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The grad students at my alma mater are striking for a cost of living adjustment and I feel so far away and so useless because I can’t offer much financial support and I don’t know what else to do several states away…

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What’s with all these trumpet dude bros that probably barely passed double reed methods becoming band directors?? I was ready to throw hands when one of our grad students (trumpet of course) said Légère reeds are better than cane reeds😤 I’d love to see them say that to one of the woodwind profs. Also the “sorry it’s my reed” joke from brass players is getting old🙄

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A few days ago, I was sleeping over at my friend’s house, and I was woken up by a cawing sound, the characteristic sound made by crows. While most people would be bothered to be woken up so early on a weekend, I was thrilled – crows are my favorite bird. On that early Sunday morning, a flock of crows was having a “meeting” on the roof of a neighboring house. They appeared to be arguing about something. I didn’t want to approach too close, because I know that crows may attack if they are disturbed when they meet in large communal groups. Among the crows, some were sitting on the end of the roof cawing out into the air to invite more crows into the meeting.

Crows are very emotional and social creatures, with surprisingly complex cognitive abilities and can be extremely vocal. Crows are also very intelligent, so I was not surprised at all to see them conversing in such a fashion. Crows and ravens have been known to use short words and phrases, and even understand the context of human language. Crows are very vocal about their emotions and extremely stubborn/persistent when confronted with a task they have trouble completing. They have advanced planning abilities and are able to use tools. They also have active problem-solving skills. They enjoy solving problems much in the way that I like solving algebra problems.

Sometimes I like to think of myself as an honorary crow, because we have so much in common. I remember when my friend Rae was alive; we used to go out into the woods behind the SPCA where we volunteered to see if we could find crows. She loved crows just as much as I did. Now that she is gone, I am reminded of her every time I see a crow. At her funeral, there were so many crows in attendance, almost like they knew they had lost one of their own. 

After going outside and observing the crows on the roof of the house, I had a strong flashback of Rae. I remember her laughter, and whenever she was helping animals, even cleaning cages at the SPCA, she was so happy. I also remembered us playing with her puppy, Ozzy. He was one of Rehtaeh’s many pets. One day she dropped a piece of lettuce on the floor when she was on the way out to feed her bunnies (they have a big outdoor run in her backyard). Ozzy grabbed the lettuce with his teeth and started running around the living room with the lettuce hanging out of his mouth. Once he saw us watching, he began acting even sillier. He tried to run up the stairs, but since he’s small and fat he tripped on the mat and slid back down the stairs. We were laughing for at least 5 minutes. When he heard us laughing he ran towards us. Rae leaned down to grab the lettuce from his mouth, but before she got to him he sharply turned his back to her and started running around again. Just thinking back on our laughter from that day filled me with sadness, because I just miss her so much, even though she was in my life for such a short period of time.

In many countries, crows are considered a symbol of death, but the fact that crows are highly social and able to make friends with humans and other animals symbolizes to me man’s ability to live in harmony with death. As primates, we understand the concept of death on a level that not many other species do. What astounds me is how most people manage to come to terms with this concept of infinity and nothingness, and carry on with our lives, ignoring their impending fate. Most people live in oblivion of the fact that life has very little meaning because we are all going to die someday. And people don’t seem to get that when we die, we will remember nothing, so it really won’t matter what we did in our life or what we went through.

Whenever I think like this, I think about how selfish my sadness is. Sometimes I go from sad to completely indifferent about Rae’s death, because I think that the only reason why I’m sad is because I miss her. Her death may be a catastrophe for the people that she had in her life, but it certainly doesn’t bother her anymore. She’s at rest. She is gone, and she is never coming back.

Whenever people are suicidal or depressed, they are labelled mentally ill by society. Mentally ill implies there is something wrong with them, or that they are somehow faulty. I don’t agree with this label. I think mentally ill people have a gift and a special sensitivity – they can see the world for what it truly is, and they are touched by the wrongdoings in the world much more deeply than most. Most people live their life in a very self-centered way, caring only about themselves and their families. This is okay for them in the short run, but too many people living this way is destroying our planet. Rae saw that, and it upset her too. It deeply touched her, as it did me. I think we ended up in the SPCA for the same reason. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of animals. We can’t change the world, but when we help an animal their world is changed forever.

Crows also represent to me that death is always near, because you never know when you will die, but this is no reason to fear crows, or death. Through Rae and through crows I have learned that you must embrace life while you still can, because life is so short. Rae taught me the hard way that life is over before you know it. She fought so hard to overcome her issues – she didn’t go down easily. She was one of the strongest people I knew. This is why I feel empowered when I see crows – I am reminded that life is short, and I need to live life to the fullest, not only for me, but in memory of those whose lives were cut short.

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I love being immersed into a magical story that takes place in a bygone era. Here are my favorite ones, and yes, it was very difficult to choose. Please recommend more if you’d like, I love getting reading recommendations. 

-The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This is the book that started it all for me. Nothing compares to the description of this circus. Morgenstern’s writing style is beyond beautiful and invites the readers into a world of the spectacular. What I love about the magic of this book is that the circus itself is the stage for illusionists Celia and Marco, but it also acts as a character itself. And while I loved her new book, The Starless Sea, this one holds a special place in my heart. 

-The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafrón: This book has a huge world and cast of characters that gives a strong adventure feel. The story is about an author’s books being destroyed over time. Daniel, an antiquities dealer, follows the mystery and uncovers a lot of what he doesn’t wish to find: murder, madness, and doomed love. Written impeccably, this book is for those who love to be swept up into a grand tale. 

-A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: I’ll also recommend the rest of the books in this series. Gemma is a captivating main character who has visions of the future and starts off this story in a lonely state. What adventures will follow her as her life changes? She arrives at a boarding school called Spence where the other girls are similar to her, and at the same time, so very different. This was one of the books that recently got me interested in reading series again, so I highly recommend it if you them. 

-The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: Sparked my obsession with antique dollhouses. This has all the allure of empty, unfamiliar homes and secrets around every corner. Nella receives a gift of a dollhouse from her recently wedded husband and commissions a mysterious miniaturist to create objects for the house. As the story goes on, secrets unravel, and dark drama ensues. And just who is this elusive miniaturist? (I saw the dollhouse that inspired this book while I was in Amsterdam over the summer and I freaked out)

-Enchantée by Gita Trelease: This novel takes place during the French Revolution. Main character Camille has the ability to use small amounts of magic to turn objects into money in order to scrape by feeding herself and her younger sister. As her journey unfolds, she dances into the world of the rich, attending parties and gambling her nights away. Camille meets a mysterious and handsome man who works towards the advancement of science. But through her love and adventures, Camille begins to lose control of her magic, and the result is dire. This book does a great job of getting historical elements correct about this time and place while swirling bits of magic to enchant the readers. 

-Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez: This might be considered fantasy, but the magic involved is pretty minimal compared to full-fantasy books. Atoc, a cruel ruler, summoned spirits to force the Illustrian people out of their kingdom, La Ciudad. Illustrian spies report that Atoc no longer has possession of a special crystal used to control these spirits. Our main character Ximena goes as a spy to the kingdom to retrieve it and is met with more friends than she expects to find: a kind princess, a masked vigilante, and a helpful healer. This takes place in Bolivia and feels like the perfect blend of rich culture and divine magic. 

Please leave recommendations in the comments, or feel free to message me!

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Doing a Ph.D. is a really scary thought. Especially in humanities and social sciences. Especially in today’s job market.

Here I’m going to speak a little about my approach to Ph.D. applications, why I chose to do what I did, and how I put it all together including examples.

1. The Doubt

After coming out of my Master’s degree, I already had a year of research set up, so I didn’t have to think about jobs like all of my friends I had made during that degree. I watched many of them struggle to find a job offer. Some were successful in attaining a job in Cultural Resource Management, a couple got smaller jobs in local museums, but for the most part it induced a lot of stress to have come out of a Master’s degree with no prospects.

How I imagined my future at that time: I knew I didn’t want to work in a museum, I knew I didn’t like Cultural Resource Management, I knew that after all this hard work I didn’t want to end up underpaid somewhere doing data entry.

A Ph.D. has always been something that I wanted. Ever since entering the Anthropology discipline, I imagined myself working towards becoming a Professor.

Here’s what I was told when I started to consider a Ph.D. Program:

  • “Don’t do it” (said by someone who already had her Ph.D.)
  • “I wish I had gone into something with more money, even after my Ph.D. its been difficult to find stable work”
  • “If you’re doing a Ph.D. in social sciences, ONLY go if you are fully funded, otherwise it is not worth the financial debt”
  • “Most people don’t get in their first try, that’s why people apply to 10+ schools”

Coming up with a plan: After hearing this, I came up with a couple different options. Plan A: Apply to Ph.D. programs, if I get into one my first try and it’s fully funded then I’ll do it. Plan B: Find a job in Environmental consulting, I could put my GIS experience to use, make some money, and then try again for a Ph.D. later down the road if I wanted. Plan C: Move to Japan and live out my weeb dreams (I’m part Japanese and have a lot of family there so this wasn’t as crazy as it sounds).

I was genuinely okay with any of these options. They all involve things that I enjoy, none of them are bad options, none of them would feel like “failure” if I ended up not getting into a program. I think this step is very important because it forces you to figure out what you care about, and allows you to be open to change if plan A doesn’t work out.

2. Choosing a Program to Apply to

I knew that I didn’t just want to apply anywhere. Getting a job outside of a PhD is already hard enough, and I wanted the school that I chose to reflect the work that I would put into it. As much as we want to think that name brands don’t matter when it comes to education, it sure as heck does help when it comes to opportunity and being selected amongst 100′s to 1000′s of applicants. Therefore, why not shoot for the stars? What’s the harm in trying. For this reason, I decided to only apply to schools that:

  1. Had a prestigious name
  2. Had a program that supported what I wanted to study and allowed for cross-disciplinary research (Digital Archaeology focused on SE Asia)
  3. Had an advisor that had done research paralleled to mine (whether that included SE Asia or just Digital Archaeology in general).

I started research into programs with the Ivies and went down from there, also cross-comparing programs that had been ranked as best schools for studying Anthropology.

At the time of researching, the programs that stood out the most to me were:

  • Stanford (ideal because it was close-ish to home, fully funds their Phd students for 5 years, has opportunity for additional funding, had professor working with digital archaeology in Asia)
  • Harvard (had professor working in Digital Archaeology though it wasn’t in my preferred region, also has good funding, and its Harvard)
  • U Chicago (traditionally one of the top schools for Anthropology, however I had heard that a lot of this is because of “legacy” professors, and not much has come out of the department in recent years. Did not have someone specifically in my region of focus)
  • ASU (Also considered one of the top Anthropology schools, but funding is often fought for between students)
  • UC Berkeley (Had professors studying Asia, but it is a public school and also has limited guaranteed funding)

I sent e-mails to advisors that I thought I could support my research (this was probably around May, when applications are due Sep-Dec).

  • Hello Professor______,
  • My name is _______ and I am interested in applying to ________’s Doctoral program in Archaeology beginning in the fall of 2020. I would like to inquire whether you are accepting graduate students for this period, as my research interests align well with your research. I received my B.A. in __________ from _________ in 2017 and am currently _______. [Enter what you’re doing now, and any relevant experience that shows what you’re interested in researching]. [Enter something about their research, and why you’re interested in working with them/why you think you would work well with them]. I am eager to continue along this path and I feel as though your experience with _______could provide an interesting opportunity for future research. I would also be interested in working with [enter any other faculty that have similar interests, this shows that you’ve done some research into the program and the school in general] For your convenience, I have attached my CV here. If you have the time, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you further about the program and future research.
  • Best,
  • Full name

I also researched the financial aid provided to incoming Ph.D. students. After doing this, the only schools that sounded good to me were Stanford and Harvard.

Yeah, I know, only applying to Stanford and Harvard was a “big risk,” but this is how I thought about it:

  • I don’t want to commit to a Phd program for 5+ years if it’s not fully funded, doesn’t have a big name, and isn’t going to guarantee opportunity after graduating.
  • I wanted an environment where I knew I could be happy under immense amounts of pressure  (California by family, Boston by friends).
  • If I didn’t get in, I had back up options that honestly sounded really fun to me, so I was okay with pursuing those instead.
  • I didn’t want a Ph.D. just to have a Ph.D., I wanted a degree that would set me apart from others so that I could give myself the best chance for success afterward. I wanted one that, if pursued, could lead me to become a professor.

So I applied to 2 Schools.

I got scolded for this by many people… but whatever…I got in, so ha. Why spend money and time on an application for a school that you don’t really want to go to? :P

3. Applying to a Program

What an application looks like:

1. At least 3 recommendation letters:

Mine were:

  • Undergraduate Anthropology Advisor who has been helping me throughout the years with grant applications, etc. She knows me well, can speak well to my accomplishments. She is also a very well decorated anthropologist.
  • Undergraduate Professor of Geography who can speak to my GIS coursework. I’ve been updating him with my whereabouts and successes since graduating, so we have kept in touch regularly since taking his course.
  • My Master’s dissertation advisor (he stressed me out submitting his letter 3 hours before the deadline >:| )

It’s good to have your recommendation letters come from people within the academic world. These people can write on your ability to achieve your research goals, your drive, etc. It’s okay to have maybe one letter from a workplace environment, however, it’s best to get as much street cred as you can from these letters, and this comes from Professors that know what they’re doing.

2. Curriculum Vitae (C.V.): This is important because it shows everything you’ve accomplished up to this point. This is how mine was set up:

  • Full Name, Current Position, Email, Phone Number
  • Education: University Name, City, Degree in ____
  • Publications: In Edited Volumes, Journal Articles, Manuscripts in Preparation
  • Conference and Workshop Participation: Papers, Presentations
  • Grants, Awards, and Fellowships:
  • Research Experience: Project Roles, Fieldwork
  • Teaching Experience
  • Additional Employment History
  • Leadership and Extracurriculars
  • Skills/Languages

A C.V. is a list of EVERYTHING you’ve done in your career, unlike a resume which is tailored to the specific job that you’re applying to. If you’d like a specific example, send me a DM. 

3. Personal Statement: This is where you tell them why you want to be there and what makes you qualified. Why should they consider you?

Personal Statement Example

      1st paragraph, introduce the program and your research interests: I am applying to _____ for admission to the Ph.D. program in Anthropology with a focus in Archaeology. My research interests are to explore [the consequences of ….. on the environment and human responses to environmental change] in [region of the world], and how these actions of the past can be visualized through the use of remote sensing and GIS applications to archaeology.

      2nd paragraph, why you’re interested in what you’re doing: I learned the value of digital applications in archaeology through my undergraduate and master’s degree. [Digital archaeology] is appealing to me because [………]. I first became interested in [example of why you’re interested in the topic/what inspires you].  After witnessing this, I began to seek out opportunities to partake in similar research.

    3rd and 4th paragraph, what makes you qualified to pursue this degree?: I have many research experiences that qualify my pursuit of a Ph.D. dedicated to using digital methods in Anthropological research. [Talk about your undergrad experience, do some name-dropping of professors you’ve worked with], [why did these experiences inspire you to take the next step?], [how are you where you are now because of them?]

   5th paragraph, what are you doing now?

   6th paragraph, why this school in particular?: This is where you name drop the professor you are interested in working with, talk about how their research aligns well with yours by mentioning specific things that they’ve done such as theoretical approaches. What are you interested in doing that would fit well within this program? Are there any facilities on campus that you are particularly eager to work with? Show that you’ve done your research.

   7th paragraph, what do you plan to do after you get your Ph.D. from this institution?: With goals of continuing archaeological research in ________ and expanding off the networks that I have established in _______, ________’s doctoral program in Anthropology is the ideal match to further my career as a Digital/Landscape Archaeologist. The Ph.D. in Anthropology at _______ allows for _________[reasons why you like the program]. Ultimately, my postgraduate goals are to remain in academia by continuing research and gaining a university faculty position. My foundation in archaeology gained in my undergraduate, graduate, and ______experiences have equipped me with a unique set of abilities to offer to ______’s Anthropology graduate program, and I look forward to the opportunity to exchange ideas with faculty and students alike.

Have your resume and statement looked over by as many eyes as you possibly can. It took me a good 6-10 revisions before settling on something that I liked.

4. Let the professors that you’ve been in contact with know

This puts you at the front of their minds when application review comes around. They’ll be like “oh yeah, this person messaged me about this.”

I hadn’t spoken to the professors that I reached out to since those first few exchanges back in May, so sending this message was very valuable to remind them of my existence.

This email can be as simple as: Hi Professor ____, I hope you have been well since we last spoke. I am writing to inform you that I have submitted my application to _______. Since our last chat I’ve been [whatever you’re up to now that’s relevant]. I look forward to hearing from _____ soon. Best, Me.

5. Productive Waiting

Yay, you’ve submitted! That was hard, but you made it through. Time to start diving into those other plans you’ve been thinking about. What will you do if you get into your top school? What will you do if you don’t get into your top, but you do get into your 2nd or 3rd choice? What if you don’t get into any of them?

Remember that none of these options are bad, and in this world, you have to be open to change and welcome it. A Ph.D. is a really long commitment, and it doesn’t have to happen right away.

If you get in, accept only if:

  • It has the research you’re looking for
  • It has an advisor that’s supportive of what you’re doing
  • It’s transparent about what it offers its students
  • The current students are happy with the culture of the program and quality of life
  • The location is something you’re comfortable with (for me having family nearby was a very important factor)
  • The money you are offered is enough to live the lifestyle you need to maintain good mental health
  • There is an opportunity for networking and expansion of your research outside of the university

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions at @aal.archaeology on Instagram or DM here! I’m happy to share my documents with you.

Happy writing!


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Just got done moderating my first ever panel. One of my classmates was doing her first ever conference presentation, and it was nice to be the moderator for her. One of the presenters didn’t show up, but the people who were there did a fantastic job. 

The ideas on a Queer/intersectional design one presenter had were absolutely mind blowing. 

Being apart of an academic conversation like this was beyond phenomenal, and it really shows how studying/thinking occur outside the classroom and in conversations!

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“I can’t do Emotion Algebra, [redacted name]!” said by [redacted name] in my RODBT group.

Everyone then agreed that Emotion Algebra needed to be a thing and someone should write a PhD dissertation on it. 

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