New News!

In the last week two cool things have been confirmed:

I’m really excited about both of these and can’t wait to get stuck in.

The Volunteering

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Inside the Hunterian Museum. Image taken from here.

About 2 years ago I started volunteering at in the museums department of the Royal College of Surgeons and enjoyed it so much that continued to work there until I started my PhD. Whilst there I was lucky enough to work with some amazing osteology collections and saw some interesting pathologies. I really enjoyed working there and was sad to leave, however, I knew I needed time to settle into my PhD.

A year on I have made the decision to return once a fortnight, so not to impact with my studies too much, to volunteer once again. I am so happy to be returning and to see some of the people I had met previously and can’t wait to get started. I am hoping to start this week, although I am waiting for confirmation, but already know what I will be working on – but I’ll wait until I’ve started to tell you all about it! It will be so lovely to go back, and a positive (and useful!) distraction from my PhD work.

Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies

SSSB logo

The SSSB logo. Check the conference out here.

A fellow PhD student and friend of mine from Southampton (archaeosarah) and colleagues have set up a new conference called Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies (SSSB) and I have offered to be a committee member. It will be an inter-disciplinary conference for discussing topics surrounding death, anatomy, attitudes to the body, mortuary practices, and more! This will be a joint conference by the Osteoarchaeology group (Department of Archaeology) and the Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences (CLAS) at the University of Southampton.

Since volunteering at the Royal College of Surgeons I have become more and more interested in anatomy and therefore saw this as a great opportunity to learn more about the subject. Last year I helped out with the University of Southampton’s student conference, PGRAS, for the archaeology department. I therefore thought helping out with SSSB would be a great way to build on this experience.

Part of my role as a committee member will be to help with the general organisation of the conference and  to read submitted abstracts and proposals. In addition to this I have been asked to help out with promoting the SSSB on social media. This will certainly be a useful skill to develop as so much is carried out in this way now – plus it should help with my networking skills. I’m sure there’ll be lots of other things to help with and I’m definitely going to get stuck in – I may even run a workshop!

Please go and check out the conference and sign up to our mailing list for updates!

Website: http://www.sssbconference.co.uk/

Email: sssbconf@gmail.com

Twitter: @sssbconf or #sssbconf

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SSSB2017/

 

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First Presentation as a PhD Student

SEW PGRAS Logo black

Logo for PGRAS 2016. Designed by the wonderful Stephanie Evelyn-Wright. Follow her on Twitter @archaeowright

Sorry that it’s been a while since the last post, I’ve been busy collecting preliminary data, doing some stats and writing stuff up for the PhD. There’s nothing overwhelmingly exciting just yet as I’m laying the ground work for my future research but it’s going ahead nicely, which is the important thing!

In addition to the more practical side of my PhD I have been preparing for my first year presentation, which I had to complete as a ‘milestone.’ This was given yesterday (20th May 2016) as part of a departmental symposium. On the whole I felt that the presentation went well. I tried to explain my research clearly using simple definitions in order to suit an audience with little osteological knowledge. There was also a question asking if I would be sexing the skeletons to compare rates of dental wear, which I answered yes. I also intend to compare the wear rates of the left and right molars, and the molars from the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandibular) jaws. My aim with this is to test the assumptions that there is an equal an regular rate of wear across the mouth. So on the whole I think it was OK – but I’ll have a meeting with my supervisor soon to discuss how it went, so I will know for sure then!

So where was this presentation? At Southampton Uni as part of the PhD I have to give a first year presentation. I guess this is to make sure of all the students progress, but also to give us a chance to present, which may not be very often for some students. In some departments all of the first year students presents together on the same day. However, in Archaeology we have a two day conference like event where first years, plus many of the other PhD students, present to the rest of the department. This is a great chance to find out what other research is going on in the department and who’s doing what!

Now this conference, called the Post Graduate Research Archeology Symposium (PGRAS), has to be organised by the students themselves. This usually consists of first year PhD students who form a committee. The committee has to put out a call for abstracts, arranging the conference schedule, sending emails, promoting the conference via social media and hosting the symposium. This is a great way to get some experience of what ‘real’ academic conferences are like and what is involved when organising them. Therefore I signed up to help out.

It was a great experience and by volunteering to be on the PGRAS committee I got to meet some wonderful people within my department. I also got the chance to gain some valuable experience, which I am sure will help me out in the future. I didn’t have one specific role within the committee, but assisted where help was needed. This including arranging the schedule, which involved sorting the submitted abstracts into themes/sessions for the conference day, taking into account that some submissions had requests to present on a particular day or time. This was quite a difficult task, but after a couple of hours we as the committee were able to produce a schedule that was suitable for everyone.

I also helped out on some of the social media side for PGRAS. This included adding stuff to our Facebook account, updating the blog and scheduling tweets for Twitter. Of course I was there on the day as well to help man some cake and book stands (we were raising money for the charity Smile, based in Southampton). There were a lot of little things to sort out and organise but I think that we as a committee pulled together really well and were able to produce a successful symposium! It was definitely worth doing – even though as I write this I’m lain on my sofa, knackered from the past two days of the event!

So this week has been a good week and been able to add two new experiences as a PhD student: my first presentation and being part of a conference committee. This are some extremely valuable experiences, ones which I am sure I will build upon in the future!

P.s. If you want you can check out my abstract for the presentation, via the PGRAS blog here.

PGRAS poster

Into the New Year…A PhD Update

My last blog was at Christmas and I’ve been meaning to do another one for the last few weeks but never seemed to get around to it – so here it is finally!

Since the Christmas break (which was lovely and lazy!) and settling back into work I’ve really started to get going with my project. The first step of my project was to propose an adjusted method for recording dental wear in human molars, which was completed before Christmas. This also included identifying the aging method, using human dentition, that would most be the most accurate and easy to apply and came to the conclusion of using the AlQahtani et al (2010) London Dental Atlas. About 2 years ago I wrote another blog piece discussing the accuracy of three different dental age estimate charts, including the London Atlas. The article describes the AlQahtani et al (2010) method in brief but the atlas itself can be viewed here.

The next step was to test out the method that I had created to assess how it worked when practically applied to human skulls. In order to do this I needed a good skeletal collection of the correct time period for my project (neolithic to medieval) that included juvenile and adults skulls. Luckily for me there is such a collection at Southampton and so it was very easy for me to get started! You can find out a bit more about the teaching collection and courses that Southampton University at the following blog: BOS, curated by the wonderful Ellie!

So it’s now the beginning of February and I’ve managed to apply my method to the juvenile skulls twice and the adults once. My plan is to do this a few more times for each set of skulls and there are a few reasons for this. The first is that this will enable to tweek my method where necessary so that it is as easy and accurate to use as possible. The second reason is so that I can become comfortable with handling and identifying teeth, but also so that I get used to the process of recording the data. This will be particularly useful when I move on to different skeletal collections, where I will only have a short period of time with them.

Finally, and probably most importantly, recording the data from the same set of skulls, multiple times will allow me to test the repeatability of my method. In order for this method to be robust and accurate it must produce statistically similar results when applied to the same collection, this will ensure that any results obtained using this method can be comparable. When recording the data from the same collection of skulls I am making sure that there is a period of time in between each data collection. This ensures that I cannot remember any particular individual and all of the collected data is ‘new’ again.

So far, the data collection is going well and I am getting through the skulls in the time that I wanted. Another key aspect of my project is to produce a method that is quick and easy to apply, and at the moment that’s going to plan so fingers crossed it stays that way!

I probably won’t do another blog post on the progress of my PhD for a little while as I won’t have much new to say until I’ve finished my data collection. However, I do plan to do a new blog post on molar identification (seeing as I’m getting pretty good at it now!). Hopefully, I’ll sort that out soon and get it posted!

The PhD has Begun…

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My amazing skull thermos my sister got me for my birthday!

I am now about a month into my PhD and so far it’s all going well. I’ve settled in quite quickly and it feels completely normal to be back at a computer reading articles and books about human dental development. The one thing I’m still getting used to is the routine and juggling my hockey, travel and the PhD, but I’m sure that will come soon enough. Since starting the PhD I have met many new and lovely people. At the university of Southampton there is quite a big group of PhD students, who are all at various points of their PhD, and a group of osteology girls. Everyone is so friendly that I never felt isolated or unwelcome, which is always nice!

Last week I went down to Portsmouth to meet my second supervisor, Simon Mays, who works for Historic England. It was really good meeting Simon properly as the only previous time I had met him was at my interview for the position! I also got to visit his place of work and where I will be collecting some of my data; Fort Cumberland. It is quite an odd place and it felt very strange driving up to a gate, where I was buzzed in, and then down a long drive into the middle of an old military fort. It was an incredible place and to be honest it’s very difficult to describe so I’ve added a aerial photo of the fort to give some idea of what it’s like.

Aerial Photograph of Fort Cumberland. Image taken from http://www.heritage-explorer.co.uk

Aerial Photograph of Fort Cumberland. Image taken from http://www.heritage-explorer.co.uk

During my visit I had a meeting with my two supervisors Dr Sonia Zakrzewski and Dr Simon Mays, which went really well. I was given some advice and guidance and so I now have a really good focus of what I need to do over the next couple of months – basically a lot of reading in order to create a methodology for age estimation that can be tested on skeletal specimens after Christmas! I was then taken for a tour of the fort which included the storage room that houses some of the collections that I will be using for my studies and the X-ray room. Hopefully I will be receiving training in this so I can take my own radiographs!

This week I also attended an induction day for AHRC CDP, which stands for Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Partnership. This might sound quite complicated but basically I have been granted a PhD through the CDP, which in turn is funded by the AHRC. For a bit more information please visit my about me page. This induction day was actually really useful, unlike other induction days that I have heard about, and I was able to understand a lot more about the CDP and what it meant for me. I now realise what an incredible opportunity I have with this PhD. Not only will I be able to carry out a project in a subject that I really enjoy and find interesting, but I will hopefully have quite a few amazing opportunities that will be open to me.

I am very much looking forward to the next few years that are ahead of me. I know that it’s going to be hard work and very stressful at times, but I know it will be worth it. After all I am being paid to carry out some work in a subject that I love and I will be working with some incredible people! Now after a long day reading quite a few articles about tooth development and various methods I’m off to the pub for a well deserved pint and socializing!

Update from Me

20150612_183947So I’ve been pretty poor at maintaining this blog recently for a number of reasons. Over the last month or so a lot a has happened which has meant that I haven’t had the time or energy to keep up the writing. However, these events have been well deserved and long-needed (even if I do say so myself!). The first major thing was that my boyfriend and I finally got to move into our own flat, it’s only taken us 7 and a half years! Since moving in and buying nice things to furnish it with we are both so much happier. It’s amazing how much a difference having our own space in a nice part of town, with only the two of us to worry about. It’s been quite a long wait but it was totally worth it!

The second major thing that has happened to me recently is that I applied for a studentship at the Univeristy of Southampton to do a PhD in Archaeology. After I completed my masters a couple of years ago I wasn’t convinced that further study was right for me and so I took my current job at Reading Univeristy as a Research Assistant. This job has been amazing allowing me to stay in an academic environment and work with some great people, assiting their research. Over the past year or so I have been thinking about my future and career and struggled to find something that I wanted to pursue. I was then shown the job advert for the PhD Studetship and it sounded ideal. My reasons for not pursuing a PhD sooner revolved around the topic and cost, however this one ticked all of the boxes. The studentship aims to improve aging techniques for human skeletal remains in archaeological assemblages which could provide a positive contribution to the field – something that was important to me, plus there was the added benefit for being funded.

I am extremely pleased to say that this week I recieved confirmation that I had been awarded the studentship! I will be starting sometime at the end of September and I’m very much looking forward to it. It will allow me to work in an area that I am passionate, carry out my own research and to potentially meet a lot of interesting and exciting people. To be honest I can’t really believe it still but I’m sure it’ll sink in at some point!

Getting to this point has not been easy – for myself or my family. I have very nearly given up on pursuing a career in the anthropology/archaeology field on multiple occasions even though I knew that wouldn’t make me happy. I have always heard, and even said myself, that you should do something that makes you happy but that it so much easier said then done. It is really difficult pursuing your dream job, especially if it’s in a slightly niche subject or if you need lots of work experience to get anywhere, and getting a suitable income to provide for yourself. I am hopeful in saying that I think that my PhD is that start of my career in a subject I really enjoy, but it has been sheer determination and a lot of support from my family and boyfriend that has really got me through. I feel very lucky to have gotten here, and yes I have worked very hard to get here, but I still feel lucky.

If you are trying to pursure your ideal career, or are attempting to get into a difficult field – keep going. Work hard, be nice to people and take any opportunities that you can manage – you probably won’t be able to do everything but showing you tried will count. Also make sure you are surrounded by people who support you and who you can depend on. If you’re going through things like I have over the past year or so you’ll need help and someone to turn to when you are feeling bad about yourself and your decisions. They are invaluable and are honestly the reason why I have managed to get this far.  However, finally remember that there is an element of luck in all of this. I was luckly to see the job/PhD advert when I did, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen just that it might happen when you don’t expect it!

I don’t usually write posts like this, and to be honest I didn’t really intend to when I first sat down today, but I felt like I’ve managed to get some things off my chest. I also hope that if anyone who has been in a similar position to me over the last year reads this I hope this post can bring them a little comfort or advice. You’re not alone, and keep your head up – I’m pretty certain it will work out in the end!