Putting the Personal in Personal Statements: Tips from a NSF-GFRP Fellow

By Mia Carey

Before my maternal grandmother suddenly passed of congestive heart failure in the early 1990s, our family would gather every Friday night to play cards and cook, while some members drank and told stories of the old days. My grandmother was the matriarch of the family, and I believe it was her cooking that kept our family as close-knit as it was. She was a gorgeous woman, fair skinned with dark bone straight hair which was indicative of her Native American heritage, who got up every morning at the crack of dawn to begin cooking. I remember the house always smelled of cake. At those weekly Friday night parties, people from our neighborhood and our extended family from Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. would travel to her home just to get a plate. My grandmother was traditional African American cook, the type who never premeasured anything but was able to make it the same way each time. If you wanted to know embarrassing stories of your parents, aunts and uncles, or any other members of the family, Friday night was the night for them to be told. The stories are beginning to fade from my memory now, but what I will always cherish is that those fading moments are a unique part of my heritage that have been passed down for generations and told as a narrative over shared meals.

Before I explain it, you should probably know that I am a historical zooarchaeologist. My particular interests are in African Americans and the Diaspora, the post-bellum, post-Reconstruction period (1865-1900), health & nutrition, and historic preservation. I recently finished writing my master’s thesis, which analyses the dietary patterns from two antebellum and two postbellum free African Americans sites in Maryland to assess whether or not dietary patterns remained consistent among the broad and sustained economic, social, and political changes that characterized the 19th century.

I opened with this particular snippet of my personal statement for two reasons: (1) I put the personal in personal statement and (2) I deviated from the same cookie cutter response to why and when I became interested in archaeology. Unlike some of my peers, I had no clue what anthropology or archaeology was until my second semester of undergrad. My path to archaeology was gradual. When I first started grad school I wanted to do business until I realized that I couldn’t imagine myself wearing suits and heels for the next forty or fifty years of my life. I ended up in anthropology and finally into archaeology by the end of my sophomore year. In one of my archaeology classes we were required to choose a project, and I chose to analyze animal bones out of all of the other artifact classes. Why? Food had always been a part of my life. As the snippet suggests, food was an important factor in brining my family together and what I believed kept us close. It offered an opportunity for several generations to share their stories and our heritage. It served as a comfort in times of need and a celebration in times of joy.

I know that most people can’t relate their research interests with such an intimate part of their lives, but it helps. I was commended several times in my application reviews:

• The applicant is a strong writer, having brilliantly crafted the personal narrative.
• In addition, she is descended from Free Blacks and has combined her interest in family history with a scientific study of class in her graduate studies…

My point in all this: Make your personal statement stand out and make it personal. Everyone is going to have a story about wanting to be in their field since they were a child, but it doesn’t make you stand out or memorable. I took a risk with this statement because I never express my feelings about the loss of my grandmother, but she’s been such an inspiration in my work. Think outside the box when applying for an NSF or any other type of fellowship or grant that requires a personal statement.

Further tips:

  • Do not share something that you are uncomfortable with letting people in on. Use caution.
  • Get started early and seek out people in your department who may have received the award before– if they are like me they would be happy to help.

If you’re interested in reading my statement or discussing the application process, I’ll be more than happy to speak with you via email: m.carey17@ufl.edu

Mia Carey is a third year graduate student at the University of Florida. She has received a McKnight Doctoral Fellowship (5 years of funding) and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship (3 years of funding).

Gender and Minority Affairs Committee Diversity Field School Competition

GMAC Diversity Field School Initiative

This year the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) is hosting its second annual Diversity Field School Competition. In an effort to continue making the field of historical archaeology more inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and socio-economic background, the competition will recognize those who have shown a commitment to increasing diversity in the field and encourage further discussion of the topic. Applicants are required to submit a short essay on diversity, a summary of their field school, and some form of multimedia (photo, pamphlet, video clip, etc.) that highlights diversity in their field school. All awardees will be acknowledged at the 48th Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology and recognized on the SHA website, while the first place winner will receive special commendation. GMAC encourages submissions from all SHA members and conference attendees. The Application Form is available online and completed applications—as well as additional questions—may be directed to GMACdiversityfieldschool@gmail.com. For more information, please refer to the Submission Guidelines.

Toward A More Diverse SHA

The idea for the Diversity Field School Competition developed out of a series of larger discussions within the SHA about viable ways to increase diversity within the organization. At the 2011 SHA conference, GMAC members determined that increasing diversity was an important step toward social justice and helping the SHA reflect the diverse communities historical archaeologists serve. These calls for greater diversity were reinforced by subsequent GMAC panels and initiatives such as the GMAC Student Travel Award and diversity training for SHA board members. Last year former SHA president, Paul Mullins, announced his commitment to “make diversity an increasingly articulate part of the SHA mission and our collective scholarly practice.” Additionally archaeologists abroad are discussing the issue of diversity, particularly after the recent release of the Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2012-2013 report which identified 99% of archaeologists working in the UK as white. As a result we hope this competition helps to not only recognize those who have shown a commitment to diversity, but also open dialogue about ways to increase the presence of archaeologists from the many underrepresented groups.

We encourage you to also visit the SHA Events website for more information about other SHA competitions, events, and workshops. Hope to see you all in Seattle!

Interested in becoming a part of the conversation? Let us know how archaeologists can work together to increase diversity in the field.

GMAC Activities at SHA 2014

The Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) works to address equity issues affecting women and minority groups within the SHA and in the field. Three panels will be presented by the GMAC at the upcoming conference in Quebec City. Please check the conference website (http://www.sha2014.com/) for scheduling information.

“Queer Forum: Queer Scholarship and Queer Experience” is a hybrid forum that begins with presentations on current queer scholarship and transitions to conversations about issues facing queer (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and allied) archaeologists. The goal is to draft a white paper outline on LGBTQ issues that will serve as a basis for further discussion. Forum details, including presentation abstracts, are posted online at http://tinyurl.com/queersha2014

Archaeologists will also meet to address “A Question that Counts: Why is Achieving Diversity and Confronting Racism in the SHA Important for the Future of Our Organization, Profession, and Theoretical Understanding of the Past, Present, and Future?”  In conversation with each other and audience members, panelists discuss the intersection of theory and practice, racism and diversity in the SHA and our profession.

The symposium, “Theorizing African Diaspora Archaeology” is co-organized by the Society of Black Archaeologists in collaboration with GMAC. Papers in this session use theoretical perspectives from Africana Studies, Public Health and other disciplines to help rethink old African diaspora sites and help explain new ones.

Those interested in equity issues and activities of the GMAC are invited to attend the GMAC committee meeting. The committee meeting is traditionally scheduled early in the morning so that it does not interfere with presentations.

Awardees of the inaugural 2014 GMAC Diversity Field School Competition will be announced in Quebec City. The award recognizes those who have shown a commitment to diversity in historical archaeology in a field school context. Information on the award, including application information (deadline: December 15, 2013) is online: http://eepurl.com/G7uGX

You can also enter the GMAC Diversity Photo Competition. Contest winners will be announced on the blog, Facebook Page, and at the conference.