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More than Just Bullwhips and Fedoras: The Diverse World of Specialisms in Archaeology

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It may surprise you, but one of the first questions I get asked as an archaeologist is still, “So is it as exciting as Indiana Jones?” 

 

(The second question is usually, “so what kind of dinosaurs have you found?”)

 

Popular culture would have you believe that all archaeologists are adventure-seeking, tomb-raiding, fedora-wearing, bullwhip-wielding world travellers that spend most of their time knee deep in sandy Egyptian pyramids. In reality, most archaeologists can be found trowelling in a field, mixing chemicals in a lab, or in my case, half asleep over a pile of sheep bones at 10pm. 

 

Within archaeology are many different types of subfields or specialisms – archaeologists may choose to specialise by region (British archaeology, North American archaeology), time period (prehistoric archaeology, classical archaeology), or by specific disciplines. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on the latter. 

 

Most archaeologists will probably identify their speciality by discipline. For example, I’m a zooarchaeologist – this means I specifically work with animal remains in the archaeological record. Osteoarchaeologists, on the other hand, focus on human remains. Additionally, paleoentomologists study insects and arthropods in archaeology. 

 

Paleoentomology and zooarchaeology may also be considered part of environmental archaeology, which focuses on analysis and sometimes recreation of past environments. Other specialisms in this broader discipline include landscape archaeology (study of past landscapes and how they were utilized) and archaeobotany (study of archaeological plants).  

 

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Some specialisms are based on the way archaeology is used for analysis and interpretation – for example, experimental archaeologists may attempt to recreate methods of tool production (such as flint knapping) to better understand how it was used in the past. Marine archaeologists often utilize scuba diving to excavate sites that are now underwater due to the changes in modern coastlines.

 

More recently, advances in archaeological sciences have led to the specialisation in specific methodologies – this includes lab techniques such as radio carbon dating (used for dating organic material) and stable isotope analysis (uses isotopes from elements like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen to investigate things like diet).

 

As long as technology and theory continue to evolve over time, so too will more subfields be developed into their own disciplines of research. A recent example of this is “archaeogaming” – archaeologists in this field use archaeological frameworks and theories to examine the virtual worlds of video games. We have certainly moved a long way from Indiana Jones…who knows what kind of research will be developed next? After all, archaeology only needs a past record to thrive – and the world doesn’t seem to be running out of that

 

This article only covers a very small portion of the many subfields in archaeology. For further information, Current Archaeology has a section dedicated to specialisms in archaeology here.

 

 
 
 
 

About the Author:

Alex Fitzpatrick is a zooarchaeologist and PhD student at the University of Bradford in England. You can view her website here, and her twitter here!


Academics Across the Ocean – Advice for the International Student

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Study abroad programs are often advertised by universities as “life-changing” opportunities to experience new cultures and new places…and only for the low cost of a couple thousand dollars! And while some students may see these programs as an easy holiday from home for a semester, there are some benefits to traveling elsewhere for your studies. This is especially true for those looking into applying internationally for postgraduate studies – and I would know, as an American PhD student currently “across the pond” in England.

 

Prior to my move across the Atlantic, I had lived my whole life in New York and attended Hunter College for my undergraduate degree in classical archaeology and anthropology. After participating in a study abroad program in the UK alongside staff and students from the University of Bradford, I realized that I was much more interested in the technical and scientific aspects of archaeology, which are arguably more emphasized in British archaeological education.

 

The decision to study abroad for my MSc wasn’t an easy one – I knew I would have to start relying heavily on student loans and would be far away from my friends and family for a long time. But I strongly felt that studying abroad would allow for better opportunities and provide training that would look more attractive to future employers.

 

 
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And while I don’t regret my decision, I will admit that it was a hard and stressful first year! I ran into visa troubles, I got severely homesick, and my MSc program was intense. It was definitely hard work, but I also never felt more confident in my abilities as an academic and scientist. It opened a lot of doors, as well – currently, I’m halfway through my PhD in archaeology and have been able to work with some of the greatest archaeologists and researchers in my field. Even almost three years into living abroad, I still run into issues from time to time regarding my status as an international student, but I think it has so far been worth it.

 

So, with a few years of living as an international student under my belt, what kind of advice can I give others thinking about making a big move for their research?

 

  • Get organized – I am one of the least organized people on this planet, so the visa process was a nightmare. Getting your documents organized is by far the best advice I can give to anyone thinking about applying for an international program! Nowadays I have folders dedicated to any paperwork I need: passports, application receipts, letters of acceptance, etc. This is especially useful for anyone thinking about doing multiple degrees abroad or looking for work abroad afterwards – keep your documents close and in order, and applying for new visas will become a breeze!

 

  • Get in touch – Being in contact with current international students at the program I was about to join as well as staff in the international student department of my university made a lot of the visa and moving process easier. Don’t be afraid to reach out while you’re still considering a program – department heads can get you in touch with current students and relevant staff to answer any questions you may have. Also be sure to check if there’s any scholarships available to international students – funding can be tricky when you’re not a citizen of the country you’re studying in, so take advantage of any funding saved specifically for international students.

 

  • Get donating – “Live lightly”, I think, is the motto for most international students. When you first move, it will be tempting to bring everything from home, but you might end up paying extra for two checked-in suitcases (something I unfortunately had to deal with when I first moved!).  Bring along clothes, any essentials, and some mementos and pick up everything else when you get to your new home. It’ll make travel a lot easier…and you can feel good if you end up donating a lot of your unneeded things! This also works in reverse as well – if you end up moving back after your study abroad program, most universities have donation programs that allow international students to leave furniture and appliances for future students.

 

  • Get friendly – Moving to a new place is scary, especially if you don’t have any friends or family there. Be open to joining societies or extracurricular activities to meet new people – most universities will even have special events specifically for their international students, so you’ll be able to find people in the same situation as you!

     
  • Get excited – Studying abroad can be full of fear, anxiety, and panic – but it may also be incredibly rewarding! Even now, I still sometimes wake up in awe that I’m living in England. Enjoy your time, take advantage of any university-sponsored excursions, and soak in your new home while you can.
 
 

About the Author:

Alex Fitzpatrick is a zooarchaeologist and PhD student at the University of Bradford in England. You can view her website here, and her twitter here!

Nafisa Jadavji, PHD: Her Career and A Few Lessons Learned

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I am a neuroscientist by training; I started working in a university lab letting during the first year of my undergraduate degree in 2002. This year, 2018, I am starting my 6th year of postdoctoral training.

 

Part of my postdoc training was completed in Berlin, Germany at the Charité Medical University. It was a dream of mine to live in Europe and I enjoyed it a lot. During my time in Germany, I travelled to many other countries and experienced different cultures. I also formed a number of fruitful scientific collaborations. In 2015, I returned home to Canada and continued my scientific training.

 

My research program focuses on nutritional neuroscience, with a specific focus on folic acid, a B-vitamin, and neurodegeneration. I work in a mouse model. I study vascular cognitive impairment and stroke, as well as Parkinson’s disease. Some of my research tools include behavioral testing, in vivo imaging, using MRI, primary cell cultures and biochemistry assays, such as Western Blot.

 

When I completed my PhD in 2012, I was very eager to get going on my postdoctoral research and move into an independent position, at the time I did not realize the importance of postdoctoral training. When I defended my doctoral thesis in late 2012, I felt that I was on top of the world and that I could do anything, like run my own lab.

 

Little did I know that was not the case, there is a significant amount of training required when moving from doctoral work to leading a research group.

 

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While I was completing my first postdoc at the Charité Medical University in Berlin, I had the opportunity to mentor and supervise a 4 MSc. students, develop a course for graduate students, writing grants, and drive my own research project.

 

At first, I felt daunted by all these tasks, but it was also very exciting and made me work harder. The experience I had was priceless; I learned a lot that I would not have if I had not taken on these additional responsibilities. My time at the Charité helped me transition from a student to supervisor and mentor. This was further extended when I moved back to Canada and into my second postdoc position at Carleton University.

 

I have been driving my research program since beginning my postdoc in 2013. So far in my training I have mentored and supervised over 33 trainees, including high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. I have published 16 peer reviewed articles since beginning my postdoc training in 2013. These experiences have helped me learn techniques, strategies, and important lessons I think I need to know in order to lead a team of researchers in the future.

 

I have not taken the traditional road to postdoctoral training. This means that I did not go into someone’s laboratory and do experiments to help move their research program forward.

 

What I did do was obtain my own funding and drive my own research project. In my last two years of PhD training I did a lot of research to find potential labs and wrote a number of fellowship applications to fund my postdoctoral training. I knew exactly what I wanted to do in terms of research area and so I ran with it. I was successful in obtaining funding for five years from the provincial and federal Canadian government. Along the way I also got some small pots of money to help with meeting travel. I was successful in obtaining operating grant money twice which was a great to help with the costs of running experiments.

 

I have faced a lot of road blocks and rejection along the way, and I still do.  But persistence and a strong will has helped me stay on path for a career in STEM.

 

I think I have learned a number of important lessons from my scientific training and the two top things I try and pass on are; one take a break from time to time, don’t burn yourself out. Take some time away from work and come back refreshed, you will work better.

Two, rejection is important. You can’t be good at everything. Failing is important, you learn how to pick yourself up and get going again, these lessons have been priceless.

 

Pursuing my own research program has also been a lonely path; I have been surrounded by people in the lab but there are not very many people in my current surroundings that are experts in my field. Although a challenge, I have embraced it and made a number of collaborations with others in and outside of the field. I have also expanded my research by working with others different areas, it has been a good challenge to embrace.

 

I think that postdoctoral training is very important for scientists in STEM. It is a difficult time because the future is not certain, job security is scarce. But when done correctly it can give an individual the experience and confidence that they require to run their own laboratory or to go down their own path.

 

If you love what you do, go for it!

 
 

About the Author:

Dr. Nafisa M. Jadavji is a postdoctoral fellow and instructor at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa in Ottawa in Canada. You can find her website here, and her twitter here!

#STEMSaturdays: Meet Melissa C Márquez and the Fins United Initiative

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If you had told me I would have eventually become a science communicator, I would’ve been absolutely shocked. It’s not because I lack the skills, but rather, it’s just not a role I ever saw myself in.

 

The Fins United Initiative (TFUI) has humble beginnings: it all started with a book. I was an undergraduate marine biology student who wanted to do more around her community of Sarasota, Florida. Going through my marine laboratory’s library, I noticed there was no book about the sharks, skates, and rays of Sarasota Bay. I reached out to my then-adviser to see if I could create such a book and she gave me her blessings. I spent weeks researching, drawing, formatting and finally was able to self publish the guide that now proudly sits in New College of Florida’s library.

 

I wasn’t satisfied, though. Realizing how little the community knew about these predators in their own backyard, and that many never visit Mote Marine Laboratory (a favorite aquarium of mine to this day), I decided to take matters in my own hands, and reached out to an advisor and told her my plan to visit science classes during their environmental science sections, and discuss the roles sharks play in the ocean. She was a marine educator herself, and helped me network with local teachers. Intrigued, they booked me in, and I was soon putting together a PowerPoint that I would hope be enjoyed by all.

 

I was new to this and, to put it bluntly, I had no idea what I was doing and had five different classes in my first week. The first class I invited a scientist to talk via Skype to the class during some of my presentation time, but the students weren’t as engaged; I opted for props, personal stories, and interactive engagement instead. I coined the name “Sarasota Fins” for the little program, and made a website to direct teachers to. I added a blog and started showcasing different sharks around Sarasota and worldwide. During my college breaks I would return to Orlando, and my old teachers were keen on having me come present. Those teachers passed me on to their friends out-of-state and before I was six months into this endeavor I was doing Skype calls into classrooms!

 
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Sarasota Fins grew, and when I moved to New Zealand for my MSc, I rebranded to the more globally minded The Fins United Initiative which focused on more diverse Chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras).

 

My science career is now no longer just academic; I collaborate and meet with policy makers, non-profit organizations, and other educational outreach programs. This little niche I’ve created for myself isn’t new (there are other shark education and conservation programs I share a platform with), but TFUI is unique in that it’s mostly run by young adults and recent college graduates—many of whom are female!

 

This is a long-winded way to say “Hello!” My name is Melissa C. Marquez, founder of TFUI, and I’m happy to be joining the FemSTEM team and helping young women climb the leadership ladder. By collaborating with FemSTEM, I hope this “STEM Saturdays” series will assist in preparing young women for the STEM workforce by sharing what has and has not worked for me and several women colleagues. This series aims to be interactive, by asking what <i>you</i> want help with, too!

 

I’m excited to embark on this journey!

 
 

About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here