More thesis work and less Real Housewives

A new year, a new start.

This year I am facing one of my greatest addictions and ending it here –The Real Housewives. A super close friend of mine recently quit smoking and as he goes through it I will be administering my own self-control and quitting Real Housewives. For my whole university career I have been watching religiously which has been an almost completely useless activity. After long days of school I enjoy the calming simplicity of the content as I watch grown women fight at dinner partiers. My love of trashy TV is slightly embarrassing but I am a firm believer in telling people your goals so that you have extra motivation to stick to them. Basically, I refuse to finish grad school and still watch Real Housewives.

This is not the first time that I have tried to kick this habit. I’ve even calculated how much time I have invested into this show in attempt to scare me out of tuning in each week. I have seen every single episode (minus super early OC ones), and often rewatch old seasons. The issue is that there are always two or three series going, so even though a season ends there is another one that steps into its time slot and I never STOP. So here are the numbers:

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 8.29.33 PM

It pains me to think about all the other things that I could have been doing with my life. So here are my official rules that I intend to uphold this year:

-No streaming any shows online. The Internet is an abyss of content that traps me in. I will be especially cautious of weekly network shows that end up with me having a TV commitment of 2 hours a night.

-I can only watch content on my iPad. I will not be able to completely eliminate television from my life. It is unrealistic. I live on my own and like to watch stuff when I clean or paint. Therefore I am allowing myself to watch whatever I can access on my iPad, which is drastically reduced compared to the volume of shows available when streaming on my computer. This way I can still enjoy a limited amount of sitcoms available through network apps (thank god I still have The Mindy Project). Also whatever is available on Netflix (I haven’t even touched Breaking Bad yet).


“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

-Bruce Lee


Bruce Lee is right. Reality TV has sucked up way too much of my time and has given me very little back. I very rarely come across people who have watched any of these shows so I miss out on the enjoyment of talking to friends about them. Goodbye Top Chef, Real World, Project Runway, Shark Tank, Mob Wives, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Shahs of Sunset, Vanderpump Rules, and basically anything Bravo.

Ouch, my heart hurt as I wrote out that list. I’m extra bummed because I wanted to watch Nicole Richie’s new reality show.

It has been two weeks since I have watched any Real Housewives. I’m not going to lie, I still follow gossip online but even that is becoming more infrequent. Yes, I am dying to see how the Orange County reunion went. And it is killing me to not watch Milania on RHONJ. But if I follow my promise this semester I will allow myself to binge watch all of these shows at some point.

In the meantime I have been spending my down time painting, listening to music, and watching Gossip Girl on Netflix. God I love Blair.

All bets are off if the Real Housewives of Vancouver ever returns.

Leaving Haida Gwaii and Struggling to get Back into Work Mode



Smithers, BC- On our way out West

What do you do when you are a poor graduate student that wants to go on vacation? You suck it up and travel with your parents, even if that means living with them in a trailer for a month. During July my parents and I took at road trip to Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, in order to visit my sister who is currently living there and to explore the beautiful islands which I hadn’t been to in over a decade. It was an absolutely amazing trip! Haida Gwaii is without a doubt my favourite place in Canada. There, the beaches felt crowded if there was anyone else there. I went clamming and crabbing a few times, which I happen to have rocked at. The locals were so much fun, and I never expected to have so much fun at the local pub and dances. I even got an unofficial Haida name, but I can’t tell you here. There were many many hungover beach walks. The most incredible thing was that on this small island, with only 150km of paved road, there was still so much left to do after touring around for three weeks. I was tempted to stay behind and spend the rest of my summer there. The only thing stopping me was this damn thesis.

I had always planned on taking July completely off school work, but I had hoped that the summer months leading up to my trip would be productive. The month of May turned out to be a complete write off due to the Canadian Archaeology Association conference and because I ended up going to Calvert Island, BC, to take an archaeology and ecology course. June was semi-productive in Hamilton, but there were a ton of distractions and it took me a while to get into the groove of just working on my own thesis project, instead of having the more regimental schedule that comes with course work. Now that August is here I need to try my best to focus on school work. I think the deal of me staying in Calgary for August, rather than Hamilton, was that I put in the same amount of school hours. Right now my goal is 20+ hours of solid work per week. I am going to have to find ways to be disciplined.

Of course, with the way life works, I have already seen my time being increasingly allocated off in August. I have a wedding to attend, tons of friends to party with, and a few more short road trips planned. Also, I committed myself to racing in Sprint Kayaking Nationals at the end of the month, which involves training in the evenings during August. The summer is my favourite time of year, and there is so much to pack in. So much music to listen to, summer books to read, beer to drink on patios, and sun tanning. A few months ago I was naive enough to think I was going to finish a large portion of my thesis work during the summer. Silly Mary….

Enjoy the pictures. And this sweet jam.


The Pesuta Ship Wreck, Haida Gwaii


Abandoned carved Haida canoe


The island has a deer problem…. If you drove thirty minutes in the evening, you would probably see 100 deer along the sides of the road. The challenge was making sure you didn’t hit them when driving at night.


Post-clamming on North Beach. Fuck the trowel, my new favourite digging device is my clam shovel. Also, clamming was so hard! I had to dig at least four holes in order to get one razor clam. And damn, those animals are ugly.


Malcolm Island


Grey Bay. Two-day hangover beach walk.


Huge squid washed up on North Beach


Spring Salmon caught and smoked by my main squeeze.


Guugadiis! (Thimble berries) The island was covered with these delicious berries.


Totem outside the Haida House


Map Inspiration

Ed Fairburn - North America

I love love love working with GIS. This is largely due to GIS requiring problem solving and allowing for more creativity than is typical in archaeology. At the end of last semester I got pretty into using random images to generate colour palettes to use in ArcGIS. Now, I am looking forward to all the figures I will need to create for my thesis. One of my goals for my thesis is to keep as much of my personality in it, which I will have to battle my supervisor in order to do so. Maps are going to be a main proponent of this.

Here are the latest maps that I have come across that I have been added to my growing catalogue of maps that I use for inspiration. In archaeology, cartographic expression needs to balanced with sensitivity for the content you are included and the seriousness of the academic discipline. I am going to try to push those boundaries a bit further than I have typically been comfortable with in the upcoming year.


Ed Fairburn

The most amazing artists I have come across in a while. It lights up my heart to look at these. Check out his website. 

Ed Fairburn – North America

Ed Fairburn- Der Gestirnte Himmel/The Starry Heavens

Ed Fairburn- Pennsylvania

Andrew Joyce x Oberlin University

Andrew Joyce x Oberlin University

Romain Trystram - Aswad lanes 1

Romain Trystram – Aswad lanes 1


Calgary C-Train Map – Super Mario 3 Style – Dave Delisle


Also, here is the new song that I am officially addicted too as of an hour ago:

Best opening line to an academic paper I have ever seen:

“The standard by which we as archaeologists have often judged defensiveness is similar to the way in which US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart judged hard-core pornography: we know it when we see it. And to a certain extent, we do.”

This paper come up in my Google Scholar Alert this week, and I was blown away by how fantastic the opening line was. Perfect. Attention keeping, funny, and seriously ACCURATE.

The paper is about evaluating the defensibility of sites on the Northwest Coast of America. After reading the first line, I was sold on the paper. (ok, I haven’t read it yet-but I will!) I am pretty sure it was written by a (gutsy) PhD student. Why aren’t more academics willing to take risks in their writing?


Kyle Bocinsky, R.

2014  Extrinsic site defensibility and landscape-based archaeological inference: An example from the Northwest Coast. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 35: 164–176.

Optimism for life after grad school

My oldest brother finished his Master’s in computer science and now works for a software company. This week he returned to the University of Calgary to give a talk to graduate students in computer science (CS) about non-academic jobs. After talking to him about his experience I was really surprised by the amount of CS graduate students that want to stay in academia.  He said a lot of them didn’t want to work in Industry and saw it as a downgrade from research. In anthropology and archaeology you hear this a lot and I always thought that it was because the range of industry jobs just aren’t appealing. I thought that these outside jobs would be super attractive to people with a computer background because there were so many options and opportunities to make money. My running hypothesis is that people just don’t want change and that once you’ve been in school your whole life the alternative is terrifying. But I think that it is also important that anthropologists realize they aren’t alone in this anxiety. I constantly think that I should have done a degree related to computers because I would have so many more job options, but now I am thinking that it is all about perspective (well, a bit about perspective).

My brother sent me the presentation that he gave the students and I’ve pulled out a few of my favourite career tips:

  • Network. Or don’t work.
    • Chance of getting the job when you apply without knowing anyone: 1:100
    • Chance of getting the job when you are referred: 1:4
  • Find somewhere you can learn and grow
  • University is partly about who you surround yourself with. Your peers inspire and push you to be better, to do your best. That’s the kind of culture you want to find in a company.
  • Become poly-skilled
  • Grad school challenges the individual; industry challenges the group to work together as a team. (This is probably my favourite quote for the presentation)
  • There’s 40 YEARS of work ahead of you… what’s the rush?! (Just like what my mom said when I wanted to dye my hair when I was 12)
  • Don’t be scared to try something out of your boundaries
  • Take career chances before you get locked down with a mortgage, marriage, and kids
  • If you don’t want to go to work in the morning, start looking for a new job.
  • Spend more time making it easy to receive and respond to feedback—spend less time trying to get it right
  • Do more, try more, drink less (maybe when I am 30)

I think that I am naïve, but honestly, I am not that worried about getting a good job once I finish my M.A.  My dad works for a company in Alberta that builds oilrigs. He told me today his company hires more people with arts degrees than people with science backgrounds. This shocked me.  In my brother’s presentation I found out that the software company that he works for does ethnographies for their clients to figure out the needs of the business and the end users.
One reason anthropologists are depressed about their career prospects could be because they fail to look beyond the obvious job listings. Even when you look at an Anthropology department’s website, the careers they list tend to be super tradition- museums, government, plus a few private sector listings.

 I suspect that my optimism for my career future is in part due to being raised in Alberta where getting a job isn’t as stressful as some other places in Canada. The issue is going to be finding a job that doesn’t require selling my soul to the oil sands industry. Also, I have been thinking that if I apply the same amount of energy that I put into archaeology and invest it into something else, I am going to excel. I love archaeology, but I think I love it so much because I have encapsulated myself into it. I can apply all that love and hard work into something else and still be happy. Plus get paid.

In Grad School A- is the new F

Here is my latest running theory:

Grad school is a stressful place. Although a person can do things to manage their stress and counteract it, the nature of the beast isn’t going to change. Recently I have been thinking about what makes grad school so much worse than being in your undergrad and one of the things that I think has been largely ignored is the lack of endorphins that grad students get.

When doing an undergrad degree, students get feedback more often based on tests and assignments that is generally reflective of their performance. I could slave away at a paper or study for hours, and when I received that high grade it would act as justification for all my effort. Working hard in your undergrad is rewarded with high marks, and when you achieve this your brain releases those delicious ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Well grad school is different. Grades seem to be less reflective of your effort. A- is the new F. Your advisor suffers if they give you less than an A because you will no longer be competitive for scholarships and grants. So when you get that A it doesn’t feel good quite the way it did in your undergrad.

I think people live more balanced lives in their undergrad, or at least I did. Grad school is a lot of stress filled with numerous occasions where your self-confidence is shattered. And instead of counter-balancing these lows with moments of redemption, words of praise are few and far between. Of course you can turn to your peer group for support but the majority of time with them is spent commiserating about everyone’s shitty situation and it doesn’t make sense to rely on them to boost you when they are in the same situation.

Graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. I understand that. I just wish there were more mechanisms in place that could balance out all of the lows that come from this ordeal. I will be honest- I’m desperate for a pat on the back. Also, I know if it ever does come, I am going to cherish it.



I recently saw this video on this guy’s blog and I agree with the guy that students just want to be told how good they are. I guess there is this idea circulating that children grow up with their parents constantly telling them how special they are and then when they reach adulthood they are deprived of that reinforcement. This is probably true but still…. Don’t wean me off too early! I guess one alternative is actually exercising to start attaining those spikes of endorphins, but who has time for that?

How to write an inspiring article and how not to

I agree with Sally that this blog post was particularly hard to write because it was difficult to think of an article that I have read that would qualify as being ‘bad’. At minimum all articles go through a screening process and must be good enough to pass that. I tried to recall articles that I had read but really disliked, but my distaste for them was always related to their methods and analysis and not their style of writing. Below I have written about two articles on Northwest Coast Archaeology that could not be more different. There is one that inspires the reader and is able to take information from one site and make it relevant to a broad audience. The other does the opposite, it is drones on about one region, is unappealing to the specialists and scares off the generalist with its unenthusiastic summary.

Cannon, Aubrey and Dongya Y Yang

2006 Early Storage and Sedentism on the Pacific Northwest Coast : Ancient DNA Analysis of Salmon Remains from Namu, British Columbia. American Antiquity 71(1): 123–140.

Finding an article that I thought was well written was quite easy and immediately I knew that I needed to write about this article by Cannon and Yang. I promise I am trying not to be biased because Dr. Cannon is my supervisor. This is the first article I ever read of his and since then I have read it multiple times, each time with a different reason for examining the content.

The reason that I think article is so great is because it is convincing to readers who may be approaching it from multiple perspectives. The first time I read this paper was for my ancient DNA course and at that time I was focused on the descriptions the authors gave for their methodology. Did they follow proper contamination protocols? Were their results verified at an independent lab? Reading it a few years later I was more focused on the interpretation of the results in relation to their implications for the site of Namu. Three years separated the time that I read this paper and my expectations were completely different, yet both times I was able to find the right kinds of information and explanations in the paper.

Cannon and Yang were able to reach an impressive balance between including technically specific jargon related to their scientific methodologies and include a thorough explanation of how their results contribute to archaeological interpretations of Northwest Coast prehistory. This demonstrates the authors’ ability to reach a broad audience, a necessary quality for their paper because the implications affect a wide range of people in the archaeological community. I have found that many papers in archaeology that deal with scientific analysis focus mostly on their methodology and results, with smaller sections dedicated to the context and interpretations. This often may be a result of the kind of journals they are published in. For Cannon and Yang this seems to be the opposite, where the heavy science content is sandwiched between thorough discussions of Northwest Coast archaeology. By publishing in American Antiquity the authors had more leeway to include longer interpretations than they would have if they had chosen to submit to a more narrowly science archaeology journal.

I believe that the subject matter of this paper made it essential for the authors to methodically structure their writing and make sure their arguments were represented well. This paper has significance implications for some of the long-held theories for the emergence of social complexity on the Northwest Coast. Although it is not the first paper to argue against this theory, its implications may not have been well received by many archaeologists working in the area. Furthermore, from my limited understanding of the ancient DNA community in archaeology, it seems researchers are both extremely competitive and critical of each other’s work. I believe that Cannon and Yang validated their methodology and fit their results into the context of Northwest Coast archaeology well enough to satisfy most critics.

Ames, Kenneth M

1998    Economic Prehistory of the Northern British Columbia Coast. Arctic Anthropology 35(1):   68–87.

I chose this paper by Ames not because I think it is bad, but because when compared to Ames’ other work this paper seems weak. Of all of the researchers on the Northwest Coast, Ames appears to have this uncanny ability to synthesize large amounts of work and present them to audiences in a clear concise matter. This ability is why Ames has a full-length book about Northwest Coast archaeology and why he was selected to write the Annual Review of Anthropology (1994) for the region. Compared to all of his other summary articles I found this one to be completely dry, almost written in a monotone voice.

The author presents no new information in this article, which is understandable because it is a synthesis of work done in the region. However, Ames rarely takes a new approach or spin to the work that would have provided another perspective. If his intentional reader were someone who knows little about the archaeology of northern British Columbia than this article would be a suitable place to start. But if someone who was more versed with this region than this article would be one that could be skipped without fear of missing anything new. In exactly the opposite way of Cannon and Yang (2006), Ames has written an article that speaks to a very narrow audience. There would be little reason for anyone to read it that wasn’t interested in this area because it’s implications are not wide reaching.

Instead of offering any original information, the article could have been impressive if it shed new light on older research and gave it a resurgence of life. Ames drones on, culture period after culture period, without getting excited about anything specific. Arguably the most energetic to author gets is in his inclusion of information about dogs and the shifts in their socioeconomic role. I think that when summarizing the research of an area, the author needs to find a balance of including the right amount of content but then also highlighting areas that are either particularly interesting or important.

My critic of Ames stated in the most colloquial way, was that it was boring and uninspiring. The details are not good enough to be targeted for anyone with enough experience in the area. If it is targeted for an audience without a background then the most they will get from it is a list of facts and not an improved understanding of the main points of contention of archaeology in the region. My disappointment in this lack-lustre article is heighten because Ames write about Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert Harbour, two of the most beautiful places in British Columbia that are blessed to also have really exciting archaeology there. Perhaps this article is an example of how if an author lacks any excitement about his topic, it becomes difficult for the reader to also be enthusiastic.

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