Saturday, March 17, 2012

Application is Out Again!

Hi! Sorry we are such bad blog-updaters! It has been a crazily busy quarter for various several reasons. Anyone who has been through a graduate program or known someone who did will NOT be surprised to hear that I hit a maze of distressing bureaucratic paper-filing, hair-pulling madness about midway through January. All of it, of course, threatening graduation. Luckily, I had enough warning and a lot of much appreciated help from the faculty, and that (as far as I know!) is settled. One of the things that came up was that I apparently needed to take a Graduate Writing Skills Test. Which I did. You may be shocked to learn that I passed. Apparently, I did not make it through 20 years of school (and get, I must say, a pretty good score on that portion of the GRE) without learning to write a simple essay. Inconceivable, I say. 

Otherwise, have been keeping busy with classwork. I took a French course for review, which has been an interestingly different challenge; the professor is from Marseilles and the class focuses heavily on conversation. Never my best talent, even in English, and in this case it had me desperately trying to reacquaint myself with all manner of forgotten vocabulary. The only French I'd read in years was in journal abstracts, and they tend to skip past the "how do you do"s. My anth class for the quarter was a seminar in biological anthropology, which has been a lot of work and a lot of fun. It's not my normal focus, but I wanted to get a bit deeper into it just on the off chance that someone wants me to teach an intro phsy anth lab at some point, and I think it is fair to say that I have a much more comprehensive view of human biology and evolution at this point. The class was run by Dr William Gilbert, a not-undistinguished researcher in that field, who is one of the excavators of the Homo erectus site at Hadar in Ethiopia. He organized the class around a massive collaborative project, experimentally organized through facebook (yes, facebook, which I left! had to create an account again to do the class, but their spammy attitudes toward my school e-mail have done nothing to woo me back). 
I'd say the experiment was reasonably successful, though. Sometime this weekend I'll be finishing the results: a comprehensive alpha taxonomy of the human race, from A ramidus onward. We tried to include more or less all of the species that have ever been named to our clade, which may be more than you are thinking; we had 46 designations to research at the start of the project, and the list more than doubled as we dug into to the publication history. Some are pretty obscure and no longer used- Homo modjokertensis? Homo louisleakeyi? Others are well-known but the subject of much popular debate; the status of Neanderthal Man, whether Homo ergaster should be used at all despite making it into all the textbooks. One thing the project has taught me is that very little is certainly agreed upon when it comes to human taxonomy. The only certain things in this field are the fossils themselves, the sites, and the general trajectory through time that they reveal. The second you try to assign a species name to something, confusion and debate and academic politics reign supreme. 

It's been fun though, and I now know a lot more about a previously neglected subfield in my discipline. The final paper has passed thirty pages, though luckily I did not have to write all of them myself. Still quite a ways from done, so good thing it's a rainy weekend. (It has not, indeed, stopped raining since Tuesday night).

 Okay, so if you made it this far through all the science talk, you may be wondering by this point: but what about the post title? What about the application? Alas, that is a reference to my bad news... The University of Arizona, Tucson, sent me a not-exactly politely worded form letter this week informing me in a thousand words or less that my application to the doctoral program has been turned down. Well, their loss, innit? I won't say I'm happy about it. In fact, I'm distinctly unhappy about it. But there's nothing for it except to move forward. That was the only school I applied to this year, but I've got some job applications out there and I'm considering applying for a seat at the University of Victoria in Wellington, which is looking for someone with experience in anthropology and political ecology. I'll keep you all apprised of further developments. Pending other diversions, we still plan to move to Tucson in June.

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