I am writing to you from the trenches of my second year of the graduate program in Physical Anthropology at Michigan State University (@msuforensicanth). And although this particular semester’s coursework is melting key bits of my brain, I’m in it for the long haul: I intend earn my Ph.D. in Anthropology with the goal of working as a professional forensic anthropologist. In an academic capacity, this will hopefully entail teaching, casework with local law enforcement, and bioarchaeological field research.
My advisor has already allowed me the opportunity to work on some very exciting extracurricular projects: cleaning, curating, and collecting data on 450 medieval skeletons in the MSU Nubian Bioarchaeology Laboratory; analyzing medieval human remains at the University of Salento in southern Italy; and collaborating with the military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Central Identification Laboratory (@JPACTeams) on a validation study. These are all opportunities to participate in research, although only the last project might be something on which I am an author. Throughout my recent experiences, I’ve received a couple of swift kicks to the rear and learned how little I know. For me, that instigates a *challenge accepted* mentality to learn more and become a better team member and anthropologist.
A personal exploration of social media and new technologies has accompanied this tide (flood!) of institutional learning. It became evident early on that so much information is created in the fields of human osteology and bioarchaeology that a more integrative use of informatics tools would greatly benefit the field. Although I’ve tried to find links between the two, digital connections in forensic anthropology appear to still be in their infancy. Leaders and scholars publishing in Journal of Forensic Science or the American Journal of Physical Anthropology aren’t blogging or tweeting. Graduate students are making inroads, but few, if any, of these pioneers have been around for long enough to become change-implementing faculty. There are a range of platforms, programs, and possibilities in cultural heritage informatics; one of my goals in this fellowship is to identify more ways to connect the people with the “stuff.”
I have no formal training in programming, but as a member of my generation (are we millenials?), computer technologies have been integrated into my education. Rather than being afraid of the new, I am willing to learn and explore, troubleshooting through problems as they arise. When I installed an upgraded graphics card in my new desktop in 2009, I ran around announcing what a wizard I was to everyone I could find – it was a big deal for me. Working through trial and error is integral to the learning process in any new endeavor, and this experience will teach me a lot.
I’m the kind of person who does better with a few things on my schedule. Clear it up for more than a few days, and chores and errands fall by the wayside. But keep me at it for 60 hours a week, and my house is clean as a whistle, and I’m bringing pot roast over to a friend’s for dinner. My dog keeps me on my toes, and when I can find time I knit while watching tv or riding the bus.