Upcoming AnthroPlus Conference

Each year our department hosts a student research conference, Anthroplus, at the University of Maryland. Only graduate and undergraduate students may participate as presenters of either papers, speed talks, or posters.  It’s kind of nice to sit back and see what the students can do – both the awesome and the cringe-worthy*.   It is good practice for students in a safe setting, and I generally encourage all the students who work with me to participate.

From PASA’s soliciting email:

The Practicing Anthropologist Student Association will be hosting its 6th Annual Student Conference, Anthro+ on Saturday, 11 April 2015. The theme of this year’s conference is A World Made Safe for Differences: Addressing Diversity in the Discipline. For those unfamiliar, this conference is an opportunity for students of anthropology and related disciplines to present a broad range of research, often in nontraditional ways.   Registration is free.  Abstracts should be submitted by 1 March 2015.  As the conference develops, we will post updates on the Anthro+ website.  If you should have any questions, concerns, or comments, please email us at anthropologyconferenceumd@gmail.com.

Be the solution*Bear in mind that the cringe-worthy can be because of bad research, bad presentation, or that the individual just chokes getting up in front of people and you feel awful for them.  And as an adviser/research supervisor, if my student is cringe-worthy, that means I need to step in with my mentoring of their learning and research.

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:

Playing Inside the Lab on a Very Cold Day

It is amazing what you can get accomplished at work when you all is quiet and distractions are at a minimum.  This past summer I collected some networked type data.  I asked folks at my field site in southern Mozambique to describe the social-ecological system in which they live and how it all connects together.  The interviews are part of a longer-term (I hope) project to map/describe the savanna social-ecological system (SES) of southern Mozambique from the perspective of the people who live and work there.  Maps can then be used as a focal point for discussions about key elements of SES sustainability, building long-term adaptive capacity, locating best intervention sites, identifying risk and uncertainty, potential tipping points, etc..  I got the idea from a paper I read about a Turkish team of environmental scientists who used interviews, cognitive mapping, and graph theory to construct maps of a local lake ecosystem from the perspective of the stakeholders.  They used their mapping method to run policy simulations and facilitate the creation of a participatory environmental management plan.

This afternoon I finally got a chance to play with my data.  It has taken me this long to get to it because I first had to learn how to use the software analysis program, Gephi.  Learning new software, at least for me, takes time, solitude, and a lot of button pushing.  I make a mess, delete, start over, delete, repeat et nauseum. Basically, having interruptions (student or otherwise), or at least the potential for them, does not make for a good learning environment for me.

Gephi is relatively easy, particularly if you want to download large datasets or use the datasets they give you – which are aimed at social network analysis.  However, I chose Gephi because it allows you to look at other sorts of networked data.  Including data like mine, linked social-ecological system elements drawn from TEK interviews.  But to do this I had to figure out how to configure a data set for importing into the software.  Surprisingly, Gephi doesn’t have a tutorial on how to put together a basic .csv (comma delimited) file for importing into their program.  I guess they assume everyone who uses this open source software is in the know.Thank goodness for Literature Geek (a.k.a. Amanda Visconti) and History Blogger.  Both researchers have provided detailed instructions about setting up basic .csv data files in Excel for use in Gephi.

So here are the initial results from a single mapping interview.

Salema.practice.map

First some translation and the legend.  A machamba is the local Ronga word for agricultural field and esteiras are floor mats handmade from Cyperus papyrus stalks.  The colors denote different types of capital: green for natural capital, red for human capital, and blue for infrastructure.  The purple denotes a process rather than a type of capital (I haven’t yet figured out what to do with this).  I enlarged the nodes for trees and bees because my informant told me at the end of the interview that these elements were “super important for the life of the community.”  The enlarged nodes of hospital, electricity and machamba show that they are sustainable elements, while fire and charcoal are unsustainable elements in this SES.  I provided weights, based on the perceived strength of connections, for each of the edges but they didn’t come out so well – particularly for elements that are connected but there isn’t really any perceived connection strength like charcoal and esteiras (both household money-making activities).  There were also negative weights given to connections between elements that were perceived as bad.  I’d like to figure out how to show good versus bad connections too.

At this point, I am still playing.  While I plan to create individual maps for each informant, my goal is to eventually link all the maps together.  The interviews were long but people provided a whole lot of very detailed information.  I’m looking forward to seeing more results from my playdays.

Looking to the Future

by Maria Sharova

 

Artisanal fishing. Zanzibar, Tanzania. March 2010

Artisanal fishing. Zanzibar, Tanzania. March 2010, J.Shaffer

As the end of the semester draws to a close, I am once again sitting down to try to map out my progress and figure out next steps. Over the course of the semester I have had meetings with a variety of amazing faculty who have told me about their research, I have selected my own methods for comparison, and I have selected my photos.

 

My methods for comparison include change in land use, change in sea level, erosion, and industry development. These speak to visual changes in environmental processes. Additionally, many pictures in the African photo database I accessed have descriptive metadata that provides, specific dates, photographers, and locations that could be further researched to locate a more specific modern photographic example.

 

I will compare the 8 historic images to pictures taken within the last 5 years to assess environmental change. My project will explore the applicability of using images collected from social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram for citizen science of environmental change. Pictures posted online could be used in a variety of manners in future research endeavors. For example, there is potential to link social media to remotely sensed images or ground truthing. If changes in sea level could be tracked in pictures taken by tourists and supplemented with remotely sensed images taken over time, this could provide a more accurate and holistic view of change occurred. The potential to use photographs as a dataset in citizen science research projects is realistic, cost effective, and could provide valuable information.

 

Before the start of Spring Semester I will also need to finalize a list of committee members that will proof read my thesis, be present at my thesis defense, and finally provide final suggestions for edits that I will make to my paper.

 

I’m feeling really excited (and nervous) about my project! It’s coming together nicely, and I have to credit Dr. Shaffer with being the most amazing advisor ever! She’s been so patient with me and I definitely would not have gotten as far as I have without her expertise. I still have a lot of work to get through. I have to finish selecting my modern photographs, complete my background research on each photograph, actually write up my findings, and start thinking about future directions for the research (is there potential to use Landsat images of erosion and coastlines to study visual change in the environment over time?) Here’s to health, happiness, and getting this project done in the New Year!

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Maria submitted this on 15 December 2015.  My apologies for the late posting. ~J.Shaffer

Stay on target! We’re too close! Stay on target!*

by Rachel Ridley

     After all the weeks of coding, re-coding, exporting, and now pulling it all together in a final analysis, we are finally at the end. We went through elephants, fences, and machambas [agricultural fields] all the way to standing water, hospitals, and weather (for Health in the SES Model, at least). It seems like we covered so much ground in so little time. I find myself still thinking back to coding interviews about elephant damage and realizing just how extensive this research was and is. I’m continually amazed by it as I sit down and try to bring it all to a close.
     One of the biggest struggles was having to organize all of the exported codes together and find themes in them. The problem is, not all of us (in my group) coded the same things in the same way. At first, this seemed immensely problematic. I kept thinking, “How is this going to add up to make any sense together at all?” But in the end, I think it was important that we had experience working on a project such as this in a group. I know I gained a lot from looking at the way the same thing could be interpreted in multiple ways.
     But now that we’re working on our final analyses, I realize that that wasn’t the hard part. Somehow we’ve got to pull all of what we’ve done through the whole semester into one analysis paper. I keep going back and forth, worrying that I won’t have enough to say and then realizing I probably have too MUCH to say to be concise! How to pull together these complex, interrelated themes without minimizing them or making them larger than life?
     Not to mention it’s the end of the semester (finally!) and there’s all kinds of absurdly long papers and cruel, unusual final presentations to do, and it’s hard to keep focus. I want to make sure that the material I create to finish up this project does the full experience and research justice. I keep stalling by making more and more maps or finding some new way to tie them together (I’m using online mapping software) and waiting around, as if I expect that if I do enough maps, a beautifully crafted full-length analysis will pop into my head, fully formed.
Finals1-e1326497361395
     In all, I think it’s bittersweet. Of course, here in this moment, I want everything I have to do for the semester to just be over and done with. I want to move on to holiday celebration, sleeping until 2pm, and not having any deadlines to even consider. Yet there’s a whole other part of me that wants it to continue. I want more time and more space to write about it, because in many ways, the interviews – the issues themselves – that we studied became important to me personally. I find myself regularly thinking about the problems and subject matter that I spent so much time organizing and analyzing. In some ways, it has become larger than life for me.
     We’ve all got until Friday to pull our masterpieces together, and I’m hoping we can make them just that! It has been more than fulfilling to spend so much time with this research, so here’s hoping we can all produce some worthwhile thematic analysis from it.
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     The KRAC Lab research assistants this term have struggled mightily to work though a ton of crazy data.  They’ve ridden a rollercoaster from learning how to code all the way through to their final analysis.  Their learning process is very much the same that socio-cultural anthropologists of all levels go through – down to the part of having so much to say and so little space to say it.  Their analyses has contributed to one submitted NSF proposal and two more in the works.  Their work will also go into a report for the Mozambican government and local communities, as well as multiple anticipated articles (and depending on how much work they’ve put in may include their names as co-authors).  I’m really proud of all of them.  ~ JS
* Gold Leader to Gold Five, Star Wars: A New Hope (Ep. IV)

There’s a map for that!

by Adriane Michaelis

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we’re wrapping up our data analysis for this semester’s projects. Everyone’s been busy–organizing data, looking for themes, and making some amazing Excel spreadsheets. Now we’re taking that analysis one step further, and trying to visualize the big picture (literally). We’ve moved on to map-making. I’m not talking about applying our cartography or ArcGIS skills (though that may come later), instead we’re using the data we’ve been spending so much time with to create mind maps.

What is a mind map you ask? A mind map is “a graphical organization of ideas and concepts that can be used to facilitate the generation of ideas and the learning process” (thanks to Michael Poh for the succinct definition as well as some examples of pretty creative maps). In the spirit of the semester, see the figure below for a mind map that provides a visual schematic of how to prepare for exams.

Instead of making maps to help us study for the end of semester exams, we’ve been mapping our data for each of the three projects, and maybe, just maybe, eventually creating a super-map that incorporates all three projects (or at least aspects of all three). Through the use of many colors, arrows, shapes, and even illustrations for those so inclined, we’re thinking of different ways to consider and visually depict our data. This can be especially helpful when pulling together large qualitative datasets, and will hopefully help guide the next step, putting all of our analyses to paper…as in writing a paper for each group’s project.

One of the more interesting things about the mapping process is that, though we’re attempting to map other people’s interview responses, perceptions, and ways of thinking about certain things, we’re actually getting a glimpse of how each member of the group thinks (mapping our own minds, one might say). As you can probably imagine, there are a number of ways to approach creating a map of a data set, and you can see different approaches and interpretations in the form that each map takes. This is not a bad thing—we can compare maps and reconsider our interpretations to try and create the most appropriate representation of each analysis.

As a final thought, it’s not so bad to have the task of playing with crayons and colored pencils for a bit. 🙂

Analysis Boundaries

by Sarah Strada

This week in our research lab we worked a lot of analyzing the data we have been coding. I am working on the Agency Project which is looking at the relationship between the government and the community on the issues of malaria and wildlife conflict. I quickly realized that analysis is a lot messier than coding! I started by pulling out major themes and separating those on an excel spreadsheet. Then I broke those themes down into more specific themes. I felt like I could have gotten even more specific but then I realized that 3 hours had pasted and I had 3 more codes to analysis. It is really easy to get lost in the analysis but I felt like I noticed things about the data I hadn’t seen before and I felt like I was really beginning to understand it. It was a really rewarding feeling.

After the agency team had gone through all their data once we met to discuss some of the themes we saw. As far as wildlife conflict goes, the overall theme was: fence. The government built a fence to deal with wildlife conflicts, the community felt this fence was of really low quality and it was pointless, and the community thought the best way to solve the wildlife problem was to build a fence  . . . fence, fence, fence, so many things about the fence. It really made me want to organize a service trip to Mozambique to build them one the best fences this world has ever seen.

IMG_7011

Maputo Special Reserve fenceline near Futi River crossing in Madjadjane, Mozambique.

 

Anyway, after we met we all went through our codes again and started to combine them all onto a single excel spreadsheet for each issue (one for malaria and one for wildlife conflict). Now we were all separating the codes into the same themes so they can be easily combined later. Going through the codes this time, I left a lot more out because at the end of the day I just had to accept that not every interesting thing said adds to the purpose of our paper. This analysis has been difficult but I often found myself unable to pull myself away from it. It felt like a puzzle that I had to finish solving.

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Setting boundaries in research is one of the toughest things to learn to do, and not easily teachable.  There are all sorts of fun and interesting ways to look at data, and analysis is supposed to generate more questions.  However, if a researcher doesn’t narrow down their topic the analysis and final writing can get unmanageable and frustrating.  Sometimes the best way to learn is just to dig in and see.  ~JS

The Home Stretch

by Hayatt Mohamed

So we’re in the home stretch! After weeks of coding we have finally reached the analysis phase, which feels like even more coding. While coding had its own share of frustrations between deciding whether or not a segment fits the criteria of the description of the code, the tedious re-reading, or the constant insecurity that you’re doing absolutely everything wrong (something that I personally always am worried about and anyone who is the lab with me probably gets tired of me asking and re-asking to make sure) it has been interesting. That’s the funny thing about coding though, what you may interpret the definition of a code may be different than how someone else may think the code to be. And you won’t even know that they are looking at it differently than you until you ask them a simple question, or until you are organizing and analyzing a code. Coding for the Health in the Social-Ecological model proved to be hard because I couldn’t help but think SES stood for socio-economic model, and I couldn’t help but focus on that. Even when coding I would look at the blockers that affect the community’s health like lack of infrastructure or transportation. I had to constantly re-remind myself to also look at climate and ecological factors. Though often ecological factors tied in with infrastructure at times (for instance in regards to quality of water and sanitation both factors in the spreading of malaria and cholera). There were times where I didn’t even use certain codes and times where I felt like something should have been created into its own code rather than lumped in a broad code but was overruled. The thing about coding is that it’s subjectively objective; the facts are there but are very open to interpretation.

rock-climbing-desktop-hd-wallpaper-free-mountain-pictures

The analysis has proven to be just as daunting as coding-if not more. Here is where we see if our coding was even remotely similar to our group members and also comparing how we coded and what our interpretations of the codes were. In my personal group when I have analyzed codes I noticed slight differences in what each member has found to be appropriate to code. Also some people tend to be more generous with their coding-something I tend not to do but the great thing about working in a group is that they might have caught something you intended to code and didn’t but it also becomes frustrating when you feel like maybe that should not have been coded and it is (once again these are times where it is great to have someone else in the room working beside you so you can ask them a few questions). Color coding the analyses by comment has definitely made these excel spreadsheets easier to look at and more fun and I just feel like color makes everything better. I’m still not quite done with my analysis but it’s oddly comforting. It feels good to turn disorder to order so although it’s tedious, I’m enjoying the process.

Mid-Semester Slump

by Donald Warner

I’ve officially reached the point of semester that my life is being held on by a single string ready to collapse the balance I have been trying to make of school, work, sleep, food, extracurricular activities, and the occasional “fun” activity (I know, what a concept!) With the looming smell of stuffing and sweet potatoes in the near future, and lowering temperatures that are perfect for just sleeping all day, I thought I’d post some tips to help fellow researchers, as well as students on how to make it through the November drag.

1 . Schedule, schedule, schedule

What?!? Plan ahead?!? Don’t procrastinate?!? What is this?? The concept of actually sitting down and planning out when to balance all of your responsibilities has always seem foreign to me. In fact, the concepts of procrastination and improvisation should really be tattooed on my back in fancy Shakespearean lettering because they are such engrained concepts in my mind. However, as my improvisation turns into “hell, I’ll just lay in bed” I’ve realize that this already flawed strategy is definitely not going end well. Something as simple as just planning out homework, sleep, meals, and even fun can help tame the overwhelming feelings of distraught and doom that are likely arising at this time. If you are one of those people who already do this, and have been doing this for years: teach me your tricks, slash give me a bit of whatever elixir of motivation you’re drinking. If not, this false sense of control on your life will sure to help you manage to not crash and burn as you daydream of pie baking in the oven.

2. Think of the big picture

As much as I aspire to marry rich and simply live lavishly on Malta, with a baby hippo and a fancy cocktails, it’s helpful to stay realistic. The work we are all doing now is going to help our future, so that if the million dollars that Nigerian prince entrusted you with does not actually follow through, you have some experience and good grades under your belt. This is especially important with research. With our research, there are real world benefits, people will benefit from the work we’re doing now. This humbling thought can often jump start me to be productive and get moving.

baby hippo3. Stop making excuses

But my stomach hurts! Sirius Black is still dead! It’s too cold to function! I am famous for finding any sort of reason to halt all work, crawl into bed, and cuddle with my stuffed hippo until I lull into sleep. Excuses, as well as procrastination and improvisation, also may as well be tattooed on my skin in fancy letters. If you too are an excuse maker, don’t worry you are not alone. Taming the voices in your head that tell you to stop is a skill that is hard to master, but it is imperative that you learn as soon as possible. So much of life is mental, and if you can power through the head colds, the sadness, and the cold weather that is slowly freezing your innards, you will feel so much better about yourself, and life. Take the extra time to come into the lab and work, or make the trek to the library to do homework, and try to stop finding excuses!

4. It is okay, and imperative, to relax.

Relax! Please! Find some time! And this is coming from someone who’s anxiety resume is stronger than their academic one. If you get behind on your scheduling, or miss a homework assignment; it’s okay. The world is still spinning; the Simpsons are still on air; and the apocalypse has not yet begun. It’s healthy to be a bit stressed and to put some pressure on yourself to get work done, but within reason. Life is hard, my friend, and won’t get any easier any time soon. You’re allowed to sneak a quick TV episode or a power nap without having to feel guilty.

Owen (hippo) and Mzee (tortoise, "Grandfather" in KiSwahili). When Owen lost his family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kenyan villagers who found him took him to a park where he was adopted by Mzee.

Owen (hippo) and Mzee (tortoise, “Grandfather” in KiSwahili). When Owen lost his family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami the Kenyan villagers who found him took him to Haller Park Animal Sanctuary near Mombasa, where he was adopted by 130 year old Mzee.

5. We are social creatures! Never forget

Social interaction?! My super introverted self’s stomach is already churning just thinking about it. But no really, people can be okay. Find some time to study with friends, schedule some research with a buddy, or even go get coffee (or tea) with someone you think is cute. It can be easy to feel super alone in this world, especially when you get caught up in your work. Remember that everyone is struggling, and that having someone to talk to, even if it is just every now and then, can make life a little more enjoyable.

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In the thick of the mid-term, when we are all buried beneath an overwhelming amount of things (just things mind you!!) that must be done yesterday – heh! – Donald’s wise words gets to the heart of who we are above and beyond being mad, white-coated scientists slaving away over hot computers in the lab.  We’re people first.  People who have problems and hang ups and sadness and happiness.    To be human beings, not merely human doings, we do have to think of the bigger picture, relax (and stop making excuses not to do so), interact with our fellow Earthlings – human and otherwise, and schedule in our priorities.   *raises a fancy cocktail and gives a baby hippo a hug*  Here’s to all of us who’ve made it through the midterm, and all the best as the steam locomotive accelerates to the end.  ~JS

Training to Respond

Our work in the KRAC Lab focuses on how people, households, and communities use their environmental knowledge to respond and adapt to environmental change.  We work with rural communities primarily in southern Mozambique.  However, Ronga communities are not the only communities facing environmental change, potential natural disaster, and day-to-day emergencies.

Learn to Prepare

Back home, here in the United States, here in Maryland, we face potential threats and deal with emergencies big and small on a daily basis.  Heck, getting into the car to go anywhere in the DMV region is like a death wish with the way most people drive.

START Students Pioneer UMD CERT Program

Rebecca Alberda, a masters student in the KRAC Lab, has been working with START over the past 6 months on the social science side of Maryland and U.S. emergency issues, potential disasters, and terrorist threats.  Recently, she participated in an exercise to complete her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.  CERT is a FEMA program that trains local citizens to respond and assist in emergency situations.  Prince George’s County has a CERT presence and soon so will the University of Maryland, College Park.    It’s all part of UMD’s emergency preparedness plan.