This fall I started my first year as a tenure track assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. As I reflect back on my path, I am grateful for many things I learned through IRT. In addition to the obvious fee waivers and assistance with the application for graduate school, my participation in IRT taught me the enduring skill of creating a coherent narrative out of my broad interests and accomplishments.
I have taken a somewhat windy path to arrive at this point in my career. My exposure to IRT began with a presentation to my Mellon Mays cohort at Rice University. During my junior and senior year of college I was really unsure about what direction I wanted to take my future. I had started college as a Biochemistry major, interested in medical or pharmacy school, and changed my focus to medical anthropology after studying abroad in Chile during my junior year. In Chile I learned about Latin American socialism and redistributive justice. I had always been interested in issues of social justice, particularly racial and economic justice, and anthropology was a logical fit. The short span of time between discovering Anthropology and the deadlines for graduate school left me spinning with uncertainty, but excited about my very diverse research interests. I was torn between applying for Ph.D. programs and Master of Public Health programs, but in the end chose to pursue an MPH because I was unsure of what I would study in a Ph.D. However, shortly after starting my M.P.H. program, although I knew that I wanted to do work that would help alleviate or shed light on inequalities, it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a more theoretical approach by way of a research career that was heavily ethnographic.
Once I was finally ready to apply for Ph.D. programs, I turned to IRT for guidance on the best way to frame my broad interests. How could I make my experience working in a drosophila lab, a volunteer trip to Haiti, and desire to better understand Marx into a story that made sense? It was through my experience with IRT that I first practiced the skill of building a narrative out of my broad range of interests and accomplishments. Although I still had not honed the skill of crafting a narrative in the short form of a cover letter and personal statement, I was able to connect my interests in social justice, structural violence and theoretical frameworks commonly used in anthropology. Later, once I was actually in graduate school I was able to merge my personal interest in food with my previous experiences and develop a dissertation project on food access in post-Soviet Cuba. Ultimately my doctoral work drew upon most of my previous work and both my scholarly and personal interests.
My graduate school applications were my first attempt to create a coherent narrative out of my previous experiences that made sense for a future research trajectory. What I did not realize then was that this skill of creating a narrative out of your experience is an enduring part of our work in academia; if the skill is well crafted it can be beneficial for many parts of academic life. Over the years, I would further hone my skills in crafting a story of my work in funding applications, in my proposal defense, and in postdoctoral and tenure track job applications. The craft of writing one page and two-page statements is a central element of academic life. I now see that this skill that I learned 10 years ago through IRT will be an essential asset as I move forward along the tenure track.