Monday, August 3, 2015

One Recipe for an Amazing Summer Research Experience

Our creative and amazing students gave us a blog post assignment this time around, and I have to say that I’ve found it daunting. Sorry, y’all, but I’m tweaking it a bit. The acrostic poems became haikus about my advisees, and I’m sorry to report that I just couldn’t find any embarrassing pictures. I know everyone is disappointed.

When I think about first impressions of my two students, Eniola and Melanie, I have to go back to their applications. Both of them immediately stood out to me as students I wanted to work with. They had thoughtful explanations of their interests in environmental anthropology, clear enthusiasm for working on the REU and with their fellow students, an amazing background in anthropology including fieldwork experience, and impressive letters of recommendation. I was definitely excited about prospect of working with them, anxiously awaited their acceptance, and looked forward to meeting them.
Eniola arrived first, and I got the opportunity to hang out with her while waiting for the others. She brought a stack of excellent “old school” ethnographies with her and asked thoughtful questions about our research and the place of applied work in our discipline. I was excited to have a fellow anthro geek! She has continued to impress me with her insights, her important questions, and her determination to follow her research interests. I admire her commitment to research in anthropology and am happy to have her as a colleague. One memory that will stick out is having dinner at Jake’s Supper Club on Tainter Lake after a focus group. We had an excellent conversation about what we had learned and about Eniola’s future plans. She mentioned wanting me to meet her favorite professor and mentor at Mary Washington. I was honored.

I was also impressed on another occasion where she gently called me out and helped me be a better mentor. We were talking about graduate school and she had follow-up questions from a group meeting in which all the REU mentors had given advice to the REU students. She mentioned wondering why I didn’t talk about how to combine scholarship/career with family given that I was talking to a group comprised of mainly women who are likely (if they choose to have a family) to find this challenging in a very different way than their male colleagues. I was reminded of my responsibilities and impressed with her linking of the personal and the professional while understanding that gender equality isn’t yet a reality.

Eniola’s hard
work and determination
have us all in awe.

Melanie embodies a characteristic that I wish I had that is shared by my favorite anthropologists: experience with on-the-ground activism coupled with intelligent questioning and a desire to take the questions raised by the messiness of activism into the realm of scholarship. I think that much of the best work in anthropology comes out of our political commitments. I don’t mean that we seek information that fits with our worldviews or biases—far from it. Instead, a commitment to justice, or sustainability, or really any value, generates important questions and demands rigorous scholarship to better understand the world and how to change it for the better. I have always admired my anthropology colleagues who had experience in various forms of activism and how these experiences enhanced their scholarship. I’m impressed by Melanie’s ability to do this as an undergraduate. I have had several conversations with her about her experiences in student organizing. I have been struck by her keen ability to understand the power of activism and to positively contribute to the day-to-day work of it, while still understanding its limitations and pushing for more inclusivity and more critical analyses. This ability will serve her well as she continues with anthropological fieldwork.

A few things stick out from my time with Melanie. First, she has embraced life in Wisconsin and with her fellow students. She was excited about attending the Eaux Claires Music Festival and even approached it ethnographically! She came back in awe of the politeness of Midwesterners and had a vivid portrait of the cultural differences between them and Californians. Melanie also has an infectious laugh. She had all of us laughing by just explaining an episode of one of her favorite sit coms. (Note to the producers: You totally need her to do a promo for you.) Taking joy from simple pleasures and sharing that with others is a good counterpoint to the often difficult work of researching important social problems.  

Melanie’s laugh is
infectious. Enthusiasm for
a cause moves mountains.

Finally, y’all asked for a recipe. My chili isn’t that impressive, but here is the Key Lime Pie recipe I use (which I can’t take credit for since it comes from the key lime juice bottle):

  • 9″ graham cracker pie crust
  • 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ cup key lime juice
Combine milk, egg yolks and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350º for 15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating.

I like key lime pie for its perfect combination of sweet and tart. It’s kind of parallel to our perfect combination of researchers these past two summers.

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