The title of this column indicates a declarative statement my peers and I said as undergraduate anthropology students. Here I share with you three past experiences that have helped me develop as a student anthropologist. The goal in sharing them is to encourage you, current students of various phases, to be engaged and involved in the “world” of anthropology. Rather than being an “anthropology student,” you can transform into a “rising scholar” in the field of anthropology. Coursework and field schools teach us how to do anthropology, while actively attending and participating in conferences and anthropological societies and sections teaches us how to be in anthropology. You learn how to be a professional anthropologist by watching and doing with others. Think of it as an internal participant observation project, except at the end, you apply what you have learned to yourself.
I was introduced to anthropological conferences during the second year of my undergraduate education when my community college anthropology professor became interested in my research. This professor told me that I should present that research–I didn’t know I could do that! The notion of presenting research as an early college student seemed, from the outside, non-valued in symposia. I assumed that only tenured professors and doctoral students presented their research at conferences; fortunately, I was wrong. With encouragement, my professor and first mentor in anthropology helped me formulate my first academic abstract, submit it for review, and steered me to a conference of those both interested in my topic and inviting of students: The Society for Applied Anthropology.
Prior to my first paper presentation, I attended my first AAA meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. I, along with approximately 15 of my local peers, attended the conference through fundraising as a student club. This was the experience of a lifetime; it bonded us as peers and friends. It allowed us to see what anthropologists “do” outside of the classroom, both through the actual practice of presenting papers and by the visuals and words shared in each session by the presenters. At this meeting, on a flyer lying on a table somewhere, I noticed the words “student anthropologists.” Student anthropologists? I didn’t know we could be that!
As a first-time presenter at the 2011 SfAA conference in Portland, Oregon, I met many who would become my friends and peer-mentors; they were helpful students who were further along in their education than I was, and offered to be of help to me, anytime. The attendees at the SfAA were as inviting as my first mentor had told me they would be, maybe even more so. I still enjoy attending the SfAA meetings and find the environment to be as inviting as the first. I had hoped that at home on my own campus, I could provide a similar welcoming environment by having a very active and engaged anthropology student club. I served as the president of the Anthropological Society of Cal Poly Pomona during the 2011-12 year and modeled the meetings and welcoming nature to all students on campus after the student activities I attended at the conferences. Our membership increased, biweekly meetings were full, and attendees at activities ranged from students who had declared the major and were club members to students who were majors of other departments.
I share these experiences with you now, as I finish up my first year as a graduate student, because it is in these moments where we see what we can do to help ourselves grow. If being an anthropologist of any subfield is what you want to do, you do not learn how to do that only through classwork and fieldwork; it is also by being a part of the social aspect of the profession that we learn other important components. Think of it as social-professional engagement. In these past years, the term “engagement” has been seen and heard in our field quite a bit, even in the upcoming AAA annual meeting theme. As a student, consider becoming engaged with your future colleagues at conferences. Take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you at the conferences; make similar ones available on your own campus if they are not already.
At the university I attend now, I was listening in to a conversation between two campus club presidents who both are anthropology students. They were so engaged while discussing goals for membership, deciphering strategies for workshops, and brainstorming on future speakers to invite to campus. Their energy and enthusiasm was obvious and contagious. It reminded me of the experiences I had as an undergraduate, striving to be engaged on campus and learning from each experience every step of the way. I continue to pull from those experiences today.
We can continue to be engaged in a social-professional manner as graduate students as well. Currently, I serve as a graduate student representative for the National Association of Student Anthropologists. Not only have I applied what I learned through past experiences, but I learned new processes and made new friends, friends with whom I am working with outside of section business. If you are able, attend the AAA meeting in Chicago this fall; the NASA Programming Committee is aiming to organize student sessions and meetings that will encourage group discussions and interpersonal engagement with your peers and future colleagues, and that promote engagement in anthropology as professionals and rising scholars. I hope my own experiences of those eye-opening moments are words of encouragement to you. While there are student meetings and sessions at conferences, remember that it also requires you attend them and talk to people to gain the full benefit of their existence. Just know that if you show up, students like those who have supported me will be there to support you.
Krisha J Hernandez-Pruhs is a second-year master’s student at California State University, Northridge. She is currently researching the social dimensions of biotech foods in the US and was recently awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship through the National Science Foundation.
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