My Grad Student Life in COVID Times: Disciplinary Change is Coming?

My grad student life has changed significantly since my last post in March: I no longer have a physical home on campus, unscheduled interactions with colleagues in the hallways or at conferences are impossible, it is unsafe to travel for fieldwork, I am teaching my course online (often in my favorite dinosaur sweatpants). The virtual turn brought on by COVID-19 has made me feel less connected to my campus community and my research community in Kodiak. At the same time, I feel much more connected to the wider anthropology community through the huge proliferation of webinars and panels over the past several months.

As I imagine most people have experienced, I have also been anxious about the uncertainty looming over EVERYTHING. This anxiety extends from uncertainty about the health and wellbeing of myself and others to uncertainty about my ability to make progress towards my degree. What if I can’t safely return to Old Harbor for several years? Do I have to rework my research to complete a library dissertation instead? Will the pandemic change the way that anthropologists and archaeologists conduct their research for years to come? In times of disturbance and instability, there is great potential for lasting change, but I am not sure where I, or my research, will fit into those changes.

The crucial work of the movement for Black lives has spurred discussions about what it means to do anthropology and archaeology ethically, with care, and in an accountable and respectful way. These large-scale discussions are long overdue and I believe that they will change the discipline for the better by making community-centered work the norm.

On the other hand, I worry that the economic crisis coupled with the turn to virtual learning will speed up the ‘adjunctification’ of universities in the United States – meaning that more classes will be taught by underpaid and overworked contingent lecturers rather than universities investing in teaching and research faculty. In other words, I wonder what kind of jobs will be available if/when I do finish my PhD, especially as someone who wants teaching to be a continued part of their work.

As I have been waiting for some certainty to return, I have spent a lot of time educating myself in Indigenous Studies, Black Studies and Indigenous Archaeology. Scholars and practitioners in these and related disciplines have done tremendous work to critique and challenge the ways and conditions under which knowledge is produced. If anthropology and archaeology are going to come out of this pandemic changed, I want to do what I can to make sure that they are changed for the better. I want post-pandemic anthropology to be more equitable, inclusive, accountable and centered on the needs of the communities with whom we study and serve. While the pandemic is a disaster on all levels, from the personal to the global, I am grateful that quarantine and the slowing of my dissertation research has given me the time to dig into this essential work.

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