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Human Cadaver Prosection

Saturday: April 19, 2014

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I have been accepted into the 2014 International Human Cadaver Prosection Program. I have almost applied pretty much every year since the early 2000’s but chickened out – not necessarily because of its topic alone, but because I never understood the schedule well enough to know how it would impact my job. This year, my job is much different, and there is more meaning behind the program for me now than just as a curiosity.

Now, as a trained bioarchaeologist, one of the things I lack in formal education is a true gross anatomy experience. This program offers a crash course in that, and then the ability to observe it in the real. In the program, prosectors will prepare the donors for IU medical students. There are also several workshops, including suturing and radiography.

I am excited to be able to add this to my education! Out of over 200 applicants, only 48 were accepted so it is an honor, as well. One of the items included in the application packet was a description of what the experience will mean to me. I had to think for quite some time on a response. In bioarchaeology, working with ancient skeletons easily removes the connection to an identity – it is too difficult to really understand what a person looked like in life, and the social relationships that were broken when they died. But with a donor, the identity of a face and body is clearly there, and one of the things I really appreciate about the program is that the donors’ families are involved in a memorial service. For the donor to have offered their body in death as an educational tool is such an openly intimate gift, and I struggled with answering the questions in the application in the short length requirements.

I don’t believe I will have any trouble with the training, either. As I may have mentioned before, I grew up with my grandparents offering butchering services for deer (and they butchered their own cows). I more recently witnessed an autopsy being performed. I was very uncertain how I would handle that – such a different context obviously than a deer for meat. I was awed, though I know I would not want to be the one to do that day after day after day. I’ve always been drawn to the dead and decaying – the process of how life returns to earth simply intrigues me, what can I say?

Just this past weekend, I found a scapula in my woodpile, a full pelvis (with sacrum) in the woods, and my neighbor gave me a chipmunk his cat had killed (it’s sitting out back waiting to decay). When I get a chance, I’ll clean the bones up and identify what species they are. One of the things I would seriously consider for returning to graduate school to get a doctorate is zooarchaeology. I really enjoy comparative osteology and the ability to find something out there and know what it was!

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taking the GRE

Wednesday: August 17, 2011

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My friend Jaclyn took a GRE course and graciously loaned me her books and notes. I have listed their ISBN information on the Library page, but this is the quick list:

Practicing to Take the GRE General Test: Explains the test procedure and includes practice tests.

The Ultimate Math Refresher: Covers everything from basic math to geometry.

Vocabulary Cartoons I & II: Quick way to learn a lot of new words.

I found the Practice book and the Math one to be the most valuable. I did learn a lot of new vocabulary but considering there are a million words, I can’t say a single one in those books was on my test. That said though, studying so many words helped me see patterns to make educated guesses so I would not skip learning vocabulary altogether. I also did not study anything about the essays from a book. I talked with people who had taken the course and the test and asked for their insight.

She also gave me the Graduate Admissions Essay book for when I needed to write the letter of intent. I did not read this one cover-to-cover, but I did flip through the examples. I learned to make the letter personal and not rehash what was on my CV. This process is where you show who you are, not what you have done.

I had a very limited time span to take the test – I studied like mad so I could get the results as soon as possible so I could tell my boss and coworkers that I would be leaving in enough time for them to replace me before class started (of course, other issues popped up and I unfortunately left them for a short time without a replacement). I studied long enough to pass, but not long enough to be content with my scores. I learned the GRE really is set up to make you fail. It is quite possibly the dumbest standardized test out there. When the vocab is centered on words no one uses but GRE test-takers, what is the point, exactly? When essays are graded by a computer looking for lame keywords like “first”, “second”, and “third”, how is it judging a good quality essay? At least the math part makes sense. Although why I would need to know how many combinations can be made with some blue marbles, a row of seats in a theatre, and a pig beats the heck out of me.

I passed, it’s over, and one day sociologists will rule the world with programs that actually measure and work. Right?

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the grad school interview

Tuesday: August 16, 2011

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In my case, I did not have an interview with UIndy, exactly. Dr. LP, from IUN, had suggested that I speak with the school because I was not sure whether I should enroll under the biology department for human evolution, or the anthropology department, for bioarchaeology. I decided to learn about the new anthro program first and began email correspondence with Dr. S, the director of the master’s program. He offered to meet in person to go over the specifics.

I had scoured the interwebz about what to expect at interviews, what to bring, and other ways to prepare, but I could not say for certain this was the situation I would find myself in. Was it a casual meeting, or was this to be an interview? I decided to dress up and bring a copy of my CV-in-progress, my unofficial transcript, and a copy of the paper I churned out for the Peruvian field school, just in case.

I arrived early and first sat down with Dr. R, the chair of the anthro department. From that conversation, I decided it was going to be more of an interview process, but surprisingly my nerves were not wrecked.  I think because I hadn’t actually decided if I was going to do anything about grad school in the near future. Of course, once I met with Dr. S and he asked the life-changing question, “So will you be enrolling for this fall?”, that decision was pretty much made. The thought of enrolling so soon made me as as giddy as a school girl.

Dr. S allowed me to sit in on his mortuary archaeology class. [I would like to note that although I personally have zero desire to partake in excavating cemeteries for the sake of excavating, it would be lying to say the subject did not interest me.] Sitting in on the class was nice – it allayed my fear of how formal grad school may be, or how formal UIndy would be compared to IUN. It was a relaxing atmosphere, open and inviting.

I had gone in to this interview expecting the worse. Was it a commuter school, like IUN? I did not want that. Was it going to be all secondary research instead of the real deal, similar to IUN? The stroll through the lab, with the white light confocal microscope, proved this was not the case. Would the teachers be grueling in their expectations of student’s “free time”? I got the feeling the faculty understood personal lives. Overall, it was a great experience. Except for the lack of major funding and the uncertainty of a brand new program with a teeny cohort, I had no issues and decided to kind of pursue the idea.

There was just this little dilemma about a solid job I had had for over ten years…


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