Things People Ask Me! Summer Edition

I didn’t intend to do another one of these until fall, but to my surprise and delight, it sparked a few emails filled with more questions, so I decided to go for round 2!

  1. Why are you so obsessed with skulls?!
    This one made me laugh! Am I obsessed? There are two parts that I should address with this question.

    First, as a little human I was very curious about death- process, emblems, reasons. My mom never wanted me to fear death, but to understand it as part of a life cycle. I noticed that skulls were often part of the symbolic communication of death. But I also saw the symbol as strong and powerful. Dangerous. On some level I guess I’ve always wanted to be those things. On the other hand, I love pirates and they always have skulls.

    Second, my thesis research was about the intersections of early comparative anatomy, pseudoscience and the development of U.S. laws and policy. I focused on the skull. So, I spent a year or two reading and sifting through books, articles, etc., dealing with the skull, craniometry, development of race, etc. I spent more time with skulls than anything. A person gets real intimate with its pieces and parts. There’s a really wonderful conversation that is represented on a skull. When doing my thesis, I paid close attention to how that conversation was used and understood in culture, politics, and identity.

    The skull is dope! Big ups to the rest of the skeleton, though!

  2. How do I start a blog? 

    Just start one. Your blog will evolve and change as you do. However just remember once you publish it, it’s out in the world. You may be called upon to defend, examine, or explain your ideas. This can be a really good thing! It’s a chance to test your knowledge, be reflexive or strengthen your resolve.

    1. Identify your audience and why you want a blog. This will help structure your content.
    2. There are lots of online sources for the best sites and platforms to use to share your ideas. Google and use them.
    3. Check out the series from The Geek Anthropologist called ‘Anthropology Blogging 101’.
    4. Don’t try to do everything all at once. It can be tempting to have to have your blog look a certain way or have a certain number of posts, etc., before you publish it. Again, this will all change as you grow and learn more. Give yourself some basic parameters (maximum word count, subject matter) and go for it!
    5. Be consistent.
    6. Once it’s up, give me the URL so I can read it!

3. What music are you listening to?

I have always a rock ‘n’ roll girl. I remember when I was studying guitar, people would say things like “Do you wanna be like India Arie?” And I would answer “No! Jimi Hendrix!”

I wanted to shred! I don’t play much anymore, but I keep a guitar out in case inspiration hits. I do love India Arie though.

I listen to just about everything, even a little country. I just recently got into Beyoncé, so she’s been on repeat for the past few weeks. My favorite band, Garbage, just came out with an amazing new album. I have quite a bit of hip hop in my collection. I grew up listening to lots of opera and classical music. I love Das Rheingold, Aida, and Le Nozzi Di Figaro.

Sometimes I like music that just doesn’t care or take itself too seriously. I like music that tells a story. Sometimes the story is I wanna dance, so all I want is a beat.

4. How do you keep up with your schedule?

I don’t! LOL. There’s always something to do. Unfortunately, I ashamed to say that I drop the ball when it comes to my health and taking care of me. I feel like this is true of lots of grad students, in general. We hit the books instead of hitting the gym, don’t get enough rest, and the stress can be terrible!

Keeping my schedule (prior to summer) wasn’t bad, just packed. I alway had to BE somewhere. I had campus days twice a week: work 8-4p, campus 5-9p, home by 10p, 30 minutes to lay on the bed and severely criticize myself, then study or write until 2AM, up at 5 to read and schedule news posts for the blog and social media platforms, 7AM off to work and repeat.

Other days that I didn’t need to be on campus, I still had to study, write, work, pay bills, attend events, and plan ahead. I have pets, friends, family, etc. and we just do what we need to do. But there are consequences to over-scheduling.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I am really making an effort to reclaim my health and practice self-care deliberately. I have a really bad back. Unfortunately, I am still recovering from a relapse I suffered last year. It was really bad.

Anyone that deals with chronic conditions knows how much of an energy zapper pain and its management can be. For some people, a couple of hours a day to stretch, exercise, read a book, craft, dance, etc. seems like a luxury. I’m gonna go ahead and suggest that you try to make those things as necessary as water. And drink lots of that, too.

Find a way to make some things overlap. For example, I try to attend fun events that I can also write about for my blog and column. Find creative ways to journal and make lists- doodle, color, paint. I am also learning that the word ‘No’ is a complete sentence. Not the beginning of a negotiation. Get mentors. Develop good habits. I’m trying to do all of this.

Double Duty: My notebook helps me stay organized and doodling helps me relax

5. Who designed your logo and site, where do you get your cards from, and who puts together your mobile lab presentations?

Me! I designed my logos and brand. I manage and keep up the site, develop the social media strategies, marketing, etc. I work with Moo for my print needs and local printers for other merchandise and printouts that I use for the lab.  I try and use existing resources. You can find lots of free coloring sheets, charts, teaching aids on the internet. Sometimes I make that stuff myself. Eventually, I hope to put it on the blog for others.

I learned graphic design while in undergrad and would occasionally freelance for extra money. At the New School, I was taught how to use ethnography to create and design for communities. The methods help me so much. I have to thank one of my professors, Karl Mendonca, so much for really helping to push me to acquire those skills and to reimagine online and offline spaces, and communication. He taught me to design for impact.

I know you didn’t ask, but I think science and social science websites and designs are always the worst! I actually compare things that I work on to design I dislike to see if I’m replicating useless aesthetics or communicating poorly. I have sometimes joked about creating a company to specifically help scientists develop better visuals for improved public engagement and communication. (Like, if I see one more overstuffed powerpoint presentation or ugly clipart on a business card I’m going to scream!)

But design doesn’t end with visuals. Last year, I had to present some research at a school symposium that was open to the public. I had never done that before and was so nervous! However, I was coached by my sister who is an actress. She told me it was important to know my audience and to address them fully, inclusively.

As I listened to others give their presentations, some were so specialized and full of jargon that they were essentially talking only to the judges. I began to worry because I was concerned that I did my presentation all wrong!

One of the things my sister said was, “You’ve done the research. Now tell the story.”

With her words in mind, I redesigned my Keynote presentation, making it simpler, but still with the purpose of punctuating my points. I chose a few impactful images rather than a ton of bullet points per slide and a few images scattered on each slide. I even studied presentation design.

My sister helped me to realize that I could maintain integrity of my research, while telling the story. Everything- the visual and the content- needed to be designed to lend itself to that moment. To me, design isn’t just about making pretty pictures, but communicating in a very rich and clear way. This takes practice  (which I need more of).

Anyway, I didn’t win any awards that day, but total strangers, parents, and students, came up and hugged me, and wanted to know how they could stay in touch and support me. Then when I handed them my card, they studied it for a moment and said, “This is so cool. I really wanna learn more.”

I wasn’t trying to be cool. I was trying to be accessible. So, yeah, I may not have won the gift card, but I think I won the room.

Here we were with this awesome opportunity to convey the importance of our research beyond our department (who would get a write up anyway). So many students missed it because this is not really what a lot of us are taught how to do.

Now, when I do the mobile lab, I create the presentation in consideration of my audience. The scientific content is the foundation, and I develop a story or a case that allows the group I’m working with to connect the practical application of scientific methods to the story. That’s what they engage with. I don’t always know if I’m doing it right, but I learn from each opportunity, tweak as necessary.

For me, a win happens once I leave the room. When a teacher comes up to me and tells me that a lab I taught resulted in an additional field trip, or when a person hugs me because I’m doing research that relates to their experience and have presented it in a way that they understand and connect with, I’m totally winning.

Side note: I also think that my sister should consider doing a workshop for grad students who are scientists and social scientists.

Erikaand me
My sister and I not doing science

Thanks again for your questions! I really appreciate all of you who support my efforts, share my posts, and reach out to me. You encourage me to grow, learn, explore, and share. I hope the feeling is mutual!

0 Comment

  • Myeashea such a good article. Thorough, fun, and chock full of good information. I learned a lot. I love the pics, that was a good day! You’re a really good writer, and teacher. Shredder? Heck, I’m sure a time or two I saw a puff of smoke. Rock on! Xo. e. Your sister.

    • Hahahaha! Thanks so much!! It makes me really happy that you’ve read my blog. I SUPER appreciate it!

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