses? let us know in the comments below!), or have extended conversations via blog comments, among other options. I've engaged in all of these & think they all enliven course material & increase the chances students will remember some things (for whatever reason).
That said, I've written up separate sets of instructions for my various classes, but I thought posting a more general set of "best practices" for blogging about course articles would be helpful for others & anyone who hasn't yet realized that students need to be told some of these things. I hope this is helpful. Here they are:
Article reviews should generally run around 1000 words, which is equivalent to approximately two pages. Think about blog posts like they're articles in Newsweek, something you can read relatively easily in one sitting but with the requisite Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of journalistic endeavors.
Provide some background on the authors of the article or chapter you are discussing or summarizing. This means you will likely have to Google them and read their faculty or Academia.edu or whatever bios or even do a little deeper investigation.
Summarize the major points or contributions the article or chapter makes. This seems rather obvious, but I notice that students will literally write, "The author discusses [blah]. Then she talks about [blah]." You're not giving a sports play-by-play. Synthesize the article or chapter in a manner similar to what may have been done or could be done in an abstract but in words that are more intelligible to you, an undergraduate, without putting the author down for using "big words" or being well-read.
Put the article/chapter in context with other readings you've done in the course you're in, things in the media the piece remind you of, or whatever--i.e., bring something else to your summary & show that you've made a connection.
Indicate what you did not understand & whether that was because it was (at the moment) over your head or because it was not clearly written (things that are not clearly written can fool you by merely seeming to be over your head).
Strive for a tone that reflects the public forum of a blog while providing information that is also particular to the course. In other words, do not start your review off with "This week we were required to read..." or "This week's reading..." or "This reminded me of last week's reading because..." Even though everyone in the course knows what you are talking about, NO ONE outside the course knows what you're talking about. A better beginning would be, "An article published by [name] in [year] entitled [title] tests the hypothesis that..." Or, if it's a review article: "[name] published a great synthesis on [topic] in [journal or book]." You can even be funny, dynamic, or name-dropping ("My droogs KT Capuchin & Agustin Fuentes smacked it out of the park with a bad-ass synthesis of social network analysis & ecological niche construction in the Lende & Downey edited volume Encultured Brain (2012)!"). And while that last one was really schmaltzy, the point is that it's referenced; & the reader, no matter who it is, can piece together what I'm talking about without being in the course
Include graphics. This can be tricky since you also should seriously avoid copyright infringement, but there are four ways to get good graphics:
Scan images (e.g., tables, figures, etc.) from the article or chapter you are reviewing or other published scholarly material that you can cite.
Contact the author and ask for graphics. This will make your post especially awesome and unique because, let’s face it, every hack blogger out there is using the same graphics they’re glomming from the internet. Plus, the authors will be grateful to see you highlighting their work and likely very gracious in helping you.
Take a photo yourself. You all have smartphones. "But first, before I publish, let me take a selfie."
If you're collaborating with someone else on your blog post (which, in my classes, you more than likely are), your partner should read and approve your blog before you both post. Proofread each other’s work. Be sure the review your partner has prepared doesn’t make you cringe. If it does, provide them feedback to help fix it. If your partner does a half-assed job despite your best efforts, let your instructor know (confidentially).
Give your post a snappy title that is at least slightly different than the chapter/article title (though it can play on it or be included).
Make sure you assign your posts to categories and give them tags. If you need new categories created, email your blog administrator a request. Otherwise, they can’t be searched unless someone’s keyword is, for no apparent reason, “uncategorized.”
Finally, & this is obvious, but, for the life of me, folks fail to do it. PROOFREAD YOUR WORK. Poor grammar & spelling, unless it’s contextually appropriate (e.g., slang is usually fine in blogs BUT ALSO HAS SPELLING CONVENTIONS) will probably get your grade dinged.Honestly, Microsoft Word AND WordPress have spellcheck, so I don't get it (whoops, WordPress is telling me that "spellcheck" is not spelled correctly. I think I'll just ignore that & keep typing, hoping my professor doesn't notice?).
Reblogged from Anthropology News "Missed Manners" (Part One) & (Part 2) by Ty Matejowsky & Beatriz Reyes-Foster:
Sorry I missed class last week. My parents bought me a cruise. Did I miss anything important. If you could send me the missed lecture notes that wood be great. Thnx!
Faculty routinely receive hastily written emails like this one – unsigned messages laced with poor grammar and overly-familiar tones that make inappropriate requests without so much as a “please” or “thank you.” Many professors are inclined to attribute such breaches of etiquette to a growing sense of entitlement among today’s undergraduates –“I pay your salary, therefore, you should do x or yfor me.” While these faculty sentiments are certainly understandable as many students are inculcated with a consumer mentality, there may be something going on besides a deeply ingrained sense of privilege. For all the legitimate concerns about treating our students as customers, these faux pas may simply reflect a genuine lack of familiarity about basic protocol, (n)etiquette, and letter-
If students and professors maintain some level of symbiosis whereby each depends on the other for support and advancement, there is still a good deal of asymmetry that characterizes this relationship. Rather than interacting with one another on mutually equal terms, a professional distance has, or until recently, generally insulated the two parties from the other. As the ubiquity of email and social media makes interactions with faculty all the more feasible, the formal lines between instructors and undergraduates have become less and less rigidly defined. Within this new context, where student tendencies towards informality and nonchalance seemingly prevail, professors are often left slack-jawed as this erosion of established academic boundaries shows no sign of abating. Indeed, these problems may simply represent the new reality of academia.
In our last contribution, we discussed the importance of undergraduates seeking out faculty and others for professional mentorship. This month, we would like to offer students some friendly advice on how to make a lasting positive impression on professors or potential employers by highlighting some basic rules of thumb to keep in mind when engaging them. As such, we solicited from our colleagues working around the country some of their top pet peeves regarding student etiquette. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their responses reflected certain common themes. At the risk of coming across as too pedantic or sermonizing, we hope this contribution spotlights the ongoing importance of observing certain protocols when dealing with others in office, classroom, interview, and online settings.
Unless specifically directed to do so, never address your professor by his or her first name. Cognizant as we are about how standards of appropriate behavior may vary by faculty and departmental culture, these determinations cannot be assumed by students out of hand. That is, until students have established a working relationship with a professor, it is far better to err on the side of formality than to presume this faculty member is open to such casualness or over-familiarity. The usually unintentional audacity of some students – calling professors by their first names without prior consent, demanding access to lecture notes for missed classes – may lead to regrettable misinterpretations of intent or feelings of disrespect.
Always use proper writing etiquette when addressing emails to your professor or others. Proficiency in negotiating the social media landscape gives students real advantages over older anthropologists in both online networking and collaborative interaction. Yet, this knowhow must be applied sensibly in professional contexts. When dealing with faculty or prospective employers online, good manners and respect are essential. Always sign your email and be sure to identify what class you are referencing. Students should always preface emails with “Dear [blank],” employ proper grammar, avoid text lingo such as “OMG” or “LOL,” and end communications with “Sincerely, [your name].” Such practices go a long way in creating positive impressions for those who may ultimately serve as professional references or employers. Undergraduates should also be mindful of social media postings. Ill-phrased Tweets or images carelessly uploaded to Facebook can have lasting repercussions that undermine long term educational or career aspirations. For this reason, it is probably a bad idea to become “friends” on Facebook with your professors.
Never electronically request a letter of recommendation without first meeting with your professor and making sure he or she agrees to write it. One of our colleagues was surprised when she unexpectedly received an email from a graduate institution requesting a letter of recommendation. Although she knew the student seeking the letter, he had never asked her if she would be willing to write it! One of the realities for aspiring anthropologists looking to advance within the discipline is the need to procure faculty letters of recommendation. As graduate school or fellowship deadlines rapidly approach, it is easy for students to feel overwhelmed by the entire application process and be tempted to cut corners. Stressful as such undertakings may be, it is still incumbent upon students to personally request reference letters in advance before moving forward with their applications. Assuming that professors will simply draft a letter because they know a student is inadvisable and may work to dampen whatever enthusiasm a faculty member held for a particular student.
There are some things that can’t be unsaid. Yes, you worked hard on that paper. You studied many hours for that exam. So when you are disappointed by the grade you earned, it is natural to feel angry. Maybe the professor wasn’t as clear about what she or he wanted as you’d expect. Maybe one or two exam questions seemed purposefully tricky. So in the heat of the moment, you shoot off an email with a few choice words about your opinion of the professor’s ability to design a fair assessment. As cathartic as this may feel, the next morning you start thinking that maybe you could have expressed your disappointment a little more diplomatically. The problem is that the email is now long gone and your professor’s estimation of you as both a student and person have very likely been irreparably damaged. There are some things that simply cannot be unsaid or unemailed. Realistically, no amount of lost exam or assignment points is worth risking the respect and potential support that can come from your professor. Much of this regrettable conduct could simply be avoided by taking a day or two to cool off or just expressing things a little less confrontationally. If you feel strong about the matter, perhaps, politely scheduling an appointment with your professor during office to review the paper or exam in question is the best way to go. Rather than accusing your professor of incompetence, phrase your request as one of seeking help. Professors are much more likely to respond generously to genuine requests for help than indignant demands expressed without careful consideration.
Try looking in the syllabus first. Yes, really! Students sometimes have no idea how many of their questions could be answered with minimal fuss if they simply first referred to their syllabus.
Don’t assume work submitted late will be accepted. Many professors realize that life sometimes throws curveballs that cause students to miss class or assignments. While some faculty are more understanding than others when it comes to dealing with these unforeseen events, students should never just presume that all professors are accommodating to such matters. If anything, students should not submit late work without first conferring with their professors. If the faculty does indeed accept it, keep in mind that he or she is pretty much doing you a favor.
Don’t blow off your face-to-face appointment, especially if it is outside of regular faculty office hours. As professors at a major research university, our workload goes way beyond time in the classroom. Many of us either teach multiple sections or have robust research and publication responsibilities, not to mention service on multiple committees and time spent grading, mentoring, and writing letters of recommendation. Our time is likely one the most valuable gifts faculty can give students. When asked for a face-to-face meeting outside of regular office hours, faculty are literally taking time away from other important matters to spend it with you. It is just bad manners to blow it off or expect to reschedule at the last minute.
If you like something, tell us! So far, we have devoted considerable column inches advising students on how to judiciously avoid conflict with faculty. However, a good way to make a lasting positive impression –and to effectively enhance your undergraduate experience—is to communicate with your professor when she or he is doing something right. If you enjoyed a particular assignment, a friendly email conveying such sentiments can help make your professor’s day. It can also encourage her or him to use that assignment or ones like it more readily. Believe us, many professors want to know what works to ensure that their students are enjoying class. Positive feedback is a great way to build a good professional relationship with faculty. Just make sure you really mean it.
While the above advice is by no means definitive, such guidance hopefully helps aspiring anthropologists negotiate both the successes and setbacks that are inherent to university life, graduate school, and, ultimately, the anthropological profession. Establishing effective rapport with faculty may necessitate students adhering to a few simple rules of thumb when it comes to etiquette. Attention to such matters can help students develop a feel for not only how to best approach those who currently supervise their abilities, but also those who will end up vouching for their future performance as graduate school candidates or job applicants. At the end of the day, this advice won’t just help you negotiate your relationships with your professors. It is a best practices list of basic professional courtesy, the kind of thing your future employers will simply expect you to know.
Beatriz Reyes-Foster, PhD is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the U of Central Florida (UCF). Her current research interests focus on issues surrounding reproduction in Central Florida, particularly on the ways in which women seeking vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) make decisions about their medical care, and peer breast milk sharing.
Ty Matejowsky is an associate professor who specializes in cultural anthropology. He received his PhD in 2001 from Texas A&M U. His research interests include fast food, economic anthropology, globalization, urbanization, culture change and development, disaster studies. Ty currently conducts his research in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines.
You thought this was going to be one of those mean-spirited videos bashing students who ask for letters of reference, didn't you?
This following verbatim advice came from the BioAnthropology News Facebook group (which I highly recommend you join!). I can't find it on there anymore, so I'm really glad I saved this. I email it to students every year but thought it might be easier for everyone to find if I republished it here.
By the way, if this is you, don't ask for a letter of recommendation at all:
When asking for a letter of recommendation, give your professors at least two weeks notice. Go ahead and ask if they feel like they can write you a good letter, otherwise it wastes time for both of you.
Corollary A: Give the professor ALL necessary information. They should NOT have to look up your information; remember, a) they are not required to write you a letter so this is above and beyond their usual work load, and b) they usually have many of these letters to write and will not have the time to track down information you should have provided. The following information should be provided to each letter writer, in an organized fashion:
1. Your CV or resumé
2. The complete address for the person they are writing the letter to (even if it is being sent as part of a packet, they need it for the top of the letter and their own records)
4. Your statement of purpose (almost all applications require one)
5. Any required forms or the full website for posting the letter.
6. Answer the following questions in bullet form - the more specific, the better:
How long have you known the person writing the letter
In what context(s)
Grades you’ve received in their classes
Notable assignments completed for them and the grades you received
Relevant work experience both within and outside the department
What special academic and non-academic qualities you will bring to the new post or school you are applying to? This requires that you know some specifics about the program and can define your fit with those features.
Are there any problematic features in your record (grades, time away from school, etc.) that need explanation, and how would you suggest handling this issue?
7. Ask the professor if they would prefer hard copies of these materials, or would like them emailed.
Presenting research at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, BC (2011).
I just returned from the Society for Conservation Biology’s International Congress for Conservation Biology. It was a great meeting, and I learned a lot. It also marked a milestone for me, as although I am just starting the 3rd year of my Ph.D., the ICCB was the 20th scientific conference I’ve attended. Inspired by this milestone, by Josh Drew’s recent post on the subject, and by the excellent graduate student networking workshop held at the ICCB, I wanted to share my tips and tricks for graduate students to get the most out of a conference
Please note that while these tips have served me well and are generally applicable to professional meetings in the sciences, they may not be appropriate for every field or every person’s goals for a conference. Additionally, some may be considered quite basic, but I assure you that I’ve met people (particularly graduate students attending a conference for a first time) who don’t know them. I welcome a discussion in the comments.
1) If you are a graduate student in the sciences, you should try to attend scientific conferences (or at least one). Conferences are a great place to get feedback on your research from leaders in your field as well as other graduate students, and a great way to learn some emerging methods in your field. They’re also great for networking and building a group of contacts that you can use for advice in the future. Least importantly, conferences are a lot of fun. Few graduate students attend as many conferences as I do, but entirely too many don’t attend any conferences. The connections I’ve made at conferences have resulted in multiple professional leadership roles, 2 publications (so far), tips for 3 small research grants, and numerous travel opportunities. Regardless of your research project, there is a conference where presenting it would be appropriate and welcome.
2) Read ahead, e-mail ahead, and plan ahead to make sure you don’t miss anything at the conference you’re attending. Conferences release a schedule of all the talks and presenters weeks to months before the meeting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “Oh, man, I didn’t know that talk was happening” or “Oh, man, I didn’t know he/she was at the meeting!” This is easy to do with large meeting with huge programs and multiple concurrent talks. I always look over the schedule in advance to make sure I identify can’t-miss talks and workshops, as well as people I want to make sure that I meet up with. If there’s a fellow conference attendee that you want to make sure to meet while you’re there, e-mail them in advance, introduce yourself, and try to pick a day to meet for lunch or coffee.
3) If your conference has concurrent sessions, it’s ok to move between rooms. Conference sessions and symposia are often scheduled in 1.5-2 hour blocks consisting of a series of 15 minute talks. While it’s considered somewhat rude to leave in the middle of someone’s talk, it’s totally ok to leave in between talks to attend one in another room (typically during the question and answer portion of a talk) . If you’re going to do that, try to avoid sitting in the middle of a row or near the front of the room, though, to minimize the disruption associated with leaving. Factor this in during your “plan ahead” phase.
4) Prepare an “elevator speech”. I was always taught that every student should have a 30 second version of a speech explaining their research, as “so what do you do?” is about the most common question you’ll get at conferences. You look much more professional if you don’t have to stumble to answer that question. Others recommend that every student should have a 30 second, 2 minute, 15 minute, and 45 minute version of a speech explaining their research.
5) Don’t eat alone. Lunchtime, dinnertime, and snack breaks are a great time to network. If there’s someone you’ve been trying to meet with, see if you can go with them (or a group they’re in) to lunch. If you don’t know anyone at the meeting, ask to join the first group you find that’s headed to eat somewhere fun. I’ve met good friends and very useful professional contacts by joining random groups of people for lunch or dinner. Even if their expertise ends up being completely outside of your research interests, consider that meal a good opportunity to practice your elevator speech, as well as a way to meet different people. The only issue I’ve ever had doing this is that groups of grown-ups (the catch-all technical term for experienced senior scientists who are no longer graduate students) often eat at restaurants outside of a student budget. This can be resolved by getting something small at the fancy restaurant and grabbing a bite of fast food afterwards.
6) You should have business cards. Seriously. They may seem old fashioned, but they’re really important. You should have business cards featuring your name, your e-mail address, your phone number, your University, and, if possible, a brief statement about your research interests. When you’re meeting with people, it’s very helpful to be able to exchange contact information easily without having to write it down on cocktail napkins (I’ve had people try to do this with me). If your University doesn’t make business cards for students, you can purchase about eleventy billion of them for the cost of a ramen noodle dinner from sites like VistaPrint.
7) Don’t be afraid to approach senior/famous scientists. Every famous scientist in your field was once a graduate student and they all remember what it’s like. If a book someone wrote inspired you to join the field, tell them. If you want to get feedback on your research from the person who founded your discipline, ask.
8) Look for people who look like they don’t know anybody. During social events and breaks, look for people who look like they don’t know anybody there, introduce yourself, and invite them to join you. These people are usually easy to spot and are often first time conference attendees. If you’re also a first time conference attendee, these are great people to meet because they’re in the same boat as you are. If you’re an experienced attendee, welcoming new members in this way is a nice thing to do.
9) Have a twitter account. Many scientific conferences have an active community of live-tweeters, which include both graduate students and experienced scientists. If you’re active on twitter, it gives you instant access to this community, which is both helpful for professional development (before after and during the conference) as well as a lot of fun.
A “tweetup” of the live-tweeters at the 2013 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
10) Conferences can be affordable, but this requires that you plan ahead. While conference travel can unfortunately be prohibitively expensive, there are some simple tips and tricks to help. If your lab doesn’t have conference funding available, sometimes your department will. The graduate school or your student government can also help. Many conferences have internal student travel awards. You can also sometimes get reduced rate registration by volunteering at the conference, and can save money by sharing a hotel room with other graduate students (my record is 5 in a room, it worked out to about $25 each per night).
In cleaning out my office for our temporary departmental move to the Timbuktu region of Tuscaloosa, I came across guidelines for writing literature reviews by my graduate advisor Larry Schell that I think are worth sharing.
Here is a link to the full (3-page) pdf or images follow: