Katie Kirakosian is currently serving on the Archaeology Division Executive Committee as the Student-Member-At-Large. The following is her response to my call for  personal student stories on the benefits and challenges of joining the AD and attending the annual AAA meetings.  Check back in two weeks for Chris Shepard’s story! If you would like to contribute your own, just e-mail me at: kmichela@asu.edu.

Dr. Katie Kirakosian - current Student-Member-At-Large, Archaeology Division

Katie Kirakosian, current Student-Member-At-Large, Archeology Division

Why did you want to attend the AAAs and present your work there?

The first AAA meeting that I attended was in Washington, DC in 2005. Earlier that spring, I had taken a course on ethics with Dr H Martin Wobst and as a group; we decided to organize a session to present our work to a broader audience. This was really an eye-opening experience for me, as it was my first large conference.  Since then, I have attended the AAAs as often as possible (in 2006, 2010, 2011, and 2013). Coming from a four-field department, it is very important to me that I maintain a connection to the larger discipline. As many anthropologists, I feel that my research interests inhabit spaces in between any such subdisciplines. This is shown clearly through the papers I have presented here. In 2006, I presented some preliminary results from a joint research project that I was working on with Dr Alan Swedlund (U Mass Amherst), which critically examined a series of hair samples collected by former Smith College Professor Harris Hawthorne Wilder in the early 20th century. By 2010, I was developing my dissertation research, which again was inter-subdisciplinary (i.e. it involved interviewing professional and avocational archaeologists). At the 2010 meeting I was put into a general session and I was able to receive feedback from a much more diverse audience.  Although the same could be said for my 2011 AAA paper presentation, this meeting was most significant in other ways. By late 2011 I had nearly completed my interviews and had collected a large amount of archival data while on several research trips. I was ready to code and analyze my data, although I was a bit overwhelmed since it did not include the types of data I was trained to analyze as an archaeologist. Having already signed up to attend the AAA meeting, I found two day-long workshops of interest. The first workshop was “Introduction to Social Network Analysis” (led by H Russell Bernard, Jeffrey C Johnson and Chris McCarty) and the second workshop was “Text Analysis: Systematic Methods for Analyzing Qualitative Data” (led by H Russell Bernard, Amber Wutich and Clarence C Gravlee). Although clearly not led by archaeologists, these workshops inspired me deeply and they equipped me to continue the work on my own. Here I received hands-on experience with various computer programs. I also began visualizing my data (and even my world) in new ways. In fact, I know that my dissertation was redirected in entirely new and exciting ways because of these two workshops.

What was your experience at this year’s AAA meetings? What did you enjoy? What was challenging? What did you learn that was useful to you?

The 2013 meeting was reinvigorating. To me meetings are always about connecting, reconnecting and exploring. Not only was I able to reconnect with friends and colleagues, but I also made new connections at the sessions in which I participated. I also enjoyed participating in the AD Board Meeting. As a Board Member since 2013, it has been great to look back on a successful year and receive exciting updates from others equally dedicated to the AAA and the Archeology Division. Last but not least, I thoroughly enjoyed Robert L Kelly’s Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecture. His fable held the audience captive and had me on the edge of my seat until the last word. It was truly brilliant!

One thing that is always challenging is navigating such a large meeting. There are so many amazing sessions, which often overlap. Planning ahead is critical. As always, I downloaded the preliminary program and planned out the posters, installations, papers and sessions that I wanted to attend. Giving a meeting some structure and permanence is important to me too so I always go to the opening session, the book room and a few of the section meetings to which I belong. Since it was in Chicago, I was even able to visit the famous Field Museum, eat my share of deep-dish pizza and explore the city.

What would you say to other students who may be thinking of joining the AAA and the Archeology Division?

As archaeologists, we should maintain not only our archaeological identity, but also our larger identity as anthropologists. My involvement in the American Anthropological Association coupled with the Archeology Division has helped me to accomplish this. Here I have been able to connect with a diverse group of anthropologists and expand my knowledge base extensively.

In addition, one thing that sets us apart from others disciplines is our holistic focus, which is something that I think we should all work to embody. Although I am an archaeologist most specifically, few of the classes that I have taught are focused solely on archaeology. Since I began teaching stand-alone courses, I have taught more courses that were strictly cultural in focus in fact. I also pride myself on being able to branch out when teaching and have even developed a Medical Anthropology course that I will begin teaching in late 2014 or early 2015. Students may find themselves in similar situations where they are asked to be a TA for a course outside of their area of expertise or even teach such a course. In terms of professional development it is in one’s best interest to show a certain malleability here. Maintaining a connection to one’s subdiscipline is also crucial, which makes the Archaeology Division of the AAA significant. The AD is made up of like-minded archaeologists who see themselves as applied anthropologists first and foremost.

Katie recently completed her PhD in the department of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her dissertation is entitled “Curious Monuments of the Simplest Kind: Shell Midden Archaeology in Massachusetts (1868-2008)”. She is continuing her work at U Mass Amherst this spring as a Research Fellow and instructor. Since 2009 she has also taught in the Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Department at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Kostalena Michelaki is the Archeology Division secretary and an associate professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. Send her your questions,  news, essays and comments at: kmichela@asu.edu.

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