Physical Anthropology Pre-Grad Intern Kathleen Rust
The goals of my internship with Dr. Liza Shapiro and graduate student Amber Heard of the Anthropology Department were to complete a nonhuman primate gross anatomy dissection, work along side with Amber to fully understand the life and responsibility that graduate school demands from its students, and to discuss with Amber and Dr. Shapiro my potential future in graduate school and what I should do to prepare for graduate school. Initially, I thought I knew how I felt about applying to graduate school and what would be expected of my role as a graduate student; however, during the course of this pre-graduate school internship, I learned more about the responsibilities and expectations of graduate students (personal and academic) and now take more into thought when considering graduate school. The pre-graduate student internship has given me an extraordinary opportunity and experience that has let me learn more about myself and all aspects of graduate school, academia and research.
The bulk of my internship consisted of a gross anatomy dissection of the old world monkey, Macaca fuscata. As a physical anthropology major with a focus in human evolution and osteology, I came into the dissection with a firm grasp of osteology, bone morphology and skeletal structure. From the dissection, I hoped to learn and become more familiar with the musculature and neurovasculature of the human body and further my knowledge of human anatomy. I worked on my dissection with Amber in a functional context in which we discussed what mechanical advantages certain musculature morphology produced and how different insertion points of muscles differed among primate species, thus leading to the many different locomotor behaviors documented among primates. After performing my dissection labs with Amber, I feel more than comfortable with the musculature and neurovasculature of the human body. The philosophy that Dr. Shapiro and Amber both share is that anatomy is best learned in a functional and developmental context; having now completed my gross anatomy dissection, I would have to agree with them. I have always been fascinated with anatomy and physiology of the human body and this dissection has opened my eyes to the possibility of medical school, an idea that never occurred to me until now.
In addition to the dissection, I was able to spend more time with Amber and a handful of the other graduate students in the anthropology department during our journal club meetings twice a month. During our journal club meetings, we read and discussed the recently published literature in our field. Journal club was more than beneficial for me because it taught me to keep up with the latest research in the field; in addition, reading and analyzing these recent publications with the graduate students taught me to recognize scientifically sound research and what makes someone's research to meet the bar for publication. Although casual, the many discussions of new publications with the graduate students helped me realize how important new literature in your field is and what makes someone's research worthy of publication (something I consider an extremely valuable lesson when considering graduate school).
This pre-graduate internship also offered me a chance to work closely with Amber and truly see what graduate school life is like and what exactly is expected of you as a graduate student. I thought had a good idea going into the internship of what graduate school was like; however, talking with Amber about what her daily schedule was like and what sacrifices she had and continues to make opened my eyes to other aspects of graduate school I had never even considered. For example, working as a graduate student, making a lower than average salary and constantly working on your dissertation at your own pace with no measurable token of your progress is something all graduate students must to cope with. Until my discussions with Amber, I never realized the self-motivation and endurance needed in addition to the personal sacrifices graduate students are forced to make.
While I feel that performing research in a field of study that I am passionate about would be the life for me, witnessing firsthand the sacrifices, endurance, and self motivation really needed, I have been questioning how dedicated I would be in graduate school. Some may find this uncertainty I have regarding graduate school off-putting; however, if this internship has taught me anything, it has been to really evaluate and explore all the options I have after receiving my Bachelor's degree, some including graduate school and some not.
While my initial "I'm definitely going to graduate school immediately after UT" mindset has changed, my thoughts concerning graduate school as a legitimate option has not. I still am extremely interested in graduate school, and Amber has been a useful source in helping me prepare myself for graduate school. She suggested I write and Honor's Thesis and also offered to help and guide me through my research. Presently, she has been helping me bounce around different ideas for my thesis, guiding me in what topics and research would be most feasible and noteworthy. In addition, Amber and I have been discussing which graduate schools have prominent anthropology departments and what aspects I should look for in the university and graduate program. Amber has also been guiding me in how to narrow down my focus within physical anthropology, which in turn would help in choosing what graduate school programs I would like to apply to.
What Amber and this internship has collectively taught me is that graduate school does not necessarily have to be my only option after I leave Austin. While I am passionate about my field of study and would enjoy going further academically in physical anthropology, I feel that exploring what the 'real world' has to offer would benefit me and teach me more about myself. Still, I have a feeling that within two years of graduating, I will be running back to academia with arms wide open.
Not only did this internship give me the opportunity to learn more about anatomy and research, this internship also taught me more about myself and what future I would like to see myself have. I have a passion for learning and exploring new research and feel that I would do well in graduate school; however, from this internship I now recognize the many different factors in deciding if and when to attend graduate school. My internship has led me to new ideas regarding graduate school and has even led me to consider medical school. Quite honestly, I feel like I would have made some hasty decisions to go straight into graduate school if I had not been given the opportunity to participate in this internship. If anything, I feel that I am now fully equipped to make the right decisions for myself regarding graduate school and my position in academia in the future.