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.

Help calculating Topographic Exposure in ArcGIS

Hey Internet/GIS Friends,

I need you help trying to calculate Topographic Exposure (TOPEX) on a DEM in ArcGIS. I am trying to figure out wind exposure on a DEM with 25m cells.


There is a great blog post where someone explains how to do it but he uses GRASS. I thought I would be able to put the same equation into ArcGIS Raster Calculator but it says the equation is invalid. I’ve tried playing with it as much as I can but I can’t seem to make it work.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 9.59.25 AM

Does anyone know how the equation should appear in Raster Calculator in either ArcGIS or QGIS?

Non-academic Careers in Anthropology

Today the Department of Anthropology at McMaster held a workshop session on non-academic careers in anthropology. In my opinion it was the best graduate workshop they have held this year. A huge issue I have had with my education at McMaster has been the heavy focus on grooming their student for academic jobs but still warning us against the perils that face this career choice. I don’t blame them, I think it is pretty ingrained in the structure of the system. Apparently they are hoping to hold one of these sessions once per semester. I applaud their choice to do this as for a while it seemed that most of my career advice was coming from HBO’s Girls- or at least what not to do.

There was a panel of three alumni from McMaster who had careers related to anthropology. You can read their bio’s here. I was surprised by the amount of research they still engaged in and how directly related to anthropology their jobs were. The three people were:

Marcia Barron (PhD 1999, Cultural Anthropology/Applied Anthropology)

Andrew Galley (PhD 2012, Cultural Anthropology/Anthropology of Health)

Cadell Last (BA 2011, Biological Anthropology) –

Adhering to the lists that I appreciate most from blogs, here is a quick summary of some of the insightful points that were discussed:

  • Cadell was a huge advocate for creating an online presence to establish yourself as an authority in your specialty
  • Focus of the general research skills you acquire in graduate school (could have been more specific about this) – combing qualitative and quantitative data
  • Articulate clearly why you as an anthropologists can help people
  • Communicating why anthropology and your research matters to a broad range of audiences. Pay attention to popular science
  • Avoid isolating yourself in academia- create a blog to go along with class assignments and research projects. Putting your work online will improve how you communicate with others.
  • Have conversations with your supervisor about career planning and your goals. (We’ll see about this one. I still haven’t told me supervisor about my intentions of not continuing to my PhD because I am worried about his reaction)
  • The difficult situation people in grad school are in where their closest friends are also their competitors- I haven’t really dealt with this yet except slightly through grants and scholarships. Still, I strongly believe that Your success shouldn’t be dependent on the failure of others
  • Make it easy for people to contact you through your blog- whoops, I gotta do this. I’m sure people are dying to privately message me about my gif choices.
  • They did have some good ideas about being online curators of science content and the possibility of summarizing academic papers into short clear recaps. I write annotated bibliographies all the time. I don’t think my supervisor even reads them so I might as well be putting them online. I would have appreciated reading other people’s annotated biblios while I was in my undergraduate.
  • An excellent point was raised about how co-op degrees and internships are promoted in your undergraduate but we haven’t figured out how these fit into graduate education. I would love to do an internship but I think it would be too big of a sacrifice at this point.
  • Props to Andy for bringing up what a supervisor’s role is in professional development of graduate students. I like to think that it could be a partnership rather than a solitary effort.

Anyhow, I am grateful this session was held and I was happy to see many people turned out. We were able to go to the bar for beers and snacks after. *I have a solid rant about this that I need to get out of my system- so ask me in person.

Last note: Simon Fraser University launched a new professional Master’s program in Big Data that is set to begin Fall 2014.  Seems awesome and a great use of time that will prepare you for an emerging job sector. The website implies that a background in computer programming is recommended. I wonder if they will be able to accommodate for students without this computer science background? If so, I think this may be a good option once I finish my MA.



Some of the fastest growing jobs in 2013

Shocker- archaeology doesn’t make the list.

Found this list on The Muse, a blog I wasted a solid hour on today because of it’s killer content. Check out their post on the 1-3-5 To Do List. I am really enjoying grad school but I am also really looking forward to being done and entering the job market. Ever since I came up with a new career plan during the Christmas break my anxiety level has dramatically dropped. For a long time I have known that I didn’t want to go on and do my PhD and finally having an idea of what I wanted to do after my MA  has been a huge improvement and has reduced the stress of school.


Assignment 5: Annotations to bore your mind

Over reading week I have completed 8 annotations for this class and my other independent reading course. Insane. All I wanted to do was stay home and actually read, but for pleasure.

Sakaguchi, Takashi, Jesse Morin, and Ryan Dickie

2010  Defensibility of large prehistoric sites in the Mid-Fraser region on the Canadian Plateau. Journal of Archaeological Science 37(6): 1171–1185.

This paper examines the defensibility of village sites in the Mid-Fraser region of British Columbia using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to gain a better understand of site selectivity preferences of the prehistoric occupants. The authors begin by giving a brief overview of the archaeological and historical evidence for conflict among hunter-gatherer groups to demonstrate how their work fits into the current understanding. They intended to use a systematic study to assess the defensibility of sites, something few other archaeologists in the region have done, in order to contribute to the sociopolitical understudying of the prehistoric Mid-Fraser region cultures. Sakaguchi et al. do this be using elevation data to asses slope, viewsheds, and least-cost path analysis.  After going through the methodology the authors present the results as a comparison between all the sites in the study area and then discuss in more detail the findings at important sites.

The paper topic and the journal it is published in seems to be an ideal match in order to allow the authors to include detailed information about their methodology. When working with GIS it is essential to be transparent with the approaches taken to solve a problem and often people are unaware of the effects of user decisions on the outcome of results. The authors are also allowing for replicability of their study by including information about their data sources, ArcGIS tools and parameters, and the defensive value allocated to each factor. Including specifics about their process opens the authors up to critique from people with a background in GIS, which is why it was crucial that the authors provide justifications for their choices.

I think the author’s attention to detail in their methodology is why this is one of the best GIS papers about the Northwest Coast that has been published. In the last few years I have found that there is a void in archaeology of academic publications that provide this important source of information. Instead of archaeologist teaching other archaeologists their GIS methodology, researchers often have to look for outside sources and then apply them to archaeological situations. There is no lack of archaeology papers with research that includes GIS applications but they tend to state the problem and then go straight to the conclusion without enough discussion of the process in-between.

While I am willing to praise Sakaguchi et al. for their methodology I found the presentation of results and discussion to contrast the superior quality of the first half of the paper. The authors were not convincing in their conclusions of the research and I had difficulty believing in the significance of their results. Granted they were able to show that some sites were located in areas that were more defensible but did not have enough explanation for winter villages that were not considered well positioned. This paper would satisfy the believers but not persuade the skeptics.

This paper is relevant to my project because I am suggesting that many of the same methodologies that are used to assess site defensibility can be applied to investigating site conditions as they relate to food storage. If many of the desirable characteristics of site locations are the same then it may contribute to the complex process of site selection. Quite often archaeologists state that sites are located in areas that are either protected from marauders or the weather but these are usually personal judgements and lack quantifiable measurement.  Sakaguchi et al. demonstrate some of the ways that have been accepted to examine site locations.

Despite GIS being utilized in archaeology for several decades now, I feel that archaeologists are still struggling with the most effective ways to present the information. This may be due to the visual nature of GIS and the need to translate it to words for publications. For my project I will be using much of the same style of data as Sakaguchi et al. and I admire the way they balanced their text and figures. They maps are well done and the paper elements are cohesive.

White, Elroy

2011 Heiltsuk Stone Fish Traps on the Central Coast of British Columbia. In The Archaeology of North Pacific Fisheries. Edited by Madonna L. Moss and Aubrey Cannon. pp 75-90. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks.

This is a chapter within a compiled book that addresses some of the latest archaeological work regarding fish subsistence among Northwest Coast culture groups. White has adapted a section of this master’s research in which he visited 40 fish traps on the central coast and recorded them on video in order to have a visual aid when interacting with the Heiltsuk community. As a Heiltsuk decedent archaeologist, White attempts to integrate oral accounts from Heiltsuk members into the understanding of fish traps and to promote this method of inquiry within Canadian archaeology. His informants provided him information on the basic properties of each salmon species and which ones were targeted for specific fish traps. White also describes the Smokehouse Days which were a time-honored tradition occurring in August to October that involved using fish traps to capture salmon and the smoke-drying process for storing food (pp. 84). Information on the seasonal movement of the Heiltsuk in relation to fish traps immediately applies White’s research to one of the major areas of investigation on the Northwest Coast- site and subsistence seasonality (Ames 1981).

The importance of White’s work is in part due to his contribution to knowledge about this fishing strategy and is further heightened by his use of a Internalist archaeological perspective (Yellowhorn 2002). The unique perspective of informant archaeology used by White allows him more freedom in structuring the chapter, void of the need to follow a predetermined typical outline.This is complemented by his choice to not include empirical data, allowing the reader’s attention to be centred on the oral histories. Having the accounts of Heiltsuk consultants stand on their own within an academic paper is demonstrating their legitimacy as sources of information, giving recognition to their voices as being more than hearsay or folklore. White provides a short biography for each person to illustrate their connection to the land and knowledge of fish traps (pp. 79-81). By dedicating a sizeable portion of the chapter to this section the author is acknowledging their ownership of the traditional knowledge and their contribution to the research.

This paper is important to my research project because it discusses the relationship between fish traps and habitation sites. Often in the literature the proximity of these features to one another is not included. In my project I am interested in the discrepancies of environmental characteristics between the site types and why some village sites are associated with fish traps while other are not. Fish traps are poorly understood in academia and have received little attention in archaeology beyond the recording of their presence. White took the opportunity to include a Heiltsuk perspective of history into academic literature so that it can better be incorporated into further archaeological work. White’s attention to detail in this paper and in his MA thesis (2006) represents the style of reports that I would like to incorporate into my project when dealing with microfeatures within a regional examination.

Gao, Chao, Xinyuan Wang, Tong Jiang, and Gaojie Jin

2009 Spatial distribution of archaeological sites in lakeshore of Chaohu Lake in China based on GIS. Chinese Geographical Science 19(4): 333–340.

The objective of the researchers was to model the spatial distribution of sites in Chaohu, China using GIS to gain an understanding of the settlement development from 6000 B.C. to 256 B.C. They found that site locations in the earlier periods were more likely to be selected based on natural factors such as proximity to water. Sites from the later periods did not have the same limitations because they modified the land with irrigation systems, and therefore were influenced more by human factors.

The introduction follows a common arch of introducing the topic, describing how it previously was investigated, and then how the authors are approaching it from a new perspective. They included information on the study area, data sources, and methodology but it was surprisingly brief. A Digital Elevation Model (DEM) was used to gather the micro-geomorphologic features of the sites but they did not include the model’s accuracy, a major piece of information necessary to legitimize their process (pp. 335). The lack of description about their research process is in stark contrast to paper by Sakaguchi et al. (2010) who focus more so on the methodology. Gao et al. had the advantage of being able to include colour maps in their publication, something that has a large impact on what the authors are able to depict in their figures.


The aspect that spurred my attention to this paper was that the conclusions reached by the authors appeared to be simple and straight-forward but well supported by the evidence. Like Gao et al., I am interested in taking a region approach to understand settlement patterns. The authors mapped the sites according to their period of occupation, something I would like to do in my project but with which I am encountering difficulties. Being able to include a temporal dimension to the data expanded some of the analysis that could be done and helped to demonstrate the changes of settlement patterns over time. However, it is something archaeologists need to be careful with because of the small amount of dates with limited resolution that are available for sites. This paper was written by geographers, not archaeologist, which may explain why they circumvented many points of contention in archaeology.

It was interesting to note the differences between this paper published in Chinese Geographical Science with Western journals I am more familiar with. It was clear that this paper had been translated to English and some of the phrasing of sentences is problematic.  “Archaeological site is the relic of human activities, which belongs to the concept of archaeology “ (Gao et al. 2009:333). The main concepts of their theoretical overview are well-known but their citations were not. For instance, when Gao et al. defines what an archaeological site is they cite Marziani and Citterio (1999) and Stright (2005), neither of whom I would associate with being the most reputable sources of information for that definition. I think this perhaps demonstrates different regional affiliations to founding work.  In the North American archaeology system I am doubtful these references would have been accepted for a publication because of our historically differing epistemologies.

Other Citations:

Ames, Kenneth M

1981  The Evolution of Social Ranking on the Northwest Coast of North America. American Antiquity 46(4): 789–805.

Marziani, Giovanna, and Stefano Citterio.

1999 The effects of human impact on the arboreal vegetation near ancient iron smelting sites in Val Gabbia, northern Italy. Vegetation history and archaeobotany 8.3: 225-229.

Stright, Melanie J.

2005 Archaeological site location, effect of sea-level change. Encyclopedia of Coastal Science. Springer Netherlands, 38-40.

White, Elroy A. F.

2006  Heiltsuk Stone Fish Traps: Products of my Ancestors’ Labour. Simon Fraser University.

Yellowhorn, Eldon

2002  Awakening Internalist Archaeology in the Aboriginal World. PhD Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal.

How long till archaeologists are benefitting from Google’s Project Tango?

It seems that lately things happening in the technology industry have been captivating my attention. Facebook purchased  WhatsApp for $19 billion, an app that I personally find lacks a high quality or pleasant interface.  Today I learnt about Google’s Project Tango, a revolutionary smartphone they are developing that has remarkable 3D capturing capabilities. Check out the two videos below:

‘Say Hello to Project Tango’

The second video shows a quick example of someone actually using one of the phones to capture a room in 3D in seconds. It even has the ability to give you measurements from its recordings. Google is sending out 200 prototype phones to professional developers to start working on apps. If only I had that skill set, further indication to me that I am in the wrong discipline. So what I am curious about is how long until we see archaeologists benefitting from a device like this? I am not sure if it requires an Internet connection to produce these recordings but if it doesn’t then it would be super easy to start implementing a device like this in the field. I feel like archaeologists lost their minds over being able to use iPads in the field. With the onset of new technology like this it makes research that used to take many painstaking hours to be done now able to be completed remarkably faster. I do think it is funny that many research labs spent thousands of dollars on ‘sophisticated’ machinery and then a few years later an app comes out that produces similar results. Sometimes I am reminded that archaeology is the discipline of old white men with their heads stuck in the past.  Well, time for us to catch up again with the rest of the world.

I am pretty set on buying the new iPhone 5s and it doesn’t seem like this Google phone will be available any time soon. The fact that I am even considering not buying a Mac product is insane because I have been Mac devoted for the last decade.

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