What's It Like to Meet Your Adviser's Adviser?

Michael Day and Bernard Wood
Michael Day (left) and Bernard Wood (right)
By Jennifer Baker and Chrisandra Kufeldt
May 08, 2013

Two weekends ago CASHP hosted a symposium on the ‘Function and Evolution of the Human Foot.’ While the symposium was successful in its own right, it also provided us with the opportunity to meet Dr. Michael Day, the paleoanthropologist who described the OH 8 foot, and incidentally, our own adviser’s PhD supervisor. Talking afterwards, we discovered that we were both equally thrilled to be sitting with an authority on so many seminal finds in paleoanthropology– the Omo Kibish fossils, OH 28, the Laetoli footprints, and of course OH 8. There is a good chance that if you are reading this blog you may have a copy of one of Dr. Day’s books. How many of you have flipped through his Guide to Fossil Man? If you haven’t, your own advisers may have a copy. Because the fossil finds are organized by country and state it will give you a sense of the state of affairs in our field at the time of the last edition in 1986- before some of you were born!

Our own adviser, Bernard Wood, relatively early in his career was the beneficiary of his adviser being in the thick of it all. Bernard tackled the Herculean task of writing the monograph on the Koobi Fora cranial remains and he spoke out on the topic of splitting the species Homo habilis into two taxa. Dr. Day regaled us with his vivid recounting of the day Louis Leakey showed up in John Napier’s office with disarticulated fossil foot bones wrapped in tissue, his early days in Olduvai Gorge, and stories of Mary Leakey, Paul Abell, and Wilfrid Le Gros Clark. At the end of our conversation, we felt more connected to the field through our interactions with a man who has half a decade of personal knowledge about many of the defining moments in paleoanthropology. While these stories were both amazing and entertaining, one of the highlights was hearing stories about our adviser in the early stages of his graduate career. We asked Dr. Day what Bernard was like as a student, and naturally Dr. Day said nothing incriminating, but rather that Bernard was good at everything he did. Of course he was! As graduate students we often question whether we belong in graduate school or whether we will make important discoveries. Visiting with Dr. Day reminded us why we were drawn to the study paleoanthropology in the first place. When we question our own place and contributions to the field, it helps to know that others have also had their doubts, and that they were reassured by their adviser just as we are by ours.