The Bipolar Lives of Paleoanthroplogists

Kevin Hatala
By Kevin Hatala
December 01, 2011

The other day someone told me that paleoanthropologists live a bipolar lifestyle. I had never heard that before but I kind of get it. I remember when I was younger, I used to return home after a day at school and my mother would always ask, “What did you do in school today?” As any child might do, I would begrudgingly mumble something along the lines of “Nothing much,” at which point my mother would persistently grill me until she had finally wrung out some semblance of a detail about something that I had done that day.

So now, if my mother asked me that question…what did I do today? Well, let me think. After my (first) coffee was brewed, I spent the next hour and a half or so poring over the User Guide to a geometric morphometric software package. I just kept searching for a way to write a script that would allow me to run a multiple regression analysis of shape variation as a function of particular continuous variables. I haven’t quite figured it out yet but I did find a really creative way to convert a tab-delimited spreadsheet into a file that can be directly uploaded into another program, which then might be able to run the type of analysis that I’m looking for. Still with me? Just checking. So then I spent the next two hours formatting an Excel spreadsheet so that I can give this method a try. I made it through about 50 rows and only had about 1900 left but then it was time for lunch. So after lunch I got through another 100 or so. Yeah, I feel like I’m getting really close. I’ll keep going tomorrow. And just think of what it’ll be like when I actually get to run that analysis sometime next month…

Ah, nothing like a good old dissertation to pass the time. Such might be the trend from September until May. And then what? Well, once the summer finally arrives, I know that I’ll be ready and able to escape. I’ll just hop on a plane, then another plane, then another plane, then a Land Rover, and then…I’ll finally be there. At my other ‘pole’. Off in East Africa, out of the clutches of e-mail and phone service. Gathering data that we already know is there but also going on thrilling searches for new data. Going for nice lakeside jogs and trying not to get eaten by a crocodile (hopefully my mother’s already fallen asleep reading the preceding paragraph…).

I realize that some paleoanthropologists might not get to (or want to) head to such remote corners of the world. But still, whether it is spending a couple months in the depths of a museum or just sitting down and actually having time to do research, it seems like we’re all able to enjoy this ‘bipolar life’. Or at least I am, and I’m sticking to it.