Hello everyone! My name is Ivan and this is my first blog post. I am from upstate New York and began my MA in Archaeology here in the Fall of 2018. I study past human-environment relationships! Specifically, I am looking at how the activities of past Inuit and Pre-Inuit people impacted beetle communities around an old village site in Northern Labrador. To do this, I look for the remains of beetle exoskeletons in peat bogs near known archaeological sites. Many beetles occupy very specific niches, and so through identifying what beetles were present in the bog at different times we can reconstruct past environmental conditions.
The graduate experience for me has been a lot of things: challenging, frustrating, educational, and very rewarding. I would like to tell you about it up to this point.
I was incredibly excited to start graduate school. My partner Sarah and I had spent the previous 2 years bouncing between Canada and the US, working and trying to figure out where we could anchor ourselves for a bit. It became apparent that this situation afforded the possibility of going back to school. I applied to several archaeology and museum studies departments and was very impressed with the engagement from the faculty at MUN in response. I felt heard, and when the time came to choose schools, it was an easy choice. When I got here, I couldn’t wait to meet my supervisors and my cohort of incoming Archaeology graduate students. It felt like I was on the right track and further that MUN was where I was supposed to be.
There definitely was a honeymoon phase type deal occurring in the early weeks. There was a euphoria from the excitement of being in graduate school and meeting new and interesting people. I was excited to go through this experience with them. Though I expected it, I don’t think I was fully prepared for how challenging things were going to get off the bat.
Having not been in an academic setting for the previous two years, I had a very hard time getting back into academic writing. I had a deeply humbling moment with my supervisor when I turned in the first draft of my research proposal. I left that meeting feeling embarrassed for thinking that my writing was at a point where I could show it to another human being. That was one of the most helpful and educational moments of my experience so far. It became a reference point telling me where I was, and it gave me direction. There is a level of comfort from knowing that I have (probably) already turned in the worst piece of writing I will produce while I am here (ask me in a year if I still feel this way).
This set off a process of serious research, class work, grant/proposal writing and revision. I felt like I was doing my work and getting better at it. By the end of the semester I had received a grant for research expenses and had submitted my research proposal to the Archaeology department.
This past semester began with me giving an oral defense of my research proposal. On the day I was defending, I was in class and the professor suggested we do quick versions of our presentations. For presentations, I typically have a Power Point presentation and a notebook in front of me with slide by slide bullet points covering the main ideas for each. That way I can glance down, get the point, look up and make eye contact while I communicate. During this run through, however, I forgot what I wanted to say about each point. I looked down at my notes and they made no sense to me. It was like everything had left my head. Needless to say, after this presentation (which felt like trying to swim out of thick mud), I was feeling a bit shaken.
After class I walked through the Great Hall in Queens College and saw Sarah there sitting on a bench. She had come to hear my defense and was waiting for me after class, before I went to get ready in the lecture hall. We talked and she settled me. I wound up delivering a presentation that I am quite proud of, and my proposal was accepted.
This experience set the tone for the semester as that same level of intensity was carried through out. The class work became overwhelming at times. I am a slow reader. On top of that, I am an accomplished procrastinator. The former was manageable. The latter was a habit broken out of necessity. By April, I was completely spent. I felt like I had run a marathon with a weighted backpack on, with more weight being added the longer I ran.
Was it fun?
Well, actually, it was a lot of fun. Having to read so much in a short time while researching and writing for class assignments and trying to fit in time for your thesis is hard and it is a lot of work. It all seems very daunting when you see how much there is, but it feels really good to be working through it. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last year, and I feel that overall my experience is much richer. I’ve had to ask myself a lot of hard questions. Even though I am more uncertain than ever about what I’ll be doing a year from now, I am very comfortable with where I am now.
Here we are in Spring/Summer/Autumn (Sprummutumn)! It is cold then warm/hot then chilly then humid then cold then warm! There will be a time when it is Summer but right now is not that time. In all seriousness, I’m just happy to live in a city where you can still see the stars at night.
I am currently getting supplies ready for field work, which is set to take place in July. I will be going to Labrador with my supervisors and a few graduate students to retrieve data! This past week has been a lot of running around but it is so satisfying knowing you have (just about) everything you are going to need for 3 weeks tightly packed away in Rubbermaid containers.
This very generally brings you all up to speed. I look forward to sharing more of my experience with you. Thanks for reading, see you all in a few weeks!
All the best,