August 31, 2006

On the fucking-up of my program, yo.

This is not your typical start-of-semester personal crisis. I don't hate my classes. I don't wish I were done with school. I don't want my summer back. I'm not having any trouble getting into the classes I want and I don't have any odious breadth requirements to fill.

In fact, I don't have any requirements at all. The only reason I didn't graduate last semester is that I hadn't taken a methods course -- but I took one over the summer. So all I need to do this semester is take 13 units of electives and not flunk out before December, and then I'll be a Berkeley graduate.

So what the fuck is the problem?

I'm signed up for 4 classes, and because I'm an incompetent student but know my limitations, I need to drop one so I don't fall hopelessly behind in all of them. Dropping is a very easy process once one has picked a class to drop.

1. The Stone Age of Africa
2. Zooarchaeology (anatomy and identification lab)
3. Prehistoric Art
4. The Anthropology of Food

And I, someone whose interest in anthropology orbits around the conjunction of ancient prehistory, ritual and social relationships, and old creepy bones, am supposed to pick one of these to drop.

The fuck.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that Zooarchaeology and Stone Age of Africa are taught by the same instructor, who's friendly and informative and generally awesome, but also extremely demanding. I know I can't handle four classes if two of them are hers. I don't even know if I can handle three classes if two of them are hers. But of the four, hers are the two that I'm most sure I want to keep -- most especially Zooarchaeology, which looks like it may very well be the most difficult class I've ever taken at Berkeley. If I keep it, I need to start busting ass for it yesterday; if I'm dropping it, I need the time I'm currently spending reading for it to read for Stone Age of Africa.

I've already got a fantastic fact from yesterday's lecture on teeth: human beings do not have carnivore incisors. We don't even have omnivore incisors. We have frugivore and foliovore incisors, wide, flat spatulate teeth for tearing leaves and fruit. My monkey ancestors ate plants and so do I!

Posted by dianna at August 31, 2006 12:31 PM

Well, from what I've heard you say, Prehistoric Art seems the most likely candidate. At least, that's the only one about which I haven't heard you say anything glowingly positive. How do credits fit into this situation? Are you planning to take three of these classes and tack on a 1-credit DECal?

Posted by: Zach S. at August 31, 2006 02:46 PM


And, okay, this is shameless but it bears mentioning anyway. The Prehistoric Art class is taught by Meg Conkey, who is one of the really well-regarded big names in archaeology on this coast. When I was applying to fieldschools, the professors of the other schools running the field programs would say, "Oh, you go to Berkeley? Taken any classes with Meg Conkey?" The reason I say it's shameless is because I know that having taken a class from her will look good on grad school applications. The reason it isn't really shameless is that I've also heard that she's a very good instructor, which seems to be borne out by the first class on Tuesday. So I don't want to go dropping her class out of hand to take two classes with a new faculty member and one social/cultural anthropology class.

I'm not picking on your suggestion particularly -- well, okay, I am. What I'm trying to say is that I've got similar arguments for absolutely everything else you can suggest. I spent most of the day at work trying them out on my co-workers. Bridget, for her part, spent a good 30 minutes enumerating reasons why I'm not allowed to drop Zooarchaeology even though I kind of, kind of, want to. I mean, there's a goddamn butchery lab. The instructor's getting a goat carcass for the purpose, and I don't want to take a class in which people are buying dead animals on my behalf. I can opt out of participating, but as a matter of principle I don't want to be involved at all.

But I'll probably drop either Prehistoric Art (your suggestion) or Stone Age of Africa (Bridget's suggestion). Anthropology of Food will be too much fun, and Zooarchaeology is far too unique among the classes I've had for me to drop it no matter how many problems I've got with it.

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 03:13 PM

Wait, didn't I say the glowing things that I said before classes actually started?

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 03:14 PM

I dunno, maybe. Time is an illusion for me, what with interview season and all.

I will now officially switch sides and take Bridget's position: Drop Stone Age of Africa. Not only should you take Prehistoric Art to get a big name on your transcript, you should take it so that you can cultivate a relationship with the professor. Considering that you'll still be taking Zooarcheology, dropping Stone Age will give you three different professors rather than two, which will help expand the number of contacts you have in the field. It's crass, but from my understanding grad school admissions is largely based on who you know, and if Meg Conky is a Very Important Archaeologist she could possibly provide you with a valuable reference.

Posted by: Zach S. at August 31, 2006 07:51 PM

It's true. On the other hand, Meg Conkey's class is from 3:30-5 pm on a day when I have no other classes except Taekwondo in the morning, and I can already tell that it's going to be a challenge to be there and awake at every class. Also, granted that we haven't really gotten into the course material yet, I haven't been knocked off my feet by her lecture style or perspective. It isn't that I don't like them, or don't like her, but that she hasn't given us much basis for judgement on either count as all three hours so far have been course logistics and introductions.

And if I dropped Prehistoric Art, I'd have all of my classes concentrated on Mon-Wed-Fri and be able to cook on either Tuesday or Thursday afternoon. As it stands I don't get home in time for a full cooking shift any day of the week.

I think it goes like this. For my schedule's sake I should drop Prehistoric Art. For my major focus's sake I should drop Anthropology of Food. For the sake of a manageable course load I should drop Zooarchaeology, and for the sake of grad school applications I should drop Stone Age of Africa.

For the sake of my own enjoyment, I should keep Anthropology of Food. For the sake of my most complete education I should keep Zooarchaeology and Stone Age of Africa, and for the sake of the interest that got me into archaeology in the first place I should keep Prehistoric Art.

Schedule, I dub thee Impossible.

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 09:50 PM

What's Berkeley's drop deadline again? How long can you dither before you have to make a decision?

I would also suggest, at least from the perspective of networking, that dropping Anthropology of Food could also work, insofar as you already know the professor there. You could maintain the relationship by visiting him in office hours and, I don't know, chatting about stuff.

Posted by: Zach S. at August 31, 2006 10:04 PM

See, but Anthropology of Food is supposed to be my break from horribly intense archaeology. It's my only social/cultural anthro class this semester and one in which I know the professor's style for assignments and tests. It'll be fun and manageable (said Dianna, not helping the stereotypes about social/cultural anthropology in the slightest). How can I drop that? I couldn't possibly.

I think the drop deadline is the 5th week, so it's really not looming very close at all. The problem is more my need to know what I should be reading right now and when I'm free to work or do house workshifts. The former I can live with, but I need to sign up for permanent workshifts by Tuesday at the very latest -- and depending on what I drop, I may or may not be able to sign up for the cooking shift that I want to do.

Hmm. Pick a number from 1 to 100.

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 10:20 PM

I'll go with... 28.

Posted by: Zach S. at August 31, 2006 10:27 PM

28, eh? Why... that means I should drop Zooarchaeology! It's a good choice, I think. Final semesters should be well-rounded but not too overwhelming, and, where possible, focused on broader knowledge rather than specific. You pack a great deal of wisdom into a simple 28, do you know that?

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 10:56 PM

So what was the decision mechanism, here? 1-25 for one class, 26-50 for another, etc.?

Posted by: Zach S. at August 31, 2006 11:00 PM

Yeah. I divided up the numbers based on course numbers, with the lowest numbered course getting 1-25 and so on. As it happens, I listed them above in their course number order also, but that was a coincidence.

Posted by: Dianna at August 31, 2006 11:25 PM

Seems as good a way of deciding as any. But here's the tricky thing: Will you abide by Fortuna's decision and actually drop Zooarcheology?

Posted by: Zach S. at September 1, 2006 10:25 AM

Wait, wait! I'm going to argue for going against Fate here, and back up Zach and your coworker's previous position. I understand your desire not to participate in a butchery lab (is that really what it's called? cool!), but in terms of field methods, that sounds like a really cool thing to have behind you. Also, you spent the summer finding any number of bones that other people had killed and dismembered -- would this lab give you a better grip on looking at bones like that in the field again and knowing something about what happened to them? So that you could also make pronouncements like, "This raccoon penis bone was bisected with a cerrated blade before it was cooked!" [gasps all around]??

While Stone Age of Africa is the class that I am the most personally excited about you taking and then telling me about, it also seems like the one that you've offered the least specific reasons for taking, it seems to offer the least justification in itself, and seems less than the others to track with your current range of interests or to offer the most long-range knowledge about shit you're actually going to ever work on. I mean, it sounds way fucking cool, but it sounds like the least important thing for you to be doing right now. Also, one of the things that you just said really clearly in this post is that as awesome as the prof is, you know what she's about and you can't reasonably take two of her classes at the same time. In terms of breadth on your transcript, too, you can just have one class with her, one with the rock star, and one on food. All signs point with sad limp little hands to Drop Stone Age Of Africa.

Maybe you could just sneak into the lectures and then tell me what it's about. Hey, can you audit one of these classes?

Posted by: katie at September 1, 2006 12:47 PM

Actually, I'm dropping Prehistoric Art. The hell with my transcript; school is not about status negotiations (although I think to an anthropologist it actually kind of is), it's about making the most of opportunities to learn. Prehistoric art is something that I can and will investigate to some degree on my own (and I'm keeping the extremely awesome book even though I'm dropping the class). Vertebrate taphonomy is not. I could drop Zooarchaeology and keep the book and still, ten years from now, not know the material.

Prehistoric art also makes the most sense to drop schedule-wise, because it allows me to consolidate school on three days and work and workshifts on the other two. And the class is late afternoon with slides and Powerpoint and I'm not optimistic about my ability to be present and awake.

I can't drop Zooarchaeology; I just can't bring myself to. It fills an enormous topical void in my undergraduate education and it's something that I need the structure of a class to learn. And it's interesting. And I heard the professor saying to someone today that she wants to use the carcass of an animal that died naturally for the butchery lab if possible, which makes me much less unhappy about it. I still can't see myself actually participating, because oh my god ew ew ew agh. Still, it doesn't motivate me to drop the whole class.

Posted by: Dianna at September 1, 2006 01:25 PM

I just re-read this comment thread and realized that what I have done is taken the first suggestion offered. You can't say I don't take advice; I just have an incredibly roundabout way of doing it.

Posted by: Dianna at September 1, 2006 01:28 PM

So my reverse psychology worked and you'll be staying in Stone Age of Africa. Mwahahaha.

Posted by: katie at September 1, 2006 03:28 PM


Posted by: Dianna at September 1, 2006 04:27 PM