March 23, 2009

Rotten Mellon

Well, I'm currently 0 for 3 on my fellowship applications. I got the rejection letter from the Andrew Mellon/ACLS fellowship this weekend. Granted, they got 900 applicants for about 60 fellowships. I can't say with any amount of honesty that I think my dissertation project is among the top 5% or so of all dissertation projects in the sciences, arts, and humanities. Learning about Roman migration is cool as shit, but it's not going to change the world.

So I'm back to plugging away at my manuscript for a chapter in an edited volume on Roman diaspora, to be published by the Journal of Roman Archaeology as a special volume some time next year (I think). I'm not quite sure how to spin this chapter, even though I'm nearly finished with it, because I'm trying to toe the line between being completely obtuse about the data I currently have and publishing all my strontium results. I have a pretty good idea what the strontium is telling me: migration to Rome was only about 5% in this population, and of the immigrants whose sex I could determine, all were male. The presence of kids (one as young as 8) indicates either the kids' families moved them to Rome or perhaps they were slaves sent to work in the fullery. Most of the immigrants have poorer-than-average skeletal and dental health, but I have no real metric to back that up other than my observations of the data set.

The real problem, though, is that I'm not sure I know my audience anymore. I read a fair amount of stuff on ancient Rome, but in the past few years, it's been focused on the more anthropological and statistical side of things: demography, migration, burial practices, any isotope or statistical analyses I can find in the ancient world. Sometimes I check out articles on fulleries, which might have a little about architecture or even art, but my interest in them quickly wanes. My skeletons are largely ahistorical, probably poor and lower class, which makes them incredibly interesting to me as an anthropologist. It means I can go all anthro-theory-licious as long as I contextualize them properly within Roman history. So I'm not sure quite what is expected of this chapter. If I add more snippets of history or information about aqueducts, the paper becomes unwieldy and panders to classicists. If I just run with migration theory at the expense of the context of the immigrants, on the other hand, my paper will only be read by the few other researchers who do what I do and not appeal to a broader demographic.

Maybe in a few years, after the diss, I'll have a better idea of how to mesh Roman archaeo, skeletal remains, and anthro theory. Right now, though, it's a lot easier to write a straightforward materials-methods-results-discussion paper for my first book chapter than attempt to guess what people want to hear.

March 17, 2009

Semi-annual Teaching Evals

After all my bitching today about how many students have dropped my class this semester (for the record: 6 out of 19), I was feeling pretty crappy about any sort of teaching ability I felt I had. I don't know if students realize that profs take it personally when they drop the class - but some of us do. I like to think that the workload for my course is reasonable (midterm, exam, 5-pg book review, a few quizzes) and that my lectures are, at least at times, interesting and relevant to their lives. It's anthropology, after all, which is hard to make boring.

At any rate, today I got my teaching evaluations back from last semester's Human Osteology course, and I was quite surprised. I felt like I was a cranky harpy the entire semester, fueled by pregnancy hormones and my inability to deal well with students who came in late or skipped class. I mean, really - if I could get my ass up at 6am to shower, take the bus to school, and set up a weekly bone quiz all before 9am while feeling like I had mono the entire semester, surely they could haul themselves across campus from their dorms. But apparently they liked me and they liked my class.

All my scores averaged over 4 (on a scale of 1-5), and all of them were consistently higher than the departmental average for anthro courses taught that semester. I got a few 3's (which are "don't know" or "not applicable"), but only one 2 (disagree). Unfortunately, it was in "The instructor treated all students with respect." I'm very curious about this; mostly because I'd honestly like to try to do better. If a student feels I am showing him or her disrespect, I'd like to change my behavior; but I have no way of knowing who it was or why s/he said that. My highest result was in "Overall, I learned a great deal from this course," which was a 4.7 average. Not surprising, as only a handful of students come in with a human anatomy class under their belts. My lowest was "The instructor provided me with helpful feedback on my performance," with a 4.0 average. And 8 of the 15 students checked Yes for "The instructor was one of the best I have had at UNC, fully deserving of a teaching award." Awwwww.

Fortunately, my lecture in 101 went well, and there wasn't a lot of bitching about midterm grades. The evals, though, definitely saved my evening from being really crappy.

March 14, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse, er, Economy

In the past three months or so, I've gotten a steady stream of emails from wannabe authors who have written a novel and want professional editing help. I'm much more comfortable editing academic work - which requires a certain structure and language - but I've now logged my fair share of hours on shlocky fiction that has no hope of ever being published except by a vanity press. I've had a freelance editing website for at least a couple years now. It's not steady work, but my google page rank is fairly high: if you search for "freelance editor," I think I'm still in the top 5 hits on the web. So this spate of requests for novel editing is an anomaly. Are these authors unemployed people trying to keep their sanity by writing? Do they think that publishing a novel is a way to quick money? I'd love to see statistics on the number of manuscripts submitted to publishing houses before and after all the major economic misfortunes, and I'll bet that number has gone up recently. Regardless, this means a better economy for me - whenever I can find several days' worth of time to put into editing crappy fiction that doesn't distract too badly from my own writing - so I guess I can't complain.

March 6, 2009

Ironic Invitation

I am technically teaching Anth 101 for the Friday Center for Continuing Education at UNC this semester. As one would assume, most of these classes are taught either online or in the evening for non-traditional students. In my mailbox today, I got this invitation to an instructor appreciation banquet:

Yeah, see, I *teach* at 6pm. For you, the Friday Center. But I appreciate the thought of your appreciation? Maybe I should RSVP and explain that I would come but can't. In a nice way, not a snotty, passive-aggressive way.

March 1, 2009

Selection Sunday

I need to send off around 50 samples to a colleague in England for oxygen isotope analysis. Why 50? Well, at 30£ a sample, that's what I can afford with what's left of the NSF and the Wenner-Gren. (If the pound falls further, though, perhaps I can add another sample or two.) So, as always, my conundrum is... which 50 teeth (people) do I send? Here are the stats.

My MNI (minimum number of individuals) is 212 from two sites, split about 70/30. Each site has a generally normal range of individual ages, but there is slight overrepresentation of males. For strontium, I tested every individual for whom I had a first molar (n=112). I have immigration data, then, on just over half of everyone I looked at. But I had to send off samples for carbon/nitrogen analysis, and I had budgeted money to test 50 individuals. I had to send them off before I got the strontium results back. So I decided on a more or less stratified sample proportional to the population of each of the two sites. I sent off samples from at least one individual in each 5- or 10-year age range, and for adults, I made sure to send at least one male and one female from each 10-year age range if present. What I ended up with, then, are data from 112 people for immigration and 52 of those people for diet, some of whom are probably immigrants.

Now, oxygen is going to help me figure out the strontium results. And since I need to send off first molar pieces, my sample is going to be 50 out of the 112 for whom I did strontium. I will likely have to omit a couple people from analysis because of lack of remaining enamel (which is destroyed in strontium analysis), but for the most part, I can choose any of the 112 for oxygen. My strontium values are more or less continuous: there are about half a dozen outliers in the high or low range. So, what's my sampling strategy? I obviously feel like I should test the individuals who are more or less clearly outliers. And then the rest can be pulled from the pool of middle-range values. I suppose a stratified sample of age and sex would be useful as well. My choice is: do I choose a new stratified sample based on the strontium values, or do I just send the same people for whom I got carbon/nitrogen results? If the former, I will have some individuals for whom I know Sr and O but not C/N and for whom I know Sr and C/N but not O. If the latter, I will have 50 people for whom I have Sr, O, and C/N, and 62 people for whom I only have Sr. I'm leaning towards this latter option. Or, I could just ignore these strategies and go back through the database looking for individuals I felt might be immigrants based on the phenotypic appearance of their bones while I was analyzing them. But basing ideas about immigrants solely on visual assessment of what looks "different" is probably not the best idea, especially since I only looked at a couple hundred people. I guess I'll play around tomorrow and see if it makes sense to send all the Sr/C/N people off for O.

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