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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - Anthropology

Krista Church - Physical Anthropology - Reconstruction of Hominin Environments
Emiliana Cruz – Linguistic Anthropology, Descriptive Linguistics and Indigenous Communities
Courtney Morris – Social Anthropology, African Diaspora Program
Jodi Skipper –Archaeology, African Diaspora Archaeology

Krista Church

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Graduate Program: M.A. & Ph.D., Physical Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction of Hominin Environments in Plio-Pleistocene Africa

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Anthropology & B.S., Geography, University of Florida – Gainesville, FL

What is life like for an anthropology graduate student?
Austin is a wonderful city, but don’t expect to live the high life as a graduate student. Being a graduate student is not very glamorous, but it’s not quite an ascetic lifestyle either. We work very hard throughout most of the week, but still manage to schedule happy hours. I’ve made it downtown for concerts and revelry with my cohort every so often, but there have also been extreme bouts of studying and paper writing interspersed throughout the semester. Hence why time management is very important in grad school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Typically, I either walk or bike to campus from my apartment and arrive at my office by 9. My mornings usually consist of reading assigned articles for courses, as well as perusing outside articles from the main journals to keep current with the discipline. It’s very important for me to have a work-free lunchtime, so I usually try to get away from my desk for a half hour or so. Sometimes a group of grad students will wander over to Guadalupe to find something to eat, but usually I bring my lunch. I spend most of my time in the afternoon attending classes and teaching labs. I set Mondays aside to prepare lectures and complete grading for the lab sections that I teach for Introduction to Physical Anthropology. I usually leave campus around 6 to head home and make dinner. After dinner, I’ll work on upcoming projects (papers, research, etc.).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Since the physical branch only accepts students it can fund, there is an extremely low level of competition in our department. The competitive pressure that plagues other programs is virtually non-existent here. I’m not scared to discuss things with the others in my cohort, and I’ve gotten lots of sage advice from older students in the program. There is a very high degree of camaraderie within our group, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am still trying to narrow down my MA thesis topic, but I have been involved in geochemical and methodological research combining vertebrate paleontology and physical anthropology. I am currently working on a faunal analysis of the craniodental micromammal remains from the hominin-bearing Eshkaft E-Gavi paleocave in Iran. My main research interests lie in the paleoenvironmental reconstruction of hominin environments in Plio-Pleistocene Africa. The past three summers I have been involved in paleoanthropological excavations in South Africa, and will be returning this summer for a fourth season.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am currently completing coursework for my MA. This semester I took: Introduction to Graduate Physical Anthropology Core, Early Hominin Evolution and Paleoecology (with my advisor, Denné Reed), and Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy through the Biology department.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This semester, I was a teaching assistant for Introduction to Physical Anthropology (ANT301). I was responsible for teaching 3 two-hour lab sections a week, grading the lab work that the students completed each week, and the grading of in-lecture exams. I honestly had a lot of fun teaching the class, and learned a great deal about what happens on the other side of the podium. Several of my students have expressed interest in learning more about physical anthropology and have asked for advice on how to break into the field. The ability to get people excited about my area of research is extremely rewarding.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The classes are much smaller, usually less than 10 students. Because of this small class size, it is absolutely impossible to hide if you are unprepared. The dialogue that takes place in these classes is vital for scholarship and grading, so not participating is not an option.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
The best way to study for a test is to think like a professor. Provided the materials you’ve been assigned (readings, lectures, etc.), what are the most important points presented? What questions can the professor expect you to answer based on these points? What are the logistics of the way the test is structured? Keeping these issues in mind can help you synthesize the material better by looking at it from a holistic viewpoint, and possibly earn you a few more points on the exam.

Also, when you don’t know what you’re talking about (whether on a paper, an exam, or in real life), saying more usually doesn’t help your case.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Multidisciplinary coursework! Departments love to see a well rounded candidate. If you only take the bare minimum of classes required for a degree, you’re missing out on a broad array of subjects that could complement your studies. Take science classes until you’re blue in the face. I mean it, all of them. Biology, chemistry, physics: leave no science unstudied. You’ll thank me later. For physical anthropology specifically, additional coursework in geology and geography (especially GIS and remote sensing) is an asset.
  2. Research and fieldwork experience! Not only will it look good on your CV, it is a great way to identify if physical anthropology is right for you. There’s nothing like spending 3 months in the African savanna without regular showers (or 16 hours staring at teeny tiny teeth through a microscope) to figure out if you really want to do this for the rest of your life. Also, fieldwork is a great excuse to see the world and terrify your parents.
  3. Have a timeline/gameplan! Figure out the schools you want to apply to early on. Ask professors and other mentors in the field for suggestions, but know that this will be easier for both of you if you have a general idea of what you’re interested in studying. Once you figure out the where, formulate a plan to make sure that the when is all lined up. Make a checklist chart of when everything is due (letters or recommendation, your statement of purpose, test scores, transcripts, etc.) and cross things off when you do them. It will make the process much less stressful if you always know what to do and when to do it.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergrad, I was involved in several research projects. I completed a senior honors thesis on the application of paleontological preparation methods on a bioarchaeological collection and I was able to co-author two papers on the geochemical analysis of human bone found at a paleontological site in Florida, both housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. These opportunities for research came through my involvement in the Anthropology and Paleontology collections at the museum. What started as an internship led to a part time job, which led to a research assistantship, which led to a full time job in the months between my graduation and enrollment at UT.

Research is absolutely essential for pursuing a career in academia. Undergraduate research is a great way to learn the process of research design and test the waters before you get in too deep. The sooner you start, the better!

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Either Arizona State University or the Hominid Paleobiology program at George Washington University.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in anthropology to check out?
The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has a lot of useful resources for students, including field school and internship listings.

If you are planning on applying for graduate school, the Grad Café is a great way to connect with other students who are going through the same process or have survived it in the past. There’s even a specific forum for anthropology applicants. It’s a great way to hear the trials and tribulations of others, discuss funding resources and specific programs, and check to see when people start getting notifications in their database. However, you have to know when to stop reading the forums and start working on your applications! You’ve been warned.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully in a tenure-track position at a metropolitan university, with a dog and a raised bed organic garden.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
The key to success in graduate school is time management. There are many smart individuals that are capable of getting into a graduate program, but those who can effectively manage their schedules are the most productive (and sane) students.

Get a good article management program so you don’t spend all of your precious time trying to find a specific paper or typing out all of your bibliography. I use Papers for Mac because it houses and organizes all of your pdf files as well, but there are others out there (Zotero is also a popular choice). Start this as soon as possible! Also, write a short synopsis of every article you read. Even a few sentences will help jog your memory if you return to it later.

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Emiliana Cruz


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Linguistic Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Ethnography of Landscape in San Juan Quiahije

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Political Science, Evergreen State College – Olympia, WA

What is grad school life like?
There are 4 subfields in anthropology. I study linguistic anthropology spend half of time in the linguistics department. Anthropologist and documentary and descriptive linguists often cross over between the disciplines, because of this there is great intellectual exchange between students and faculties.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Read and drink a cup of coffee; look for grants, write grants; write a paper for class and or a conference; talk to your professor; have lunch; talk to colleagues; and continue working.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
According to my experience, in graduate school you meet great people, you specialize in your field and you get to do something really unique and contribute something important to society.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
My program at the University of Texas is an ideal place because, I am studying linguistics and anthropology; and I am working on my own native language. I am conducting my project under the guidance of Dr. Anthony Woodbury, Dr. Joel Sherzer, Dr. Nora England, Dr. Patty Epps and Dr. Bill Hanks. I am not taking any classes but, I meet with Tony Woodbury at least once a week to discuss my progress.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am currently writing my dissertation: ‘Ethnography of Landscape in San Juan Quiahije’ which analyzes the linguistic form of toponyms and reference to senses of place within narrative discourse. It combines methods of descriptive linguistics with those of long-term ethnographic study in indigenous communities.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am an AI and I am currently teaching an undergraduate Anthropology course entitled, “Language and Culture”. I have 30 students. I really enjoy teaching because I get to share my knowledge and experience with the students.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I believe that undergrads study hard but, they don’t have to specialize in one area and graduate studies are very specialized.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
My undergrad college did not offer any linguistic classes; I wish I would have taken linguistics in order to be more prepare for graduate school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Have basic linguistic knowledge
  2. Have some introduction to anthropology
  3. Know how to write

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I conducted and carried out a project on the political economy of coffee in Mexico and I wrote my thesis on that research.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford. But, UT is a really unique place, I am really happy here.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in linguistic anthropology to check out?
The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to continue doing research on Chatino language and I want to teach. My best opportunity to make a difference in higher education is in my home state of Oaxaca, Mexico which at present does not offer programs in linguistics or anthropology. Training indigenous students in basic linguistic analysis has been a rewarding part of my research thus far, and as a professor I would be in a position to help create more possibilities of higher education for indigenous students.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
The first year you think “I am not going to make it” but you will. In my first year I took a class in linguistics titled “Tools for Linguistics” taught by Dr. Woodbury. I did not understand a single thing from that class. One day I ran into Dr. Joel Sherzer, he was coming with a big smile walking towards me and he asked how I was doing. I told him “I don’t understand Dr. Woodbury’s class” hoping he would give me some tips. He replied “oh, don’t worry, one day you will”. Now, I looked back and he was right, I do understand linguistics.

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Jodi Skipper

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Archaeology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: In the Neighborhood: Race, City Planning, and Heritage Politics at the St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas

Undergraduate Degree: M.A., Anthropology, Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL; B.A., History, Grambling State University – Grambling, LA

What is life like for an anthropology graduate student?
Anthropology graduate students have several opportunities to do work all over the world. Although the opportunities are there, it takes much discipline, hard work, and commitment.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day in the life of an anthropology grad student includes going to class, working on a thesis or dissertation (if at that stage), working as a research or teaching assistant, writing papers, and studying for exams. It also involves spending time with friends and cohorts, in study groups and outside of the University.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
UT has one of the most diverse anthropology departments in the country, including faculty and students. It is great to get to experience different cultural backgrounds through my cohorts and professors, and learn from them.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
The title of my dissertation is “In the Neighborhood: Race, City Planning, and Heritage Politics at the St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas.” In my research, I work with one historically Black church community to preserve its 90 years-old church building and its 135 years-old church history.

Have you participated on a fieldwork project? If so, where and what was that like?
I have worked throughout the Southeastern U.S. and many parts of Texas. I have been to former slave plantations in Coastal Georgia and Florida, Civil War battlefield sites, prehistoric Native American sites, and have trekked through several U.S. Mexico Border Towns. It has been very interesting to see how alike, and different, various regions of the U.S. can be.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am what is called ABD (all but dissertation), meaning that I have completed all of my Ph.D. requirements, except the dissertation manuscript. I am now working on the manuscript, which means writing and editing chapters for several hours a day.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently a TA for the archaeology lab. The archaeology lab serves as a space for artifact collections, meeting room for archaeology TAs and their students, and a computer lab.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Graduate school requires much better time management and a sacrifice of many things that students are able to easily participate in as undergrads, for example holiday trips home and free time with friends.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish that I was better able to prepare for financing graduate school. It can be a very difficult thing to do and can be very costly in the long run.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Make sure that you are adequately funded by your department or other source.
  2. Make sure that you take time out to be with family and friends.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help; being a grad. student does not mean that you can do it all.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
If I did not accept UT Austin’s offer, then I would have attended the University of Florida in Gainesville.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in social anthropology to check out?
I suggest that they check out Levi Jordan Plantation. It can help students learn a lot about archaeological and historical research in Texas.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself teaching anthropology and African American studies at a university.

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Courtney Morris

Graduate Program: Ph.D., African Diaspora Program in Social Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Afro-Nicaraguan Women’s Political Activism

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., African and African American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

What is grad school life like?
As you may have guessed, graduate school is quite different from undergrad – specifically in terms of the degree to which one must be self-motivated, the significantly increased workload. Some text may have been omitted here.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I don’t know that there is such a thing as a “typical day in the life of an anthropology grad student.” It depends significantly on your subdiscipline (there is sociocultural, folklore, archaeology, physical anthropology, and linguistics). It also depends on whether you have completed coursework yet. During the first two to three years of graduate school, your days are more structured because you are still taking coursework so most of your time revolves around attending graduate seminars or completing work (readings/essays/in-class presentations) for those seminars. Once you have completed coursework you transition into preparing for your comprehensive exams and then you have to become more responsible for structuring your own time so that you can complete your work. Once you have accomplished that you have to focus on completing your dissertation prospectus, your fieldwork proposal so that you can advance to candidacy and begin fieldwork. After fieldwork, which can last anywhere from 1-3 years (depending on the choice of the student), you then focus on writing the dissertation, and most people usually try to develop a writing practice so that they can try to complete the dissertation in a relatively timely manner. The key to success in graduate school for any student is to develop effective time management because the further along you advance in your career the more critical it becomes to your ability to successfully complete your program.

However, it’s not all work either. In our department, students are VERY social and we frequently get together to have happy hours and parties. There are regular scholarly presentations from students, in-house faculty, and visiting scholars so you can learn about other developments in the field of anthropology. There is also an Anthropology Graduate Student Association (AGSA), which regularly meets to discuss issues of importance to graduate students and to organize professional development programs for graduate students. So whatever your life may be as a graduate student – at least in our department – it won’t be empty.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In addition to having one of the strongest programs in African Diaspora studies, I appreciate the diversity of my program, particularly in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Our program is very rigorous and demanding but I have had a great deal of institutional support from the diverse faculty, my colleagues in the department, and the department administration. Compared to other anthropology departments I would say that the diversity and intellectual range of our faculty and graduate students definitely places our department on the cutting edge of contemporary anthropology. And yeah, I’m kind of proud of that.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation research focuses on Afro-Nicaraguan women’s political activism since the end of the Sandinista Revolution in 1990. I explore the work that women are doing in informal political spaces such as churches, schools, and in the community as well as in more formal political spaces including local and regional government and in non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The goal is to make sense of how Black women understand the conditions that shape their lives and how they are responding to racism, gender inequality, and economic marginalization.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I recently advanced to candidacy in February 2008 after completing coursework, my comprehensive exams and defending my dissertation prospectus. I am in the middle of completing my fieldwork and expect to begin writing my dissertation in Fall 2010.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I do not currently have an assistantship. However, I have worked as both a teaching assistant and a research assistant for different professors in my department. As a TA you are responsible for assisting instructors with their courses and working one-on-one with undergraduate students. It can be challenging, especially when you are TAing large classes with 100+ students. You have to be available to meet with students during office hours and address any concerns or questions they might have about the class and their academic performance. Some professors require that TAs attend all classes and do the readings along with the class, others don’t. But never assume anything, always talk to your professor and see what they want and expect from you as a TA – it’s especially helpful to get it in writing or in an email so that you can refer back to it later in the semester.

Being an RA specifically involves helping a faculty member to conduct research, usually for a book or article they may be working on, some longer term research project, or helping them with presentations they might be making. This job usually has quite a lot of flexibility and if you are fortunate enough to work with someone whose research interests are similar to yours you can really use this opportunity to learn more for your own work. However, even though this job is more flexible than being a TA, you should still talk to the professor you are working with to figure out what they need from you, what your responsibilities are for the semester, and what finished product they expect from you by the end of the semester (a comprehensive annotated bibliography on racism in Latin America? A complete catalogue of their library collection in Endnotes? A finished academic article?) Always make sure you are clear on what you are supposed to be working on and what they want from you at the end of the semester.

My advice to anyone working as an RA or a TA is to maintain open and frequent communication with the faculty member for whom you are working. Make sure you understand what their expectations of you are and check in with them regularly to make sure that you are meeting their needs. If you are a TA try to make sure that you are on top of your work at all times – grade papers promptly and return them to students as quickly as possible. This helps to cut down on stress later on when your own work in grad school is building up and the end of the semester comes around. If you perform well in your work as a TA or RA, faculty members remember that and this can really help you in the future, especially when you need letters of recommendation, an additional year of funding to finish your dissertation, etc.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The 4 things that make graduate school different from undergrad are: the amount of work (imagine having to read 200-350 pages for a single class each week – which I did my first year in grad school), having to be really self-motivated and able to manage your time effectively, increased levels of stress, and very high expectations from faculty. I don’t want to scare off any potential grad students I just want to be honest about some of the challenges of graduate school. The first two semesters are often the hardest, but once you get into the swing of things, life is much better – not easier but manageable. It also helps for you to reach out to other graduate students, you’ll find that during your graduate school experience they will be your biggest source of support (emotional, intellectual and sometimes, when things are really rough, financial) and encouragement. When I entered graduate school another young Black woman from LA entered the program with me; she and I become close friends and we developed a little saying that we would tell each other whenever we felt discouraged: “We came together, we leave together.” We have been able to hold onto this and are basically right on track to finishing our doctorates in the next two years. So don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help – so much of your work in graduate school is done individually, but it really does take a community to get you through.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Once you are certain that you want to pursue graduate school, begin making plans as early as possible. Think about where you want to live, what you want to research, try to look up fellowships that you can apply for so you don’t have to take out a mountain of student loans or so you don’t have to work the entire time you are in school (the Ford Foundation is a good place to look especially for women and people of color, check out the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council for a few leads). Talk to faculty that you are taking classes with and get advice from them. Talk to graduate students, maybe your TAs, and ask them about their experiences in graduate school and any recommendations they would make for where you might apply or tips about making it in grad school. The people around you are tremendous resources who can really help demystify the grad school application process and the actual experience of going through and completing a graduate program; don’t be shy about tapping into those resources.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. The hardest part of applying to graduate school is figuring out what you want to research because that should determine everything else. Don’t assume that just because a university in general is prestigious that it has the faculty and resources you need to do the kind of research that you are interested in. If you are interested in studying race in Brazil, find anthropologists who do work in this area and then find out where they teach. These are the people who are going to mentor you and help you complete your research. So follow the research, not the name of a university (i.e. Don’t pick Harvard, just because it’s Harvard). Once you’ve figured out who the experts in your field are and where they teach, send them an email, tell them who you are and your interest in the program. This is CRUCIAL. If they are interested in you they may want to work with you and take you on as a student; these are also the people who will fight for you in the admissions process and when funding is allocated. Graduate school can be very competitive and it never hurts to have some allies on your side who can advocate for you and your work.
  2. Second, think about whether you want to do a full PhD or a masters’ program. There are programs where you can come out of undergrad and go straight into a doctoral program, but if you aren’t sure you may want to select a program that provides a terminal masters’ program or an MA program that includes an option to continue on to the PhD.
  3. Finally, I believe that happiness matters and graduate school is so much work and such a huge commitment that you should really try as much as possible to choose a university in a location where you can be comfortable and happy. You can expect to be in school anywhere from 4-7 years (if you’re really focused and on task), so if you hate the snow and the cold don’t agree to study in Connecticut, choose a school where you can thrive academically and emotionally as much as possible.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did do research as an undergraduate. I actually received an undergraduate research fellowship from the College of Liberal Arts which was really helpful. I studied the impact of hip hop on Black teenage girls’ perceptions of gender. I think doing independent research as an undergrad gives you a general idea of what life in graduate school is like and what you can expect. It is also good when you apply to graduate school because it demonstrates to faculty that you are self-motivated, able to work independently, and are an independent critical thinker. These are all important qualities for graduate students and it is good to try to begin cultivating and honing these skills well before you enter graduate school.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was accepted to the University of Florida at Gainesville and I seriously considered accepting the offer, especially because there was a Black woman scholar there who I really wanted to work with. But I decided to stay with UT-Austin because of the strength of my program, the number of faculty who do work in African Diaspora studies, and the proximity of the campus to my family and community of friends and activists that I had built up during my time as an undergrad. I personally believe this was the right choice for me but everyone is different. However, I also applied to the University of California-Santa Cruz and Duke University (which has a very good Cultural Anthropology program).

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in social anthropology to check out?
I would recommend the website for the American Anthropological Association (AAA). I believe it is the oldest professional anthropological organization in the United States. You can check out any of the different interest groups affiliated with AAA, look up scholarships, and find different professional development resources and opportunities. It’s a good place to browse and see who are the people doing research in areas that you are interested in, where they teach, and can help you figure out which programs you might be interested in applying to.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself done with my dissertation, hopefully preparing to publish it into a book (if I haven’t already done so). I am not entirely sure if I only want to work in higher education but it would be nice to be teaching at a college or university. I’d also like at some point to create a social justice think tank that addresses the needs of poor and working-class communities of color. And if my husband is game, I think I’d also like very much to be a mother.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
My survival tip – It’s okay to change your mind whenever you like. Don’t think just because you are in grad school that you can’t do other things or explore other opportunities. Take your work seriously but remember that you grow and learn and change and that is a positive thing.

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