Category Archives: career

A successful catch

Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers.  Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering.  According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.

Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM.  Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States.  Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

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What have I said yes to?

As scholar-teachers, all professors at R1 universities are expected to devote time towards research, teaching, and service.  My expected ratio of 60-30-10 for my “40” hour workweek was described to me when I was hired.  It doesn’t really work out that way very well unless you are an expert at time management and saying no.  Most professors work way more than 40 hours a week to get everything accomplished.  I read recently it was more like 60-80 hours per week, including weekends (thank goodness I don’t work in Wisconsin).  Plus, saying no, when you stand in the shadow of the tenure monster, is difficult.  If I say no to this person or this project or this committee now, will it come back to haunt me later?  This is the question that keeps many an assistant professor up at night tossing and turning.  Read the blogs.

I didn’t do a good job saying no my first three years as an assistant professor.  Let’s just say that in Fall 2013, just before my mom died, I did a back of the envelope calculation and figured out that between classes, research, and advising I was interacting with roughly 220+ students.   Go ahead and laugh if you’re running a calculus program or managing introductory biology, chemistry or physics lab courses.  Get it over with.  It’s all relative.  In a small department like mine, you sit on multiple committees.  And with my interests in environmental change and sustainability, I was identified pretty early on and asked to participate in a couple of larger university initiatives focused on these topics.  Lastly, I was also trying to establish an international and interdisciplinary research program.  So lots of stuff to do, people to manage, projects to get up and running.

Now I am not complaining.  I love challenges, and took all of this head on.  However, as I head into my third year as an assistant professor I am seeing the need to slow down and change things up if I want to survive long-term and have some measure of success.  And as awful as it sounds, the deaths of both my parents last year put a lot of things about life and living into perspective for me.  A final lesson from parent to child.  So no is my new, old favorite – my mom told me once that no was the second word I learned to say.  My brother had to learn to say no last year at work when he was taking care of my dad.  He told me the other day he is still reaping the benefits and getting what he needs to get done.

Saying no to things though, I’m finding out means saying yes to others.  Options, in some cases, that I didn’t even know existed.  Now I have time to finish that manuscript that’s been languishing in my files, learn a new data analysis program that I’ve been wanting to test with an old dataset, and really network with other researchers in order to develop new projects.  It’s a bit bewildering.  Just what have I said yes to?

no yes

The Challenge of Being Science

One of my husband’s favorite reminders of his culture versus mine is that the Spanish work to live, while Americans live to work.  I cannot really argue the point with him.  It’s true.  We Americans are a culture of doers.  And in such a culture, that harmless Monday morning question between colleagues – “So, what did you do this weekend?” – takes on a slightly more competitive and sinister meaning.  As one old proverb states, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.

loiter

But what about loafing?  Daydreaming?  Being lazy as my dad used to chide me?  It seems that recent studies are showing that downtime from doing boosts creativity.  And creativity is absolutely necessary for good science.  A group of researchers at Leiden University found that meditation helped people come up with creative solutions to experimental problems, even when people didn’t really have much experience meditating.  In the experiment, people meditated for just 25 minutes – practicing either open monitoring meditation, letting their minds wander and being receptive to thoughts and sensations in the moment, or focused attention meditation, where individuals concentrated on a particular thought or object.  Open monitoring meditation assisted with divergent thinking, or coming up with multiple solutions to a given problem; focused attention meditation had no effect.   Chilling out in the name of creativity backed by science.  Breathe in.. 2..3..4.. Breathe out.. 2.. 3.. 4..

Being bored has its creative upside too.  I could have told you that by age 10.  I spent a lot of boring snowy no-school days making artwork or writing stories after a couple hours sledding or skating.  Scientists at Penn State looking into why boredom is good for creativity found that people get creative because they’re bored.  In the study, people watched video clips that influenced them to feel relaxed, bored, elated, or distressed.  Then the researchers gave people three words and asked them to come up with a fourth that linked the first three words together.  The bored study participants did the best at this convergent thinking task to find a single, correct solution to a problem.

So why the focus on being?  It is a topic that came up in recent conversations with a friend of mine.  We were talking about how the mad rush to produce as a non-tenured assistant professor leaves me feeling empty and ultimately unmotivated.  However, over the holiday break I didn’t work.  Well, okay I did about 4 hours worth of work over a 2 week period in reviewing graduate applications for our department.  But back to the no-work.  I hung out with my husband.  I watched Spanish TV without subtitles – they have some very interesting talk shows that skewer politicians and make fun of dating.  Pequeño Nicolás!  I drank good wine and ate amazing bread and cheese.  I connected with real people in a non-work context – family members and new friends.  I enjoyed being.  For the first few days, I was chomping at the bit to do stuff.  Anything.  By the end, I was extremely reluctant to come back to the United States and jump back into work.  I was relaxed, maybe a little bored, and my creativity battery felt recharged.

This spring term, I have been given an opportunity.  A semester without classroom teaching.  In the past I’ve funneled my creativity into student learning but now I need to focus it into my research program – research, grant writing, and article publishing.  So now, as my friend reminded me, the challenge is to continue this relaxed feeling while forging ahead productively.

References:

Research Obstacles

Jordan and I have slowly been getting fieldwork done here at the Maputo Special Reserve.  A number of obstacles have popped up along the way that have provided us with some learning opportunities, but also have me thinking about the feasibility of continuing research here in the future.  

Field office at Maputo Special Reserve. This is a patch of electrical outlets foraged closest to our base camp.

Field office at Maputo Special Reserve. This is a patch of electrical outlets foraged closest to our base camp.

1. Transportation – this has always been an issue.  The reserve is located on coastal sand dunes and has no paved roads.  4WD is absolutely necessary.  Despite shelling out to repair the car we are using, there is still no 4WD.  We were told this after we got to the field, with the promise that if we returned to Maputo we could get it fixed and then…  Our time is very limited so this is not really an option.  I was also unaware that the vehicle needed repairs until 3 days after we arrived.  So I had not planned for paying or waiting while the repairs were made.  My arrival date was known more than 2 weeks in advance.  The estimates could have been done while I was in the US so that I could have the proper amount of cash ready.  Then the repair work could have been done during the week I conducted a workshop at the university.  Hey presto!  No waiting around an extra week in Maputo for car repairs and spending money out of my own pockets that I don’t have. While we do get use of the car from the university here free in exchange for some of the repair work, any future research trips will require me to either rent or purchase a vehicle.  I cannot take students out with a vehicle that is iffy.

2. Students – As part of the agreement I have with Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, I take the occasional Mozambican student with me to the field for practical hands-on training.  To date, this has been fine but now that I also have my own students coming from Maryland this situation needs to be clarified more.  Conducting ethnographic work requires building rapport with the interviewee and trust with the community.  Having more than 1-2 people in addition to a translator while conducting an interview can make the interviewee uncomfortable and unwilling to participate – when the extra people start asking questions, they can slow interviews and create confusion.  We hit the limit on this trip our first week.  In addition to Jordan, Fatima – a sociology student at UEM – also came out with us.  I have been working with her on her MS research project.  She also brought her own translator.  All 5 of us worked well as a team, but I think we overwhelmed the folks we interviewed.  Between having 5 people sitting in on one of my interviews and then both students needing to collect their own data on top of my research, it was too much.  And so horrible for the shy people I occasionally interview.  There were other issues and additional problems I can foresee if the group was larger.  Any future student training will require advance preparation and paperwork on my part, as well as that of the students.  While I recognize that students may not have the hands-on practice before they come out to the field with me, there are many things they can do in advance to prepare that didn’t happen on this trip.  I cannot be responsible for everything.

Shooting the breeze about elephants and other problems - Jordan Tompkins, Prof. Adriano, Prof. Candido, Domingos Cuna.  Taken at Madjadjane Primary School

Shooting the breeze about elephants and other problems – Jordan Tompkins, Prof. Adriano, Prof. Candido, Domingos Cuna, Joseph Mucombo. Taken at Madjadjane Primary School

3. Costs – Doing research is a funny thing.  Some of the questions I get from non-scientists back home – or both scientists and non-scientists here – indicate that folks really think the US government pays for everything I do in the field.  They don’t.  I am not a scientist because I can make a lot of money.  I am a scientist because I am intensely curious and would not be happy not-knowing what’s over the horizon or why people do what they do and why it is different in one place/time versus another.  I create a budget for my research project.  There are costs that the organization who pays for the research will cover – certain types of equipment, housing, some food, fuel, some ground transport, translators, office supplies/photocopies, airfares – and a whole lot that they don’t cover – some food, “non-monetary gifts” that may be given as thank yous for interviews or other types of assistance, emergency repairs, emergencies,…  Okay, that makes sense.  But then I often have to pay upfront out of my own pocket and then get reimbursed.  Actually, some of this could be paid in advance by credit card, however, most of Mozambique where I do research doesn’t use credit cards.  So I am out until I get reimbursed.  My bank account looks miserable, and every time I go to the field I worry.  I have a mortgage and car payments, but that is the extent of my debt.  Graduate students have it much worse with tuition debt and then often putting everything on a credit card.  Anthropologists have traditionally traveled abroad to conduct research in hard to reach places with significant problems, and I still want to, but I see the advantage in working in the United States.  

Southern entrance on main road between Ponto d'Oro and Salamanga.

Southern entrance on main road between Ponto d’Oro and Salamanga.

4. Communities – I love this place where I work.  The people of Matutuine District are very kind and friendly, and hard-working.  But, based on their comments, they are getting burned out with visiting researchers.  “Many people come Dra. Jenny, like you.  They ask questions and write, but then what?  Where does this information go?  What does it do for us?  We are still having problems.  There is no hospital.  We have elephants eating all our machamba [agricultural crops].”  Jordan has been told flat out that if she were not with me, no one would be answering her questions about malaria.  “That is not the problem.  The elephants are the problem.”  I have been able to rework my questions a little since I am here to ask about environmental change and response – elephants killing people and destroying agricultural fields is a change that requires response.  Yet, tiring people out with constant questioning doesn’t advance our knowledge of how the world works or how we might make people’s quality of life better.  And they need to see the results.  I have presented my work to the community and given them results from past work.  I will be writing a report on this project for the community, the reserve, the government conservation agency, and anyone else who I can hunt down and hand it to.  But not everyone does this.  Publishing in journals doesn’t do anything for the communities where we work.  Governments don’t read journal articles and sometimes other scientists don’t either.  Communities take on many forms.   I will be able to get my research done, but I need to rethink and definitely think larger for the next project. 

The interviews are coming slowly.  We are getting great data though – when we can get people who have a little time to talk.  The PhotoVoice interviews have been fantastic!!!  Madjadjane and Gala have some great local photographers.  We have one more week in the field, my fingers are crossed.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned from working with my friends in Mozambique – be they in Maputo or Matutuine or Maputo Special Reserve – is that obstacles can be overcome, they just require time and hard work and patience.

Jen Shaffer and Domingos Cuna interview local photographer, farmer, and community secretary, Sra. Albertina Mondlwane of Gala, Mozambique.

Jen Shaffer and Domingos Cuna interview local photographer, farmer, and community secretary, Sra. Albertina Mondlwane of Gala, Mozambique.

Updated Happy News

Both Katie Chen and Raquel Fleskes successfully defended their honor’s theses. Katie’s thesis explored food security and how differences in data sets at the national and local levels could affect food aid. Raquel’s thesis involved the creation and analysis of new lab activities for a new course in our department – ANTH 222: Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology.


 

Chen, K. 2014. A comparison between local and national data: how food security definitions, dimensions and interpretations can impact aid. Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 38 pp.

Organizations around the world define “food security” in a variety of ways, but usually derive their version from the World Food Summit in 1996. Food security from this meeting is defined “as existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition varies from organization to organization, and in this thesis I to compare the definitions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to understand how the definitions are shaped and how this impacts the information they collect. In an extensive search through documents, survey data, reports and published works, I found that the surveys conducted may not give an adequate idea of what food security is. I also compare Dr. Shaffer’s socio-economic household survey conducted in Tanzania to the information collected by the FAO to see if the datasets are comparable and representative of food security definitions.


 

Fleskes, R. 2014. Facilitating a deep learning approach for university students in an interdisciplinary lab setting: a case study approach to the formulation of the Introducation to Ecological and Evolutionary laboratory course at the University of Maryland.  Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 171 pp.

In interdisciplinary higher education, the challenge for educators is to understand how to design a curriculum that teaches course material effectively, while still encouraging deep learning and interdisciplinary thinking in the classroom. We present a case-study illustrating how this was accomplished for the Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology (IEEA) laboratory course at the University of Maryland. Laboratory session styles varied between activity-based, discussion, station, and out-of-the-classroom formats and contained critical thinking and application-based questions. A pre- and post-test on learning objectives were distributed at the beginning, middle, and end of one academic semester to assess if students were learning course material. Additionally, student opinion surveys on the quality of the laboratory course were distributed to assess student-perceived effectiveness of the course. Over three academic semesters, laboratory activities were either modified or implemented, leading to improvement in the student opinion survey. The IEEA curriculum design provides framework for how educators in higher education can enhance course effectiveness and student opinions to facilitate deeper learning and interdisciplinary thinking for in their classrooms. [a good portion of the thesis is appendices containing the labs and related materials]


Also, Raquel was accepted into UPenn’s PhD program for molecular anthropology.  She will be studying under Dr. Theodore Schurr.  Congratulations!

 

And Now For Some Happy News

We deal with lots of bad news in our field of research.  Natural disasters, ongoing drought, household economic loss, environmental destruction, political change, epidemics, etc.  Bah!  Sometimes I wonder why more folks in our field aren’t taking depression medication – or maybe they are and I just don’t know it.  So when we get happy news we should definitely bask in it’s sweet aura while we can.

Lately, we’ve had a run of good news in our lab – internships, graduations, honors, and awards.  So here’s a virtual HIP HIP HOORAY!! shout out to our lab.

Alyssa Nutter will be traveling to The Gambia this summer for her master’s internship with the PEACE Program out of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  She will be serving as both a program and research assistant, aiding American and Gambian student participants, teaching stats, and working to develop a comprehensive assessment model for the study-abroad program based on ethnographic methodology.   Dr. Bill Roberts, an applied anthropologist, program director and founder of the field school, will be her supervisor this summer.

Rebecca Alberda landed a masters internship with START, a national consortium for the Study of Terrorism And Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.  Her fieldwork will take her to Washington, DC – our nation’s capital and a place that experiences frequent disasters in the movies (and some would say in government).  While Rebecca can’t tell us a whole lot about her work this summer, it will involve improving risk communication to vulnerable populations for new technologies related to…  Hold on, someone is at the door.     Just kidding.  Effective risk communication surrounding new technology is extremely important – particularly in the area of natural disasters, epidemics, and other environmental change.

Jordan Tompkins‘ masters internship will take her to southern Mozambique where she will assist her supervisor, Dr. L. Jen Shaffer, with data collection on the Signals in the Noise research project.  conduct a small research project of her own mapping local mental models of the connections between ecological change and malaria.  In addition to her work as a research assistant, Jordan will be helping teach interdisciplinary research methods at a training workshop for Universidade Eduardo Mondlane students and faculty.

Katie Chen will graduate with honors this May from the anthropology department.   Her paid internship with the University Research Company, LLC. in the Human Resources/Business Development Department will continue through until early September.  Kate says that she really enjoys her work and hopes it develops into something full time, but if not she plans to look for another internship or job related to Human Resources.  She’s also interested in exploring issues of environmental health related to climate change at some point.  On a more personal note, she’s looking forward to her sister visiting from California this summer and knitting the Fourth Doctor’s scarf from Doctor Who in preparation for next winter.

After graduating with honors this May from the anthropology department, Raquel Fleskes will be heading to George Washington University in the fall to begin a masters in Anthropology.  She’s considering participating in their museum training certificate program.  Raquel also landed a paid internship with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for the summer.  She will be lab looking at animal bone samples from the Chesapeake Bay region in Dr. Doug Owsley’s lab.

Amanda Hathaway will also graduate this May.  She’s been working hard in the lab all term to complete our skull catalog.  We are down to 16 skulls that are either unidentified, unnumbered, or both.  I, and the ANTH 222 students, owe her MAJOR thanks for that tedious and long-suffering task!  After graduation, Amanda plans to head out to Colorado for work.

This summer Maria Sharova will be participating in SESYNC‘s Summer Internship Program.  She will be a paid intern working with Dr. Jennifer Hadden on an environmental policy project in UMD’s Department of Government & Politics.  Maria will return to the lab next fall to continue her visual research with historic African images as an honor’s thesis project.

Next Wednesday, 16 April, Jen Shaffer will receive the 2014 BSOS Teaching and Mentoring Award during the annual College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Faculty and Staff Recognition Reception.  I’d just like to say thank you to all my students, colleagues, teachers, mentors, and mentees over the years that have inspired me to do my best.  I also want to say thanks to my mom and dad, both teachers, for teaching me how to teach and inspiring me as well.

Working a Conference

by Jordan Tompkins

Going to the 2014 Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Albuquerque, my main goal was to network. I set the bar high. I planned to attend every panel, discussion, and event humanly possible. I wanted to make a lot of acquaintances, maybe meet some future employers. It was a goal I didn’t accomplish, at least according to my original standards.

I’m one of those people who likes to be over-prepared. I outlined all the panels I planned on going to, starting at 8am every morning and running until 7pm every evening. I never made it to many of those panels. In my excitement, I had forgotten that I am a mere human, someone who needs to eat occasionally and have some down time. After 2 days of intense stress over HOW MUCH I NEEDED TO DO (the capital letters indicate my panic), I realized that my expectations were way too high. After that, I still went to panels, workshops, and other events, but I gave myself plenty of room to breathe.

As for networking, it was harder than I imagined. Talking to people one-on-one is easy for me, but it’s really difficult (and awkward) to walk up to a group of people and give my elevator speech. That’s something I’m still working on…

During the week of the conference, I went to two workshops, one on evaluation and another on text analysis. I highly recommend attending workshops at conferences. That’s where I really met people, people who are interested in some of the same things I am, or who study things that are interesting but have nothing to do with what I want to do.

Outside of workshops, I only met two other people. Both are from Arizona State University, and neither of them study anything remotely interesting to me. But meeting them taught me one of the most important lessons about what it means to network—networking doesn’t mean you have to meet people who do any sort of research or have any sort of interests. It’s more like making friends than it is making professional connections. Or maybe it’s just that making professional connections is more like making friends than I thought.

I was surprised to find that most of the connections I made included me “selling” UMD to undergraduates at the conference. I gave out my email, the email of professors involved in similar research to the undergraduates, and offered to give one person a tour of the anthropology department at UMD. More than making connections for just myself, I realized I was making connections for my department. And it was more fulfilling than just meeting people who would be useful to me.

So my attempt at networking was a failure, at least by the standards I had at the outset. But I did make some friends and I learned a lot through workshops and the panels I attended. I learned more about the students I go to school with every day, and I got to explore Albuquerque. And even if my original expectations didn’t pan out, I learned to be realistic and prioritize when it comes to my time. I also figured out what I need to work on for my next conference or networking event (ehem: elevator speech).

Although I like to be over-prepared for everything, I’m really bad about factoring enough time for myself – if you haven’t already figured that one out! I explored Old Town in Albuquerque when I was avoiding panels. I ate at all kinds of restaurants, the good, the bad, and the downright nasty. I learned that it isn’t as uncomfortable to do things alone as I’d thought it would be…it’s actually kind of nice.

One day one of my cohort members and I took a trip through the desert to the Sandia Sky Tram. That was one of the best parts of the trip, but Rebecca has already given a great description (with pictures!) of it, so I won’t repeat it here. If you ever go to Albuquerque, though, make time for the Sky Tram.

I also made friends, or is that networked, with our hosts. I jokingly tell everyone that Ed (the host) is my new best friend. And he was like my own personal chauffeur, offering to give me rides everywhere. Hanging out with him, and his wife Muriel, was a highlight of my trip.

In short, I learned from my trip to the SfAA conference that networking doesn’t have to be all professional, dressed up in slacks and button ups. It can be more like making friends, if you let it. Additionally, remember to do what you want to do while at a conference. Concentrate on doing things you like. For me, that meant exploring, hanging out with the people I met, and going to workshops; but “fun” looks different for everyone.


 

Note: Attending panels and workshops or even just going out to dinner with a group – particularly those with folks who are conducting top research in your field is an excellent way to network.  You should introduce yourself and what you do, no matter how difficult this might be for you (the link associated with the image above and here provides some tips on introducing yourself and networking at conferences).  At the minimum you may learn something new from making that contact, and you may even set yourself up for a future collaboration with the individual or someone they know.  Attending panels and workshops can also help you learn what is cutting edge in your field as this is research likely not yet published. But you aren’t required to attend every single event at a conference.  Be strategic. ~J. Shaffer