That title sounds really deep. What I am proposing to ask yourself is: In my professional career, why am I doing what I do and does my position serve a purpose to the public?
My initial project goal was to develop a map of craniofacial morphology that would be embedded in our project website (http://macromorphoscopic.com/). The primary audience was biological anthropologists who are interested in macromorphoscopic trait research. When presenting my project pitch, Dr. Watrall suggested that I reconsider my audience as it would only reach a small group of people. He suggested that I use the map as more of an educational tool.
As I readjusted my aims for the project to reach a wider audience, I began to realize how little we engage with the general public in biological anthropology. I think this a disservice to both our discipline and the public. In regards to my specific research area, biological anthropologists spend a lot of time grappling with large theoretical concepts centered on human variation and race theory; yet, we spend little time disseminating results of this research outside our own academic journals. The interdisciplinary foundation of anthropological studies makes us well-equipped and knowledgeable on these theoretical concerns. We borrow from other sciences, such as ecologists,biologists, geneticists, social scientists, and environmentalists, to understand patterns of human variation and the many interacting variables that influence the human physical form.
My project now aims to educate young adults (middle and high school students and college undergraduates) on human variation and race theory in attempts to contribute to the current conversation surrounding race concerns in the United States. The website will teach students that biological race does not exist; however, systematic phenotypic human variation, due to environmental forces and population histories shaping genetic population structures, fueled social race into existence. As a result, social race has also influenced our patterns of population phenotypic differences due to selective mating and sociopolitical forces. The website homepage will provide the theoretical background for these issues as they are perceived by biological anthropologists, while the remaining pages will focus on the causative forces behind variation (i.e. local environment and genetics). The final page will present the map of macromorphoscopic trait variation to view the spatial distribution of craniofacial variation. Students and teachers will be provided with links to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association where they can view climate across time and space and to the Human Genome Project where they can download and explore genetic data. I will also provide quizzes for students focusing on the website content and will prompt students with explanations for each answer.
In the future, I hope to increase public engagement with my research and carry this mentality throughout my career. If you are researching for your own interests or a small subset of people in your discipline, what is the impact of your research? I encourage all academics to consider who you are reaching with your research and who else could be benefiting from the knowledge you have gained.