Tripping into Academia

The Annual Meeting for the American Association for Physical Anthropologists is coming to Calgary, April 8-12th! I’m excited because usually this annual event is held in a city that requires multiple stop-overs and an exploding credit card.

Will I be crashing this event? Yes! I’ve been away from my physical anth-types far too long. Usually I go to the Canadian version – CAPA – which is this year being held in Fredericton. However, as that would require another exploding credit card, I am abstaining this year.

I used to look to these annual academic events with wonder. As a student, I had a reputation to make and hopefully get noticed; I had to present my work and make connections that would lead to further research or academic placement. There was so much at stake!

I haven’t been a student for 10 years now yet I still attend when I can. Why? They talk about evolution and fieldwork, they brainstorm about research ideas in the hotel lobby, and get excited about dead people. In essence, they talk about all those things that aren’t talked about at professional meetings. I come away exhausted and invigorated. My nametag doesn’t state an affiliation these days (I suppose I could write “WiseTree” and really make them wonder) and sometimes that makes me feel like an outsider. But after listening to a couple presentations and greeting a couple of former colleagues, I am reminded of why I was drawn to physical anthropology in the first place. They are my people, and conferences are triggers and incubators for creative thought.

These events also give me a chance to engage in a bit of hero worship: to meet those people who wrote the stuff I read.  This year the keynote luncheon speaker is Dr. Emőke Szathmáry. The title of her talk is, “Searching for Ancestry: Has Biological History become Biological Destiny?” Yum.

But more than anything, I go to academic conferences for the unexpected. You never know who you’re going to encounter or with whom you’ll strike up conversation. As an example, I give you this secret background information: the opening chapter for “Memoirs” was created as a possible serial for a proposed CAPA newsletter. The intent was to increase readership. However, as the piece I wrote included a rogue physical anthropologist, they didn’t feel it fit with a professional publication. Fully understandable! For those of you who liked “Memoirs,” you can give thanks to those esteemed individuals sitting at the table in Banff that night who inspired me to write the first chapter: Christine White (UWO), Matt Tocheri (Smithsonian), and Richard Lazenby (UNBC).


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