25 November 2009

Searching for info on the postdoc experience

Now that I am heading into a postdoc I thought it might be wise to do some research on what I should expect.  Ha!  Like everything else I've done for grad school, it seems that I should have been working on this 2 years ago.  Never fear, the internet is here! 

There isn't a whole lot out there specifically relevant to social science postdocs - unless you are looking for one.  When I broadened my search, to postdocs and postdoc blogs (just trying to get a feel for others' experiences) I got a couple of hits from bloggers in biological and physical sciences.  Reading their stuff was rather depressing, and maybe I've been super-protected at UGA but the professors in the anthropology department here don't treat other people so poorly - colleagues, grad students, or the occasional postdoc.  I also did a search for women postdocs since I fit into that special category too.  Again, more depressing stuff.  I'm hoping that the nasty stuff I've read applies to the biological and physical sciences, and that social scientists have their shit together for the most part.  I get the sense that my new mentor and department do have their act together, but I may run make friends in other departments and it would be helpful to understand a bit where they might be coming from.  As my mom tells me, forewarned is forearmed.

A couple of the postdoc blogs from my search:

Dent Cartoons: NIH Post-doc Life


I also looked for books and came up with a couple of good reads.

Gray, Paul and David Drew.  2008.  What they didn't teach you in graduate school: 199 helpful hints for success in your academic career.  Stylus: Sterling, VA.
This book was not only funny, but useful in terms of looking at the entire academic career arc (not just the postdoc).

COSEPUP.  2000.  Enhancing the postdoctoral experience for scientists and engineers: a guide for postdoctoral scholars, advisers, institutions, funding organizations and disciplinary societies. National Academy of Sciences.  National Academies Press.
This entire text is available free on the National Academies Press website (linked above).  You do have to create an account, but it is free and gives you access to other free book pdfs.

Other articles and links:

The National Postdoctoral Association

Best Places to Postdoc in 2006 (most up-to-date stats I found)

The 3 Worst Places to be a Postdoc

Penn State also has their own Postdoctoral Office and Postdoc Society.

Given all the resources out there on the web (despite the under-representation by social scientists, or maybe I'm not looking where I should), it is interesting that most of the information is about finding a postdoc, rather than the day-to-day experience of a postdoc.  Perhaps this is a byproduct of the amount of work postdocs are expected to do - I hope it is the work and not something else.

If anyone finds this and wants to leave a message about their experience - particularly if you did a social science postdoc, I'd love to hear about it.

23 November 2009

So... what are you going to do next?

Abandoned boots in a southwestern Irish fog

Since I finished my defense, a lot of people have been asking me "So... what are you going to do next?" I'm not sure what they expect me to answer. Disneyland? More travel? Work? *GASP* Another PhD?

To be fair, no one who has completed a PhD has asked me this question. But I suppose it is a valid question.  It feels like I have just run an ultramarathon though, so give me a second to catch my breath please.  :)  

To tell the truth, I really just want to travel for fun. Take pictures and talk to folks because I'm having an adventure, not because I need data. Go for a really long walk. Meditate on the meaning of life. Chill out.

I actually do have some idea of at least the immediate future. After I graduate on 18 December (YAY!), I will be heading to France on the 21st for a two week stay with my good friend Anne.

Anne is an anthropologist who works in Paris. She was a postdoc in the Coweeta LTER lab (I have office space in the lab), but before that I toured her field site in southern France as part of a historical ecology field school. I will be going with her to Brittany (where her family lives) for Christmas and then we will be in Paris for New Year's. Other than hanging out with Anne, and maybe seeing the catacombs in Paris, I am leaving this trip up to the Adventure Fairy. Hopefully, I will have internet access at some point and can post pictures.

This trip is the culmination of a grand conspiracy by Anne and my other good friend John. John is an archaeologist who manages the Coweeta Lab in Baldwin and does all the tech stuff for Coweeta LTER. He might do other stuff, but I'm not sure. Anyway, he has connections with Delta and hooked me up with a cheap ticket to Paris. Both John and Anne are recent PhDs, and remembering their experience didn't want me to get into a funk. They also wanted to make sure I got a break before starting my new job (although they didn't know I would have a job when they started planning). John and Anne are two really amazing friends. THANKS!!!!

That's right. I have a postdoc fellowship starting in January at Penn State. I will be working in the Geography Department on a climate change project. Actually, the exact title is Climate Change Adaptation: Complex Challenges for Resilience under Climatic Uncertainties. Part of this project involves working with farmers, aid agencies, cooperative extension agents, universities in-country, etc. as a facilitator for iterative social learning so that folks can make their own decisions and come up with plans to adapt to climate change. It means that I will be going back to Africa as well - Ghana and Tanzania (possibly, I hope, Mozambique).

The position advertisement appeared on the EANTH listserve and then was sent to me directly by two of my committee members. I applied, kept working on my dissertation, and was contacted for an interview. My committee was contacted for reference letters. Dr. T interviewed me via Skype and 2 days later emailed me to offer the position.

Did I mention that the morning of the interview, my new postdoc adviser emailed me to ask for my CV? I was so nervous I forgot to include it in the original email application. I don't recommend this. I got incredibly lucky and must have had really good recommendation letters. Hard work and showing up does pay off in the end.

09 November 2009

Dr. With Revisions

One of my friends teasingly called me Dr. With Revisions the other day when I explained the behind closed door department. He was taking notes since it is his first year of grad school and giving me a "rough" time since I'm almost done and won't be around for teasing much in the future.

Despite the public and behind closed door defense, I still have quite a bit of work left on my dissertation. My committee requested that I rewrite my conclusions to better highlight the value of my research. And I have to basically rewrite my 3rd chapter on cultural adaptations to the savanna-forest environment in the southern Mozambique region.

My major adviser sent me his full comments last night and I am meeting with another committee member in about an hour. The chapter isn't completely unsalvageable but it will be ugly. I suspect further data analysis too. I have less than a month as my final version of the whole shebang is due to the UGA Graduate School on 7 December.

I have a ton of writing and editing to accomplish this week. Rewriting chapter 3 and getting a mock-up final copy to the grad school for the initial format check. It has to look pretty much done for the format check or you DO NOT GRADUATE. Seriously, at this point my graduation could be hampered by people with rulers checking my margins. You would think it would be easy with a word processing program, but then there are 2 set of required page numbering systems (i-iii in the front matter, 1-200 in the back), smashing together multiple pdfs, etc. One last bullshit hoop.

As I was writing my dissertation, I used to fantasize that the dissertation fairy would wave her magic wand and the entire draft would appear on my flash drive. I wish there was a writing fairy - I guess that's me. My wand sucks - keyboards just aren't as flashy as a ncanhu wand with a lightning bird feather inside.

06 November 2009

Great Ideas: Fridays in an African Classroom

I read other blogs to get ideas. One of my favorite Science Fiction blogs, Topless Robot, likes to post really bad fanfic on Fridays (be wary, this stuff will make you really worry about the future of humanity). Now, I'm not going to do that here. However, the idea of regularly posting on the same theme one day a week I thought was a great idea. Since I am an anthropologist who works in Africa I thought perhaps maybe posts about Africa, Africans, and African culture - materials that could be used in the classroom - might be a good theme for Friday blog posts. And as a secondary factor, it helps me save material in one spot that I might use in the future to teach about Africa, Africans, and African culture (which is not some monolithic country BTW, there are some people that think this sadly).

Today I start with one of my favorite videos - Binta y la Gran Idea (Binta and the Great Idea). I used it spring term 2009 in my Introductory Anthropology class as it speaks to rural life in contemporary Senegal. Themes of gender roles, education, modernization, sustainability, love, kin, and what it means to be human are explored through the eyes of a little girl named Binta. The great idea, referred to in the title, comes from her father.

The 31 minute long movie is dubbed, as the actors speak French and Diola. Spanish director Javier Fesser shot this movie in cooperation with UNICEF and the Senegalese in 2004. The film is boxed with 12 other short films and 100% of the profits from the sales go to UNICEF in perpetuity. I have linked to the video and trailer below - both with English and Spanish subtitles. More information about the film and the numerous awards it has won are on the Short Film Central database.

Two stories interweave in Binta's narrative. The first story is that of her cousin Soda. Soda desperately wants to attend school, but her father believes girls don't need an education. Binta and her classmates produce a play for the entire community that shows the benefits of education for both boys and girls. I don't want to give away what happens, but this story does end happily.

The second story follows Binta's father, a fisherman. The movie opens with him talking to a friend about European fishing and efficiency. Binta's father is alarmed at the loss of community and their unsustainable resource use practices. He develops an idea that takes him from the local district government all the way to the governor's office. Again, I don't want to give away the ending, however, it is a surprising twist on the normal cultural exchange between industrialized and non-industrialized cultures. Let's just say that Binta's father proposes a wonderful way to school children from industrialized countries so that they can grow up to be good people. :) My intro anthropology students loved it.

Here is a link to the wiki on Binta y la Gran Idea if you want to know the ending.

English Subtitles:

Spanish Subtitles:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Trailer (Spanish subtitles only):

05 November 2009

A Scholarly Rite of Passage

It has been a long time since I've posted regularly to my blog (barring today's earlier post). I have been writing, analyzing, scrutinizing, and banging my head against the keyboard in general. But now it is done.

Writing, the last stage of the doctoral journey, is probably the loneliest part. At least while I was doing field research I was surrounded by people and outdoors. Writing up my results put me indoors day after day after day, tied to a computer screen. Ugh! Actually double ugh, since writing about Mozambique made me long to be there AND I have an awful time sitting still for extended periods.

The short of it, is that on Monday at 12:30ish, my committee congratulated me on becoming a doctor in the philosophy of anthropology. But there is a bit of back story, there is always a story.

I gave the public part of my defense on Thursday, 29 October. At 9am that morning I received an email from a committee member letting me know he was really ill and asking to see if we could set up a speaker phone. UGA has rules, of course, about attendance of committee members at doctoral defenses. They've been a little relaxed this Fall term because of swine flu. We did get the speaker phone set up but there was an hour or so of panic.

My friends from the department showed up - a lot of them - as well as a number of professors that aren't even on my committee. I was soooo nervous to present. Not hyperventilating nervous, but I swallowed a jar of butterflies and crawly beetles nervous. It is way easier to present someone else's work (teaching class) or to a group of strangers or teens.

The presentation went off without a hitch. I calmed down as the presentation wore on. People asked interesting questions at the end. I got to talk about rain ceremonies, fire, historic ethnography, etc. One of the professors, a good friend, suggested that elephants be enlisted to put out wildfires since the folks in Madjadjane and Gala lack a fire department. He got to laughing and it was really difficult for me to keep a straight face as I answered other questions.

My committee and the listening public

Then it was over. The committee members in physical attendance seemed happy. But I still had the dreaded "closed door" defense. This was postponed until Monday, 2 November. UGA had a furlough day on Friday, so yes, I had to wait an entire weekend to know the final outcome. To be fair, the folks in my department and my major adviser are not the type of people who would let me defend without a good chance that I would pass. But there is always that off chance.

On Monday, my entire committee promptly began the final interrogation at 11am. I was asked to leave briefly at the beginning so that they could discuss procedures with the newest faculty member (this was his first defense as a faculty member). Then I was brought in for the grilling. It wasn't bad. Basically we discussed my dissertation - the theoretical bits and some other loose nuts and bolts that needed tightening. Everyone was really helpful. However, I was so anxious that my mind went completely blank. I recognized they were speaking English and I understood each word individually, but I could not comprehend what they were asking. It was like when I meet someone I know and I don't remember their name. My mind is dark and foggy. Same in this instance but worse. I must have said something acceptable.

At the end, they asked me to leave for about 15 minutes. When I entered, they congratulated me and then we discussed in detail the revisions I need to make before the final submission of my dissertation to the graduate school.

I'm still stunned and kind of out of it. I'm not really sure what to do next. I mean I am applying for jobs and postdocs, but in the great grand scheme of things... now what?

More adventures.

Making the Rounds

So this song is making the rounds amongst anthropologists and their blogs. I've tried to avoid it, mainly because it just seemed so silly in concept. But really, it's pretty cool at explaining what I and other anthropologists do.

I give you The Anthropology Song by Dai Cooper. Bravo!

20 October 2009

Another View of How We're All Connected

After a long hiatus (more later), I'm going to give this another try. A blogging friend of mine - in Australia - sent me a note to see if I was still alive, and would I be blogging again. I'll have to ease back into this. :)

I'm just going to post 2 videos today that talk about what it means to be human and how we're connected to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

The first is a video that was posted to Pharyngula today - it is a science blog with an evolutionary focus.

The second video is one I like to show introductory anthropology students at the end of the term. I think humans as a species have a lot of hubris when it comes to our place in the Universe. Sure, we do some pretty amazing things, but in the great, grand scheme of things, we're pretty small and new. Dr. Carl Sagan's essay, The Pale Blue Dot, goes a long way to putting it all into perspective.

02 March 2009

Georgia is closed today

It started snowing yesterday around noon. The snow fell in big, lacy flakes. As the afternoon wore on we accumulated about 4 inches of wet snow.

About 3pm the gunshots started. Not real guns, but the sound of pine branches breaking off sounds like a gunshot. My neighbors and I skidded around the parking lot as we moved our cars to spaces that were not located under trees. It was rather funny seeing Chinese, Indian, Korean, and American folks shouting and directing each other to new parking spaces. We were all laughing and shaking our heads in amazement at the unusual snowfall.

Grad students making a snowman

My electricity went out around 4pm and didn't come back on until 3am.

This morning the sun is shining on accumulated snow that has frozen solid in the cold temperatures (about 29F at 9am). We're supposed to warm up this afternoon to about 45F.

The University of Georgia is closed for the day, as are many other regional schools and businesses. YAY!!!! Snow day!!! It does feel odd not having school for weather that where I grew up we'd likely be wearing shorts and laughing at all the southern drivers that can't hack driving on sanded roads. I am not going to complain about the snow day however. It is a nice break.

Snow on Dogwoods

23 February 2009


I signed up for a small plot with UGA family and graduate housing this morning. The area for gardening is approximately 10' X 10'. Not huge, but I can grow some peas and spinach and maybe something else. My work with the farmers in Mozambique inspired me, but I haven't had the chance until now to put my enthusiasm into practice.

I was never the gardener with enthusiasm that Chris was but I do like to garden. My parents kept a large garden to supply the table when I was a kid. My job was to help with weed control which I hated. Probably why I'm not so keen on gardening as others might be. As an ethnobotanist, I now realize that many of the weeds I was pulling were actually edible. Someday, maybe I'll garden just weeds.

UGA groundskeeping is holding a gardeners meeting on Wednesday evening to talk about how we can garden under drought. They're installing rain barrels, but of course there are other possibilities. I'm thinking dirty dishwater and the water run at the beginning of a shower are perfectly acceptable for watering my garden.

13 January 2009

The need for longer days

So it is now 13 January and I haven't done anything with my dissertation in two weeks. Do I feel guilty? Absolutely and I can only foresee things getting more difficult. My Mew Year's resolution was to work more efficiently so that I could accomplish what I needed to. I'm am getting more work done, but now I have more work.

In addition to my dissertation write up and teaching introductory anthropology, I'm putting together a photo exhibition for May. My friends Natalina and Ventris, professors at Santa Monica College in California, wrote a grant for a symposium on global citizenship at their university. I met Natalina and Ventris in Mozambique where Natalina and I were both Fulbrighters. The symposium is a series of events over the course of a week that will "focus the college's attention to the multitude of perspectives pertaining to food security, environmental changes (both climate and markets) and HIV/AIDS in Mozambique." There will be panel discussions, ethnic dance performances, the photo essay exhibition, and a food crisis banquet organized by OxFam International.

Natalina and I are both contributing to the photography exhibition - our photos and the photos our informants took of their lives. 500 pictures. 500. Most of them will be coming from my end. Epa! That is way lots of work choosing the topics and the photos to fit these topics, then writing up a blurb. I plan to do some photo groupings to reduce some of the blurbs. :)

The exhibit is titled, From the Bush to the Market: Buffering Food Security and Environmental Changes. When it is finished we hope to have it exhibited elsewhere and perhaps post at least some of the exhibition online. At any rate, I need more time in the day to get everything done.

11 January 2009

What anthropologists do...

An anthropologist, an archaeologist, and a paleontologist walk into a cave.

The archaeologist pulls a roll of string out of her left pocket and a handful of little stakes out of her right. She begins marking off identically-sized square sections across the floor of the cave. The paleontologist rushes to a corner of the cave yet unmarked by the archaeologist, and starts unpacking his jackhammer, saying "You fool! You won't find anything of any value that close to the surface."

The anthropologist is staring at the mouth of the cave. Eventually, the archaeologist stops laying string and asks the anthropologist "Well, are you just going to stand there all day, or are you going to do anything?"

"Oh, I'm already working," replied the anthropologist. "I'm trying to figure out what is motivating our hosts to fill up the cave entrance with rocks."

My friend Sabine sent me this joke in response to a discussion about the difference between anthropology, archaeology, and paleontology. Thanks!

10 January 2009

Extraordinary Lives

31 March 1979

An online friend recently posted a link about a man who took a picture of himself or some part of his life everyday for 18 years. The photos begin March 31, 1979 and end on October 25, 1997 - a total of 6,697 polaroids dated in sequence.

Jamie Livingston's Life

In the series, we see a man at picnics and parties, work and Met's games. He goes through chemotherapy, gets married, hangs out with friends, lives, loves and, yes, eventually that cancer comes back and he dies. He also chronicles how New York City changed.
19 July 1981

28 August 1990

I haven't had a chance to look through all the photos, but I think it is a wonderful commentary on being a human. His friends Hugh Crawford and Betsy Reid put together a public photography exhibit and website (which I linked to above). The exhibition was held at Bard College where Livingston was a student and started his photo project originally. I really encourage anyone reading this to check out the online exhibit.
9 October 1996

8 October 1997

We always wonder what our legacy will be and this gentleman made his own. Or as another community member wrote, "That is indeed a cool thing and it is a constant reminder that each of us, famous or not famous, normal or not normal, do live extraordinary lives."
22 October 1997

09 January 2009

First Day of Class

I taught my own section of Introduction to Anthropology this afternoon. Sixty students were registered, but only 42 showed up. I'm hoping that the class stays fairly small.

I forgot how nerve-wracking getting up in front of a group of folks can be - and we only discussed the syllabus and class expectations. I felt like I was talking a million miles per hour, but my TA Elaina said my pace was just fine. I feel like pulling all my hair out but that's just the adrenaline talking. I finished the class slightly out of breath. I guess it could be worse. When I first started teaching, I used to vomit in the bathroom just before class.

This weekend will be fairly busy preparing the three lectures I will give next week and prepping the activities I want students to complete over the course of the term. I really want to help my students learn cool new things. I'm pretty excited. I hope that 10 years from now, if I have a job I still be as excited about teaching.

I am simultaneously running an anthropology discussion forum with my online community. Most of the folks in my community have been out of university for a while and are at the point when they enjoy learning for the sake of learning. I post the same materials I am using in my University of Georgia class to the forum - readings, web links, etc. - as well as the lecture power points and audio. The non-student students have the opportunity to learn and participate in a weekly discussion with no pressure. I get feed-back on my teaching, the materials students access, and what topics people are really interested in. Elaina thinks it is a cool idea for extra feedback, but that I am completely nuts to do it.

I am more nervous about the community forum than my IRL students. Community members are very outspoken and opinionated. There is so much potential for problems when one is discussing issues like race, human evolution, religion, politics, immigration, etc. My online community is member moderated so the possibility for butthurt is exponential.

03 January 2009

Taxes on Fellowships and Grants

It's that time of year again when I've started thinking about taxes. I try to get them done early, because I really don't want to spend the day before my birthday panicking. I guess it could be worse. I could have been born on 15 April.

This year I don't have much to report, although I'm not sure how this all works being divorced. I'm filing singly - particularly since I've been supporting myself on a Fulbright and TA position since January 2007. The NSF only covered research related expenses like equipment, field assistance, and a truck rental.

From everything I can tell, so far, my dissertation NSF - because it went towards paying for research-education expenses - doesn't get taxed. I am more than a little paranoid about NSF money due to a run in I had with the IRS back in the 1990s over a NSF REU (research experience for undergraduates) grant. I worked at an oceanography lab that paid me the money directly without taking out anything for the state and federal governments. I didn't realize that I had to do this myself. A couple of years later the IRS caught up with me for not handing over the government's share of $3000 per summer for 2 summers. My mom and I went to a tax accountant and I ended up paying a little, but not the $1000 per summer they wanted. Being audited is no fun.

I have paid taxes on my student Fulbright. It is a fellowship, not a grant. The thing that pissed me off the most about the Fulbright is that you as the recipient must withhold the money to pay the government. The US Dept. of State doesn't do this for Fulbright recipients. It doesn't make any sense as they do withhold for other Dept. of State employees. How much harder would it be to do so for fellowship recipients? I ended up setting aside 25% of the fellowship monies as back-up just in case although I didn't pay them all 25%.

The IRS does have information posted on their website about taxing grants and fellowships. I've posted some links below that my friend James sent me last year while I was in the field.

1) Grants to individuals

This page seems to indicate that the NSF grant was 1) awarded "on an objective and nondiscriminatory basis" and 2c) "is to achieve a specific objective, produce a report or similar product, or improve or enhance a literary, artistic, musical, scientific, teaching, or similar capacity, skill, or talent of the grantee." Therefore, no taxes are owed on a DDIG (doctoral dissertation improvement grant).

2) Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions

This page gives a general breakdown on education fellowships and scholarships. The gist is these sources can be taxed depending on how you use the money. Room, board and travel are taxable while tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment are not.