All about that Bass(icrania)

Angie Pic
By Angie Peña
March 31, 2016

As a grad student you are constantly reminded of the importance of networking. Connections you make today can lead to future research projects and job opportunities. With the 85th Annual Meeting of American Association for Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) just around the corner, this point couldn’t be more relevant. This year, I will be giving a poster presentation on a project I initiated at Arizona State University, studying how posture could be related to differences in basicranial morphology in primates. For a shy person like me, and perhaps for many junior graduate students, the idea of presenting and networking at a conference is intimidating. Despite this, I have always been impressed with how unexpectedly shared interests and hobbies can connect people, even in academic settings. Of course, at the AAPAs, we are joined together in one city because of our fascination with uncovering new knowledge about human origins and evolutionary history. But this year another topic has also helped me forge relationships with my colleagues: music.

I have always loved music and I have always wanted to learn an instrument and start a band. I would go to shows, stand squeezed between sweaty strangers, pushing and shoving to the sound of squealing guitars and pounding bass drums. I’d flip through music magazines and 99 cent record bins, and gawk at the pedalboards of my favorite musicians. It all seemed out of reach, so I never tried to do it myself. When I was getting ready to leave for grad school I was worried about what most students entering grad school are worried about: How would I navigate a new city (prior to my first year at GW, the closest I had ever been to DC was binge watching three seasons of House of Cards in one weekend)? What will my classes be like? How will I make connections with the people I work with? However, when I arrived, I was surprised by how many of my colleagues had similar taste in music and also wanted to start a band. One late night hanging out, three of us made the unanimous decision to stop simply talking about it, and instead actually do it. My first weekend in DC I bought an electric bass at a Guitar Center Labor Day sale and we formed Dogstronaut: a guitar, bass, and keys trio with little direction, but a lot of excitement. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but I would soon find that starting this band not only allowed me to foster my interest in music in an external outlet, but also develop lasting relationships with other students in my program.

After a few practices, the Director of Graduate Studies of CASHP, Dr. Chet Sherwood, told us that every year at the AAPAs there is a music night where researchers that play music can jam together. Participating in this music night became a goal for our band and after a stumble through of a version of “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer, we decided we were ready to get in contact with the organizers. This unlikely and exciting chance to play at the AAPAs put my fellow grad students and I in contact with researchers in anthropology from around the world. The Demonic Males, who have played at previous AAPA jam sessions, is comprised of faculty members in various subfields of anthropology. One of the members, Dr. Markus Bastir, also happens to study the basicranium and craniofacial anatomy! I didn’t expect this little jam session to provide a gateway through which I could speak to other anthropologists with similar research interests, and I am even more eager to go to the AAPAs with these new connections.

What I realize now, with music and networking alike, is that you have to start somewhere, and though I might be afraid to put myself out on a limb, a lot can come out of making that first step. I initially thought the decision to start a band would just be a creative outlet while I was in graduate school. However, it has turned out to facilitate many interactions and conversations I have had with my colleagues in anthropology. These interactions, whether they’re academic or simple banter amongst bandmates have helped me bolster my confidence in speaking to people and better adjust to life as a graduate student and an active member of CASHP. I am astounded by the amount of opportunities I have already been afforded by being a student in CASHP; being able to network with a diverse group of people with various research backgrounds and interests, is just one of the many benefits. If not for CASHP, I may have never picked up the bass and made the relationships that I am now establishing. Music was just one way I have been able to make connections with people and I am excited to see what the other interests will spark future relationships and conversations in my field.