April 24, 2009

SAAs - Day 2

Well, day two has basically been a bust. I made it in early to an 8:45 paper on lead isotopes in Roman Carthage, then snuck over to a session on urbanism in the more-or-less ancient world. Mostly, I've just been going to talks where I know the speaker or have heard of him/her. But after 10am, sessions started running long and talks were never at their appropriate time. Room scheduling wasn't as good as yesterday, and several sessions were basically standing room only, as I can't wend my way past 4 people to get an empty seat. At noon, I got some much-desired mac-n-cheese at the food court and headed back to the conference where... the only two talks I wanted to see in the afternoon were cancelled. Thing is, they don't post cancellations on the door where the info for the session is. So, since things were running over, I sat through a bunch of boring papers waiting for the one I'd come to see... to no avail. Twice. Needless to say, I'm terribly cranky and ridiculously sore. I do want to go to a couple things in the morning, so I'm gonna nap and eat ice cream and save my energy for that plus a 7-hour drive back tomorrow.

April 23, 2009

SAAs - Day 1

Apparently I am only capable of conferencing for 6 hours straight these days. I showed up for a couple papers I wanted to hear from my UNC colleagues around 9:45... but their session was way, way over time already and I didn't get to see them, so I had to sneak out... inasmuch as I am able to sneak anywhere these days.

I headed to my session, met two of the other presenters, and we waited for the previous session to be done. And waited. They went 15 minutes over, which meant I had no time to set up presentations and my lappy. Somehow, as soon as they left, I managed to do this, convening the session only 5 mins late, albeit in a rather frantic state. But then the first paper went 5 minutes over. *sigh* As usual, my presentation skills suck, which was complicated even more by the fact that I can't read properly because I get out of breath quickly these days and that there was a hiccuping fetus in my pelvis the entire time.

But several people responded positively to my work - it's weird to give a talk to archaeologists who mostly work in America. It's kind of a way to change their minds about what classical archaeologists do. And one of the presenters, whose surname is Grove, quipped, "It's rather intimidating being in a session where the chair is named Killgrove." That made me lol. In a professional conference. Oops.

So far, I'm not entirely impressed by the SAAs. They're much larger than the AAPAs, but somehow with less stuff to interest me. The majority of the archaeology is North and South American, with few Old World papers or posters. The papers are short, there's no time for questions, and I have been unimpressed by the quality of the slides and the talks. Granted, 15 minutes is not enough time to say much of value, and some people trip over their words (at least I'm not as bad as a woman who was talking about "the fibula, which is in the lower arm"), but I'd like to get something out of this conference. Other than talking to master's students who are suuuuper interested in what I do and want to know how to do it too.

As for Atlanta... it smells weird. And is really hot and humid. I'm not so much a fan of the city. But so far, the actual Atlantans have been great. Surprisingly friendly for such a large, diverse city. Or maybe that's just because I'm ginormous and people like to pry.

April 20, 2009

Applying for Fellowships Sucks

I probably shouldn't whine, but...

For the second year in a row, the UNC grad school deemed my research not worthy enough to merit a write-up/completion fellowship. I honestly don't get it. Granting agencies really like my research and are willing to give me money to do all kinds of chemical analysis on dead people, but the grad school is not a fan of mine, no matter how interdisciplinary I make my research (combining classics, anthro, and geochem is not exactly easy). It would be really lovely to be able to finish this dissertation and, you know, get a job. Not having a completion fellowship means teaching, and that (and even TAing) takes a ridiculous amount of time away from actual reading/writing/research.

So now I get to try to convince either the grad school or my department to pay my tuition for a semester or year, as the PEO award requires that I maintain enrollment - at a cost of $4k for the school year as an in-state resident. If the grad school screws me over again next year and insists I'm still out-of-state, that's $11k for the year. And there goes nearly the entire PEO award. Grrr.

April 19, 2009

Pole, Hole, or Optic Cup?

My latest editing task is a series of short webpages for a Russian ophthalmologist who is convinced he can cure nearsightedness with a few simple eye muscle exercises. The first documents he sent me were reasonably understandable, but once he got into the evolution of the eye, the English went downhill. In emailing back and forth trying to figure out what he wanted to say and how one would say it in anatomical terms in English, he sent me this cute drawing of the evolution of the eye. I've never gotten a drawing from one of my clients before. Once we figured it all out, he told me that he very much appreciated all my edits because I "made juicy fruits from dry branches." I think this is a lovely phrase. Maybe I can get it emblazoned on a business card.

April 8, 2009

Fellowships Are Fantastic

I was quite surprised today when I got a letter in the mail from the PEO Executive Office. It was a standard business-size envelope, and it's 3 weeks earlier than the notification deadline, so I thought for sure it was a rejection of my application for a dissertation completion fellowship. But I was wrong - I actually got the fellowship! Someone is going to give me a big, fat check simply to write about dead Romans. Of course, this will take some pressure off of me to find fall employment while dealing with a 3-mo-old infant, and of course it's yet another spiffy thing to list on my CV so that people will hire me. I can also hold it concurrently with a TA position, any sort of employment, and even another fellowship (like the UNC completion fellowship that I haven't heard about yet).

The annoying things are that it's a cash award (which means it doesn't cover tuition per se and I have to pay loads of taxes on it) and that I'm not supposed to graduate until after August 1, 2010. PEO has a strange notion of what a school year constitutes. I plan to graduate in May 2010, but they don't want to give me the award unless I graduate in August. Granted, my advisor will be happy to tell prospective employers that I have defended and will get my PhD before the fall 2010 semester starts, which wouldn't be a lie. But I wouldn't be able to walk in the May 2010 graduation because of UNC's rules. None of these things is a dealbreaker, of course, or I wouldn't have applied for this fellowship. $15,000 is worth a bit of dealing with bureaucracy.

But just so no one thinks I am completely enamoured of myself right now, I totalled up the amounts I've applied for in terms of grants and fellowships and the amounts I've received since 2005. My success rate at getting grants to fund my dissertation is 27%, which includes all the times I applied for and didn't get the Wenner-Gren but also the under-$1k grants I got from UNC. My success rate at getting fellowships is a lot lower - 14% - primarily because fellowships are worth more and are an all-or-nothing deal. Which brings my combined grant/fellowship success rate to 20% over the last 4 years. Academia sucks because you're constantly applying for money that you're likely not going to get, but a 20% success rate probably isn't all that bad, considering. Maybe I am completely enamoured of myself right now. Don't worry, though, it won't last. We academics tend to be bipolar, and I'm sure I'll hate my research and my life within a few days.

April 5, 2009

What makes one Roman?

As I consider this question in writing my SAA talk (ok, who am I kidding? in merely thinking about my SAA talk, since I haven't written a word yet), I'm wondering how people define the term "Roman." At the AAPAs, I saw a poster that compared an "urban" Roman sample (Casilina) to a "rural" Roman sample of skeletons (Urbino). The "urban" sample is even further from the Imperial city walls than my Castellaccio site, a site that I'm calling "suburban" - and that's probably generous. The "rural" sample is over 200km from Rome, close to the east coast of Italy.

In the early view of JAS (Journal of Anthropological Sciences, not to be confused with the much more well-known Journal of Archaeological Science), the article by Paine et al. is subtitled "Paleopathology of Roman skeletons," in which they discuss skeletons from Urbino. Can those people really be called "Roman"? Sure, there was extensive citizenship in the Empire, and all of these people would have been subjects to the emperor, possibly required to pay taxes to Rome and suchlike. But they didn't live in Rome, and there is no discussion at all in the article about what cultural or biological criteria constitute Romanness. Don't get me wrong - I'm excited that there is more published data coming out with which to compare my sites (although the unpublished stuff on Casilina would help more). But at the same time, it's largely uncontextualized data - at least in this article, which doesn't publish anything about the archaeological context. More importantly, though, the authors are assuming that these people are Roman simply because they lived in the Italian peninsula.

The connotations of Rome and Roman have been unchanging for thousands of years, but I thought scholars had started to shy away from these monolithic understandings of this massive preindustrial society. At least, I feel that classicists are starting to shy away from this idea and am very surprised that physical anthropologists are perpetuating a lack of complexity. Perhaps I'm reading too much into the article. But it annoys me when someone asks what I study, and I reply, "Stable isotopes in ancient Roman skeletons," and they ask me where my skeletons are from. Uhm, Rome - it's a geographic location, not a cultural affiliation. I'm not sure that my people are "Roman" either, because I don't really know what "Roman" was - but part of my dissertation involves trying to find out what being Roman meant to the people whose skeletons I am studying and to the people who interacted with them. After all, culture resides in individuals, but it only takes on meaning when shared by a larger community. Romanness likely had many different definitions in antiquity and a few shared features. I'm just more interested in creating a nuanced vision of how people in the Roman Empire lived their lives than attempting to find all possible commonalities in the vast cultural-geographical mess that was ancient Europe.

AAPAs - Day 3

So on Friday, I skipped the afternoon sessions of the meeting and hung out with my friend Tara, who did her master's at ECU with me. We had a great time reminiscing and laughed hysterically at dinner when she found a hair not only in her tandoori chicken but also in her naan. And we got some of the food comped.

I slept in on Saturday, packed, checked out, and headed to the poster session on forensics, where I ran into yet more people I met while in England last summer and found Lara for lunch. Then it was time for the afternoon bioarch session, which was better than I had expected based on previous days. Still, it wasn't a coherent session at all, ranging all over the world and all over subject matter - from a paper on musculoskeletal markers on clavicles to the Iceman to CT scans to labret use. Most were good papers, some were terrible.

The last few times I've been to the AAPAs, I've taken notes on collections or methods or theories that I felt I could use in the future. This year, I just wanted free wireless in the paper sessions so I could multitask and not feel like I was wasting time. Had I not been 32 weeks pregnant, I would have skipped most of this conference to sightsee in Chicago. The weather was actually pretty nice most days, in the 50s and sunny.

The trip back was fine. The plane ride was slightly more comfortable, we got in half an hour early, and I ran into a friend completely randomly at O'Hare while we were watching the end of the first NCAA semifinal game. Chickpea is glad to be home and not on a weirdly pressurized airplane, but I'm going to subject her to one final trip this Friday. Oofa.

April 3, 2009

AAPAs - Day 2

Yesterday's afternoon poster session was pretty uneventful. I ran out of handouts (all 50 of them) and didn't bother running to the business center in the hotel to make more - just gave out an email address and URL. I should check analytics to see if anyone's been downloading the handout. There were many more people at the 10am session than the 2pm session.

The paper sessions are truly awful, though. There's no real coherence to them. For some reason, there are more coherent poster sessions on ancient health and stable isotope analysis and such. So far, there have been no papers on stable isotope analysis, but there are some on palaeopath or bioarch that I've gone to. Most of the papers I've heard have been from students - and they're not interesting, groundbreaking papers. But at least half of the students have been funded by both NSF and Wenner-Gren, making me feel much less special and wondering if my research is as boring as theirs is.

And I've seen my fair share of terrible slides and posters as well. There are people who forget to put labels on their charts, people who use different fonts/colors/styles willy-nilly, people who don't change the Excel default colors, people who end each declarative sentence as if it were a question, people who can't make boxes line up, people who don't spellcheck their slides (the native speakers - I give the foreigners some leeway)... And then there are the people who think their work is the shit when they really aren't saying anything new at all. I just tend to walk out of those papers. But honestly, in all my years of conferences, I have never seen this large a number of paper slides and posters that are just visually arresting - in a very, very bad way. Are people opting for content over style? Is it a backlash against the over-staturation in our culture of visuals and media? Are people just lazy?

April 2, 2009

AAPAs - Day 1

Well, I'm already overwhelmed. My first task was to get my poster up - at 8am. I made it to the ballroom around 8:20, and my poster-mates had already set theirs up. Unfortunately, theirs is too large. (To be fair, mine is 2" too wide, because I misread the limits as 4' wide by 3'10" tall, but it's the other way around.) Theirs, however, is like 8" too wide. I couldn't find them anywhere, and there was no way my poster was going to be legible on the right-hand side, so I moved their poster. It was too large, after all. Now both posters are very nearly completely legible, although you have to kind of read around the curve of the posters at the end of the corkboard. I left a note. I'm sure it'll show up on the passive-aggressive notes website, but I didn't feel right *not* leaving a note. The worst part of it is, these people are colleagues of one of my friends.

So that was irritating, but then I started running into people. A British colleague expressed surprise and delight at my giant belly. An Italian colleague jumped off an escalator to come say hi to me - which was weird only because I'd only met him twice (and had to surreptitiously glance at his name tag), and it was well over 18 months ago in a completely different context (i.e., Rome), and I've gained a ton of weight since then. I returned my poster tube to the hotel room and decided to head to a paper session for an hour - unfortunately, it was completely full. Standing room only. And I just don't care enough about the papers to stand for an hour.

Mostly, though, it's weird to walk around a conference and have people staring at me. Seeing a woman 8 months pregnant at a conference is apparently not common at all.

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