In 2019, I was one of the last cohorts of fellows for the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Leshner Fellowship for Public Engagement. I thank my friend and colleague Dr. Julie Lesnik for recommending this program to me and me to this program. The program was designed for mid-career professionals and helped me and other fellows take another step up from what we've achieved in our careers and efforts at public engagement. We thought we were ahead of the game, but we learned what more we could do and that publicly engaged scholarship is a discipline and not just something I thought I could do because I can talk to a public audience. The requirements of the Leshner Fellowship were to administer a public engagement project related to our research and another for a scientific institution (usually our own university). I developed a documentary project about tattooing in Samoa and proposed to develop tenure and promotion guidelines at my university for evaluation public engagement.
In 2021, I received a Provost Faculty Leadership Fellowship from UA to develop the T&P project, and this past year we piloted the Public Engagement Learning Community (PELC). It's been renewed for another year, and the goal of the program is to develop a UA community trained in and supportive of publicly engaged scholarship. A community will support the development of public engagement initiatives and shepherd scholarship, as well as be available to evaluate dossiers containing significant publicly engaged scholarship.
This semester has been a pique experience in publicly engaged scholarship for me in a way that I didn't realize until I started writing this. It really started before the spring because the PELC program began last year. In the fall, we invited several scholars to campus for the workshops, but, ultimately, they became Zoom presentations for one reason or another. These included a recorded interview with Dr. Timothy Eatman from Rutgers, a presentation and discussion with journalist John Hammontree, and a presentation by Collette Cann and Eric DeMeulenaer, authors of The Academic Activist.
By contrast, all of our presenters this spring were in-person speakers, which I have always found make more of an impression. We had a Zoom presentation by Tricia Allen in January, but in February we had a visit by Dr. Timothy Shaffer from University of Delaware and visits from Drs. Diane Doberneck and Timothy Eatman in March.
Hosting these workshops and learning about the field of publicly engaged scholarship influenced how I approached the talks I gave and meetings I've attended throughout the past month. The week after Dr. Eatman's culminating workshop, I went to Florida Gulf State University to give an invited book talk, went to Reno for the annual meetings of the biological anthropology organizations, gave a book talk in Birmingham for a bar audience, and went back to my homeland Indiana to give a series of all of my talks.
The lesson for all of the talks I gave throughout April as a publicly engaged scholar is to invite oneself to give talks. When I worked in the music industry, bands didn't get record deals or make any money if they didn't tour and promote themselves and their records. In academia, we put books out via academic publishers and rely on those publishers to get our books into university libraries. In many cases, academic books are neither written for nor available to a general audience. In my own publishing experience, my sole authored book that I've been promoting is print on demand. I think this means there are no copies on hand to ship to stores for any urgent demand because when I have tried to order them for my talks, the books are in no hurry to be shipped. The order takes time to process, then the book takes time to be printed and shipped. I am not a fan of this business model.
Publisher support aside, invite yourself to give talks. Say you're in the area of a university because your mother paid to bring you home and gave you access to a family car, offer a free talk to the local departments related to your work. This is the best way to recruit graduate students to your program, to introduce potential buyers to your book, and, most importantly, the best way to open up a philosophy of exchanging lectures/faculty expertise between universities. Dr. Anna Osterholtz and I started doing this between Mississippi State University and the University of Alabama. We no longer have anyone specializing in bioarchaeology or skeletal collections to study, but MSU has an expanding program. Conversely, MSU cannot offer more than an MA, but UA offers multiple MA and PhD tracks in anthropology.
Invite yourself to give talks because you have something you want to promote. Send a free copy to friends working at other universities. That's what I did to get a talk at FGSU. I sent copies of my book to Drs. Nate Pipitone and Max Stein. Nate and I were in the same evolutionary psychology lab in graduate school, and Max was a graduate student of mine. I didn't ask for a talk, but I probably said I'm available, and Nate offered me one, so we made it happen and I told him about Max. They didn't know each other before they coordinated my talk but are now colleagues. Furthermore, while I was there, I had a bunch of meetings with Nate and Max and their students and came away with multiple potential research collaborations. Think psychedelics and belongingness.
In Reno for the Human Biology Association Annual Scientific Meeting, my undergraduate student Flynn Lewellyn and I presented a poster on publicly engaged scholarship and the Sausage of Science podcast. We left the theory of out the poster, but Flynn and I were determined to tell everyone why our poster is important. I introduced them to Agustin Fuentes and mentioned needing to do something about publicly engaged scholarship in the main forums of our organizations. Agustin is currently battling with millions of trolls on Twitter because of his SciAm post about the non-binariness of sex and non-existence of race, etc. Agustin suggested we do a position paper on this topic, so in my mind, we're now doing a position paper. I put out an informal query about a 2024 session somewhere on publicly engaged anthropology and got a bunch of responses indicating interest, including from the editor of American Anthropologist.
And don't just invite yourself for academic talks---find those local Science Cafe or Science on Tap or or whatever they call the "grog talk" program that probably exists in a town near you. They are programs that host academic talks in bar/restaurants. If you can't find one, start one! They are a great way to meet local business owners who share similar values and other academics who like talking with a beer in hand.
Last fall I was invited to be one of the initial speakers for the Discourse Birmingham series, hosted at local bars in Birmingham. I gave a tattoo talk in the fall at Monday Night Brewing Company, and it went really well. I felt great about the talk, and the hosts Lawrence and Janek invited me back for another talk this spring at Rojo. This gave me a chance to tweak my book talk for a public audience. I've given public book readings but not yet a public talk on this book, so this was important for me. And, again, I think it went really well; this is based purely on people staying to meet me until the bars closed, and they kicked us out.
My mother gave one of my books to her pastor because she thought it would be of interest to her church congregation. The Garden is one of those churches that has a roughly Christian template but is mostly about communing with other humans, having a sense of a Higher Power that loves everyone, and community service. My mom likes that the pastor emphasizes messages that resonate with modern life and keeps services short. The pastor likes the book because it's interesting and, as she pointed out several times, the only academic book that's made her laugh out loud. She and my mother arranged to have me speak this past Sunday as what was in fact the main talk of the service, and my mother paid to bring me up. I talked about fireside relaxation, spiritual transcendence, and the biology of self-soothing.
Since the trip was paid for, I'd be able to stay at my parents' place and have access to their vehicle for free, I offered myself up for free lectures to anthropology departments at other nearby universities. I wanted it to be worth the effort for me to travel and my mother to pay for me, so I reached out to people I already know. I've been active in professional organizations since I started graduate school and cohost a weekly science podcast, so, among other reasons, I know a fair amount of people I can reach out to. I got in touch with colleagues at several Indiana universities and managed to book a tattoo talk at Indiana University on Monday and a public engagement talk at Purdue on Tuesday.
I went to IU right out of high school for my first two years of college. It wasn't in anthropology, but that was still cool and special for me. I gave a tattoo talk and met another anthropology professor who's been tasked with teaching the "anthropology of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll." I may have dropped Paul Mahern's name, who I only know personally thru Facebook but whose band was the first punk rock show I ever saw. Mahern is lead singer of The Zero Boys, Indiana's first and best hardcore punk band. He has been a recording engineer, producer, and studio owner for 30 years, and is now also a college educator.
I gave a talk about publicly engaged anthropology and how to make it count at Purdue on Tuesday. I offered them one of my usual talks, but I know enough people at Purdue who know enough about me that they asked for a different talk. They asked for a talk about my public engagement, such as my podcast... So I took the opportunity to combine the workshop I've been running with my discipline to give tips specific for an anthropology department with a similar scope to the one I'm in.
While there, I met with Kari Guilbault, a bioarchaeology student who has been conducting an MA study of Nubian mummy tattoos. We had communicated before COVID19 and I offered a talk to Purdue if I could ever get to my folks during the academic semester (only an hour from my parents' house, so a low-stress offer).
It was useful to workshop this new talk for my friend and primary host Dr. Melanie Beasley. Melanie and I have gotten to know each other through biological anthropology professional organizations over the course of our careers. Their department included me as part of their Anthropologies of Tomorrow series and thanked me for inviting myself, because departments also become too busy too organize their funded speaker series. Colleges and departments provide funding for such series, but departments often forego these opportunities because faculty feel or are over-serviced.
As a publicly engaged scholarly, these are the types of opportunities I foster (as host) at my own university and seek out via others' programs. Melanie gave me some good advice on how to flesh out the slides to make my points; and I realized I can integrate more of my projects as examples in ways I hadn't thought of previously.
I haven't mentioned making it count. What I mean by that is academics need to justify this publicly engaged work as scholarship to get institutional recognition and protection for it. As my friend and colleague Drew Pearl said this year in probably the more profound statement I heard through our tutelage of the PELC program, "universities are structural institutions and inherently conservative, but the faculty tend to be progressive," or something to that effect. Boom. Mic drop.
But not really. Since they are conservative, we have to meet them halfway by developing ways to measure public engagement and turn it into peer-reviewed scholarship, which is the coin of the realm. The examples I use in this talk include our recent efforts to measure the impact of the podcast and turn the #Hackademics series into a special issue but the many retrofitted articles I've written about public programs I've developed or events I've been involved with. This, I suspect, will be the basis for a position paper...
The Human Biology Association & American Association of Biological Anthropology annual meetings were held at the Peppermill Resort and Spa in Reno, Nevada this year. Technically, I should list the AABA first because they are the primary sponsor and organizer of the conference. However, I am more active in the HBA and attend more HBA functions, so I set it first in my report.
The Peppermill was an interesting choice. I was looking forward to the excitement of being in a resort hotel for nearly a week, but it wasn't really what I expected. People kept joking that it was a Cheesecake Factory on steroids. However, it will have been memorable, and it was a great conference with excellent presentations, interested students, and fun and creative conversations!
As a member of the HBA Executive Committee, we had a dinner/meeting the first night to prep for the business meeting, and otherwise I hung out with friends/colleagues Eric Shattuck, Cara Ocobock, and Saige Kelmelis.
On Wednesday was the the HBA poster session, plenary, Pearl Memorial Lecture, and HBA Awards Reception. HBERG students Flynn Lewellyn (undergraduate senior) and Lindsey Clark (doctoral student) presented on public engagement via the Sausage of Science Podcast and the Fireside Relaxation Study, respectively.
Thursday was sessions, the HBA Business Meeting, and the Student Speednetworking Reception. There was hanging out in a lounge with live Americana music. There was also a brief attempt to warm up in the outdoor heated pool that backfired, then we went to the AABA Reception.
Friday were the flashtalks in which I presented as the end of the HBA conference. There were AABA sessions all day, the the AABA Business Meeting and Awards Ceremony. My dear friend and colleague Cara Ocobock won a Leakey Foundation Award for Science Communication at the meeting and gave a lovely speech. I may have gotten choked up. Cara invited me as her +1 to mingle with the AABA Executive Committee and awardees for snacks and beverages.
The conference lasted through Saturday, but I left on Saturday, along with many of those I was hanging out with.
It was such a pleasure to give a book talk at FGCU because I was hosted by two of my favorite people in the world. Dr. Nate Pipitone (Psychology) and Dr. Max Stein (Anthropology) hosted my talk, but my favorite part was just getting to watch them in action and talk research. Nate and I went to grad school together. We were both members of Gordon Gallup's Evolutionary Psychology Lab and did a study together at one point on self-deception and mating success. I wrote about the study in my book, though I wish we'd pursued that thread and did more research. Our second study was so confusing that we never published on it, but after hanging out for a few days, I see our research interests are still in complete overlap, and I want to find a way to do some research with him again. Rule of thumb: When you find collaborators you work with well, keep them in your inner circle and find more ways to collaborate. Do as much as much as you can with them and you will be a happier academic.
Max was once a student of mine. I was on his MA and PhD committees, he was my research assistant in Costa Rica for a field season, we co-authored two papers together, and he ran my lab when I was on my first sabbatical back in 2017. I regret not being able to attend his wedding, but I am so proud of what he accomplished in our program, in his personal life with his cool AF family, and in his job as an Anthropology professor at FGCU. I remember when Max popped into my office as a first year MA student to introduce himself. I was standoffish because it annoyed me, but as I've always told him and all students after, my annoyance was my problem. He was among the few students who ever put themselves out there and made themselves known to all of us. Getting a PhD is not easy, but he did many right things, and that was one of them. I have always respected him for getting his needs met and handling us, as faculty, and all our bullshit that we put on students to see if they can rise to the occasion.
I loved talking to their students. I got to meet with Max's "Medical Anthropology" course at 9am, and I pulled out a tattoo lecture to riff on just in case they were quiet. I needn't have bothered; they'd read my book and had questions the whole class period! It was awesome!! And most of the students who asked questions in both classes came to the lecture. Oh, I went to Nate's "Drugs and the Brain" class and riffed with them right after. As I told Nate and Max knows from experience, I love riffing on pop culture and anthropology with students.
I've gotta work on the talk. It's needs to be updated because I drone on and on in some places without enough imagry, and lord knows I've got tons. Too many tables and graphs. But people liked it, I sold some books, and I gave some autographs (I have to work on that too, make it funny or dorky or something).
Another nice piece recently came about tattooing and immune function that I was interviewed for. This one is in Parade Magazine:
American Journal of Biological Anthropology is essentially the flagship journal of US bioanth, yet until this publication I've never even submitted a manuscript to the journal. The main reason is that I've focused more on evolution or psychological/cognitive anthropology journals or AJHB since I've been accepted there repeatedly already. So I'm very excited to announce that my first submission to AJBA was accepted and has been published as a Brief Communication. Here is a link to the article on the journal website, which is the best place to access it to influence the impact factor (have your interest counted). However, it's gonna be behind a paywall eventually, so hit me up if you need access before I eventually post the PDF to my webpage.
It was painful to watch Alabama loose in the Sweet 16 when we should have at least made the Final 4 (historic year, blah blah), but at least some of our lab members banded together to jointly suffer this ignominious defeat.
It's gratifying to be contacted for excellent pieces like this new one that came out in The Atlantic last week. Katherine Wu digs into the various studies of tattooing and the immune system, including comments from a phone conversation we had a few months ago.
I spent the week of UA's spring break in Samoa to get the project I was awarded NSF funding for in 2020 started finally. I spent 5 weeks this past summer in Honolulu talking with the Samoan diaspora community and had intended to collect similar data in Samoa via coordinated training of research assistants at the Centre for Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa. However, having only arranged these relationships via email, I could not wrap my brain around how I was going to accomplish those things, and, after chatting with Jessica Hardin, another anthropologist who works with CSS for research in Samoa, I realized the best strategy would be to pay for an extra plane ticket and make the trip to have some meetings in person about the project.
I stayed at the Samoan Outrigger Hotel because it cost about as little as a cheap AirBnB and is located close enough to the Samoan Cultural Village, where Suluape Tatau do hand-tap tattooing, and the National University of Samoa, where I would be giving a talk and have meetings. I went down to the Cultural Village right after I arrived, but no one was tattooing so I popped into a bar overlooking the Village and Apia Bay to see who was around. It was happy hour and full of Kiwi expats talking about their schemes to make money. Felt like a James Michener novel, but I guess everyone needs to make a living.
The flight there is super long, and Samoa is 18 hours ahead of US Central Time, so I left on Sunday at 2PM, but I didn't arrive in Samoa until Tuesday afternoon. But I didn't have any appointments until Thursday, so I tried to find everyone on Wednesday. I walked around looking for NUS and CSS for several hours, and I finally found everyone I was looking for after getting thoroughly sunburned and foot-blistered. My stupidity for forgetting a hat, sunscreen, or my already broken in slides. I found Dionne Fonoti in CSS and the main offices and met a few other folks over there. Then I walked down to the Cultural Village and found Ata Sulu'ape tattooing. Junior (Paul) was in Pago Pago, and their father Alaiva'a was at home. Ata told me their father doesn't come down to the Cultural Village anymore, and I didn't have a car so didn't seem him while there. However, right as I was leaving, his daughter Patricia saw on FB that I was in Samoa and sent a message, leading me to realize I could have reached him through the daughters. I didn't think of it though, so next time.
On Thursday, I gave a seminar talk about the research I've done and tried to describe the goals and methods I am planning for the Samoa project. The seminar was very well attended with lots of great questions and several people excited to potentially work with me. More on that in a paragraph or so.
On Friday, I had some meetings to determine, now that my plans were somewhat clear, how CSS and I could help each other. Much of it revolved around who would be available to take on extra work. I'd be training and paying the person or people, but NUS does have have biological anthropology. They have cultural and language studies and archaeology. There was a medical doctor who is president of the Malofie Association, which is an association of people with the pe'a. I've been trying to catch up with him ever since, but he's super busy as a surgeon and director of the teaching medical program.
On Saturday, I had a fruitful breakfast meeting with Dionne, her partner, and Greg Jackmond, the archaeologist at CSS. We talked a lot about the tatau project and generally got to know each other, but I also got the opportunity to hear about some amazing archaeology and bioarchaeology material they have that they're looking for help analyzing. So now, as part of our exchange, I'm trying to find students and colleagues who could help them with this analysis or who may be interested in doing archaeology research there. Contrary to my beliefs that anthropologists have been studying Samoa ad nauseum forever, it's really that anthropologists have popped in now and again and written books but never maintained a constant presence. The archaeology that's been done there has languished since the 1970s, save the occasional study to reify the Lapita story of peopling the Pacific. It's really still unknown why people migrated there or spread out and migrated from there to other Polynesian Islands. However, they have LiDAR data indicating Savai'i was once extensively inhabited, and there is tons of evidence of prehistoric habitation that is completely unexplored.
Sunday is the day of the Lord, so no meetings. Frankly, most Samoans are so booked up with chief, village, and church responsibilities on the weekends that they're more busy than during the workweek. So I spent Sunday watching Alabama play basketball (in March Madness, the Saturday night game in Alabama was Sunday morning in Samoa) then went to a hike up to Robert Louis Stevenson's house and grave again. I'd been there last time but got caught in the rain. This time I walked in intense sun and got another sunburn.
Monday was the day I was supposed to leave, but since the flight was at 8pm, I had time for some more meetings, which was providential. I had breakfast with Bernadette Samau-Sila, who is a Lecturer in Finance and Marketing. She's Samoa-born but raised and schooled in New Zealand. Shes a qualitative researcher whose methodology is perfect for the study I've proposed, which is why she reached out. She's done some research on the malu and just loves research, and I'm really looking forward to combining our ideas to make this project better.
I headed back over to NUS with her after breakfast and went to see Greg's LiDAR maps, which I then played with for several hours until I needed to get to the airport.
One of the things I've learned about working with private industry is that academia doesn't always move fast enough for marketing purposes and that business people don't have any idea how slow science can move. Of course resources can make a big difference, and I am grateful to Napoleon Fireplaces for the support they provided for us to replicate our 2014 study with their electric fireplace. This project has gone faster than our original study, which took 5 years from inception to publication, but it's been a year since Napoleon got us the funds and can't wait to hear what we've been up to. How do we find a happy medium? We make a promo video for the company to send to its annual conference and share where we are now, data were have also now been published as an abstract in the American Journal of Human Biology. Actually, the advertising agency Hoffman York that has Napoleon as an account and recommended highlighting the health benefits of electric fireplaces found and liaise with me. They brought a crew to town and filmed the ad.
There are two sides of this that I want to highlight. This is the kind of ad or promo that a student interested in film or communications might do as a project, so it's a great way to inculcate interdisciplinarity in a lab and in training students. It then has a mutual benefit of highlighting the project and work of the student researchers and provides a learning experience for the student doing the film. The idea of doing an ad for the Fireside Relaxation Study came up last year from Hoffman York, but it was actually Journalism & Creative Media major and HBERG member Miriam Anderson who first began such a project and came up with the idea independently. MIriam had been in the process of filming when the semester ended and our schedules changed. I hope to reconnect and finish the piece for both of our sakes in the near future and share the finished product here and our other socials.
The other side is that working with private industry means there is funding specifically for marketing and people who can produce such ads quickly, on behalf of the company. This ad is being produced in addition to the funding and fireplace they provided. In both cases, I think it's important to engage the public in various culture ways with scientific findings. I don't make any money from working with Napoleon. The fireplace they donated sits in a small office in my lab, where our experiment takes place. This is applied anthropology and one means of making an impact on our world through our discipline.
Christopher D. Lynn
I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama with expertise in biocultural medical anthropology.