Category Archives: How to

Tutorials

Paperpile (Tools We Use)

About a year ago I wrote a long post that discussed both my general approach to working with academic PDFs as well as the specific Apple (OS X/iOS) software I use to manage my own workflow: Sente. I still consider Sente to be a kind of gold standard for reference management software, but there are a couple of things about it that lead me to regularly check out the competition. One is that it only works on Apple products and many of my students are Windows users. The other is that, even on the Mac, it does not work within the web browser itself, but forces you to launch the app and use its own built-in web browser, which always interrupts my workflow. In my last post I mentioned a few other issues and briefly surveyed the competition; however my current work environment has me on a Windows 7 computer and so I decided to look again at the competition, especially cross-platform solutions. The first one I discovered is ReadCube but I found it just didn’t meet my needs. It didn’t do a very good job getting citation information (I had lots of errors in my metadata) and the iPad app was too limited for my needs. However, another service turned out to be more promising: Paperpile, and I thought I’d write a short post about how I’m using that.

Continue reading

Getting a Job in the Academy: Some Thoughts From the Other Side

This post isn’t just another lament about the sorry state of the job situation in the academy. The US is undoubtedly undergoing a crisis on that front, accentuated by the huge increase in the numbers of people completing  PhDs  in liberal arts subjects and the scale of student debt. The effects of this crisis spill over into what is now a global market in academic jobs. This is clearly evident in the UK where the numbers of applicants for academic posts in anthropology frequently reach well over one hundred, compared to  perhaps fifty or sixty only a decade previously.

The problem is  partly structural- the mismatch between numbers and posts on the one hand, and the impacts of selective shrinkage in the University sector on the other.  But demand is also a factor. People continue to study at graduate level because they are motivated by research as much as anything.  Doctoral study isn’t only about entry into  formal academic employment, in any discipline. And, while the casualization of higher education is a concerning trend, in the US and beyond, it’s not the only issue. It’s hard to imagine under what economic system there could ever be sufficient secure jobs in the university sector for those with higher degrees at a time when it seems that more people than ever are pursuing postgraduate research.

This doesn’t mean giving up and not trying to get a university post, if that’s what you really want. But it does entail a healthy dose of realism combined with the practical career building tips of the sort offered so eloquently by Karen Kelsky aka The Professorisin whose site I wholeheartedly recommend. Having been on the other side of the job process over the past year, as a search committee member and chair of a department, I’m going to offer a few of my own. The first is optimistic, if you are an anthropologist at least.

Continue reading

Writing Badly, Speaking Better. Practical Books for Doing the Life of the Mind

Rex’s post on back to school books got me thinking. `Doing the life of the mind’, as he puts it, involves lots of different activities. Its not just reading and writing. Talking is a big part of what we do.  And to different audiences, or not , as the case may be. Much of the way that we do our academic presentations gets in the way of wider communication. This might be intentional. In reinforcing the walls of the silos in which we like to situate our knowledge it fosters the aura of complexity and exclusivity which in our social universe renders academic knowledge credible.

A recent book addresses this phenomenon as it applies to writing in the social sciences and,  by extension,  to anthropology.   Learn to Write Badly . How to Succeed in  the Social Sciences   by Michael Billig is not a ‘How To’ book.  Its  a  `How Not To’ book.  But, as the author makes plain, if you don’t write in the way which has become authoritative in your field, even if it entails writing badly, there could be consequences for your reputation if not your career.

Although Billig’s is a book about writing I think that the author’s claims work pretty well for communication in the social sciences more generally. It certainly made me think about how we as anthropologists in academia tend to speak to our audiences whether they are our students or our peers. The formal style of academic presentations in anthropology based on writing rather than on `findings’ prioritizes engagement with other writing over and above engagement with either our audience or our informants. This is quite different to communication in other fields,  within and outside academia. A how to book which you may find useful for engaging with these other fields is Carmine Gallo’s Talk like TED summarized neatly here by Sam Leith of the Financial Times .

Sure,  it’s a manual in self promotion (but lets not kid ourselves that academia is any different). But it also has lots of useful tips about connecting with the audience, making a few key points and giving them something to remember.  And I learned something wholly new, useful and unexpected. That if you press the B or W keys in powerpoint you can suspend the presentation so your audience is focusing on you not the slide until you are ready to show them the next one. Despite the acknowledged allure of  intellectual  posturing sometimes you just cant beat useful practicality.

The Ethnographic “Shooting Ratio”

One of the questions I get asked most often by graduate students doing ethnographic research is about how much data they need to collect. I think this is especially troublesome for those who are doing fieldwork somewhere far away, where limited time and funds mean that they will unlikely be able to make a return trip after they return from the field. But even those doing research closer to home want to know “How much is enough?” In answering this question I draw on my experience as a documentary filmmaker.

A “shooting ratio” is “the ratio between the total duration of its footage created for possible use in a project and that which appears in its final cut.” For a Hollywood film, where the scenes are planned in advance, this might be four to one. That is, shooting four hours of footage for every hour of the final film. Now that films have largely gone digital, producers no longer need to worry about the cost of expensive film stock, but it still costs a lot to have actors and crew out for a day and nobody wants to waste too much time shooting the same scene over and over again.

For documentary films, however, it is different. Continue reading

What the well-dressed fieldworker is wearing this summer (i)

Planning a summer trip to a hot weather field site? Let’s punch up your wardrobe a bit prior to departure.

This is intended as the first in a short series of how-to posts for optimizing your clothing choices for the heat and humidity. The individual posts will be organized around a particular type of garment or gear, such as outwear and footwear. This post will discuss undergarments and headwear and neckwear. Prior to that, a few caveats about the series of posts as a whole:

Continue reading

Incorporate Now!

Anthropology may be “the worst major for a corporate tool” but that doesn’t mean that anti-corporate anthropologists shouldn’t consider incorporating. In this special pre-tax-day post I will take a break from my usual anti-capitalist blogging to talk about one particular instance where anthropologists might want to incorporate: if you are thinking of making a documentary film it may be just the thing for you.1

Many independent filmmakers register as either an S-Corporation2 or an LCC (a limited liability company) in order to protect themselves if they get sued3 by the subjects of their films. (Or from someone who claims to be harmed by the film or by the process of making the film.) Having a company helps protect your personal assets, such as your house or retirement savings, etc. from being seized if you were to loose the suit. Many independent filmmakers even set up separate LLCs for each film. Doing so, however, is a lot of work, and not without its downsides.

Continue reading

Writing Anthropology and Such or “Once More, with Feeling”

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Gina Athena Ulysse as the launch post of our new Writers’ Workshop series. Gina is an associate professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University. Born in Haiti, she has lived in the United States for the last thirty years. She is also a poet, performance artist and multi-media artist. Prof U, as her students call her, is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica (Chicago 2008). She recently completed Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, a collection of post-quake dispatches, essays and meditations written between 2010-2012. Currently, she is developing, VooDooDoll, What if Haiti Were a Woman, a performance-installation project. Most recently, her writing has been published in Gastronomica, Souls, and Transition.)

When I write, there’s a slight lag- a-whatever- space-between when words strung together into phrases or sentences are transmitted onto the page with fingers trained as intermediaries.  A right hand injury made me identify this pause as I became more conscious of various aspects and levels in my writing. Not being able to type gave me a new relationship to interludes in my process. Continue reading

How to ruin your students' weekend in three easy steps

I live just far enough north to catch some snow and ice a couple of times a year, but far enough south that people still panic when it happens. So when we got 2-3 inches this Wednesday my university administration shut the whole place down for two days. This is problematic for me because my class meets once a week for a 2’40” block, meaning my students just lost a week’s worth of content. And in the second week no less! I was going to cover evolution by natural selection in order to set up the next three weeks of study.

I have already got my semester totally planned and I don’t want to mess with it. How am I going to get at least a modicum of the lecture to my students remotely? In this blog post I’m going to  share with  you my work around strategy. Continue reading

Conference Chic, or, How to Dress Like an Anthropologist

By Carole McGranahan with Kate Fischer, Rachel Fleming, Willi Lempert, and Marnie Thomson

Wondering what to wear to the AAAs? We’ve got you covered. For women: throw a few scarves in your suitcase, a suitable range of black clothes, a kick-ass pair of shoes or boots, and some anthropological “flair,” and you should be good to go. Men need to pack their nice jeans, a good buttoned shirt, and the pièce de résistance: a stylish jacket. Unless you’re an archaeologist. Then all you need are jeans.

Anthropologists around the world are packing for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings (“the AAAs”) being held this year in balmy Chicago from November 20-24. What, you might wonder, are they packing? What look do anthropologists go for at the AAAs where thousands of anthropologists gather each year? We’ve turned to our social media networks to find out, posting this question on Twitter and on multiple Facebook accounts to learn just what fashion choices anthropologists are making this week. Continue reading

Tools for the field: Digital audio recorders

My digital voice recorder died a slow death this year.  It was a Zoom H2.  I bought it about 5 years ago and used it all last year for fieldwork in Baja.  I think the salt air may have something to do with its death–or maybe a battery leaked, I am not really sure.  There is some greenish crud on the back near the battery compartment, and it has been acting up in all sorts of ways lately–giving error messages, not wanting to shut off, and so on.  It has also been eating batteries like, like, like something really, really hungry for batteries!  My wife has been using it for her interviews and now it’s burning through two AA batteries in about an hour and a half, which is not good.  But the battery life of the H2 has never been great.  That’s been a problem from the start.

So, long story short this means I ended up looking around for a new voice recorder.  Looking back, the H2 was an ok investment.  It had great sound quality, but the user interface was really clunky, and the construction of the unit itself felt pretty shoddy.  It looked and felt pretty cheap to me.  I spent about 250 bucks on that thing and I definitely would not buy another one. Continue reading

Getting Reading Done With Sente (Tools We Use)

Some of you may be aware of the productivity cult known as “Getting Things Done” (GTD). Although I find the full-blown GTD approach doesn’t really fit well with an academic lifestyle (what’s the use of using “contexts” when your work follows you everywhere?), reading about GTD taught me a few basic principles that make me feel less stressed out by allowing me to focus better on the work at hand. I mention GTD because I intend to use it as a framework to discuss reference management software, especially Sente for the iPad which recently got a significant upgrade. This review consists of three sections: 1. Applying GTD principles to academic reading with Sente. 2. Some comments about new features and continued limitations in the latest version of Sente for the iPad. And 3. Other options for reading and managing references on the iPad.

Continue reading

Practical Training for the Digitally Il/literate Anthropologist

Most graduate programs in anthropology require us to take a course in methods to prepare us to “do anthropology” on our own. In class, we discuss what makes a good research question, the trade-offs between qualitative and quantitative data, and the importance of taking good field notes. Sometimes we even get to conduct research and experience firsthand how to enter a community, recruit informants, transcribe interviews, and code data. This practical training allows us to try out the methods we are learning in class and troubleshoot any problems we have along the way with our professors and peers. In this post, I want to talk about the benefits of this model for cultivating a related, necessary, but often neglected skill-set in graduate school – digital literacy.

Digital literacy is loosely defined as the ability to understand and use a range of digital technologies. For an anthropologist, these are specific tools such as social media, digital repositories, or web design that can significantly augment our success as scholars. Most of us have heard about the benefits of using Twitter or have figured out how to post lecture slides onto our online course management systems. However, I have found from personal experience that it is not enough to know that these tools exist – we also need to understand and navigate the complex digital cultures which they (and we) are bound up in.

Continue reading