As some of you may know, I was trekking hard on the quest for graduate school this year. I got accepted into a PhD program for Evolutionary Anthropology at Arizona State, and I also got accepted into a Masters program for Primatology at Central Washington University. I was pretty shocked and honored to get acceptance from my top choices, but in the end I had to decline admission because funding wasn’t offered. This was a massive disappointment for me and I was blindsided by the turnout that I’ve worked my booty off for. I had no choice but to switch gears and continue to work/teach/research in order build a strong and competitive CV for the pursuit of an entire new selection of graduate schools next fall.
I started early in my search for suitable graduate schools, and I was looking for professors in the Paleoanthropology field specifically this time. Interestingly (and miraculously), I stumbled upon a professor at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. As I was browsing the website for his laboratory, I found his most recent publications. I don’t even know if I read any of the titles in their entirety, because my eyes and possibly my heart stopped on one word that completely froze me in my tracks – “Gigantopithecus”.
My mind began racing and I was scrambling to read what he’s discovered, suggested, and published about this mysterious extinct ape. “No way. No way. No way!!!” – That’s all I could think. We don’t know much about Gigantopithecus. We know it stood about 10 feet tall, weighed about a thousand pounds, is a cousin to the orangutan, and is now extinct. We don’t know their social structure, their diet, their full range, their breeding behaviors, or the nature of their extinction.
Once I was done getting myself fired up, I sent an email to this professor inquiring any openings in his laboratory for PhD students in Fall 2017. I sent him my letter of introduction, GRE scores, a Statement of Purpose, and a sample of my writing. He responded with words that I read 10,000 times to try to decipher some kind of direct meaning, “What are you doing right now?”.
A few back and forth emails between us regarding potential admission into his laboratory evolved into an unexpected opportunity. He needed a research assistant. After requesting some letters of recommendation, he scheduled a meeting for me to fly out there to chat about what I can do for him and his current research projects – which involve continued trips to the China/Korea border for fossil excavations. We chatted for almost two hours about my academic interests and career goals. He began asking me things like, “Do you like Chinese food?”, “Do you like to dig holes?”, and “Have you traveled much?” …So I knew it had to be going well…
By the time I left his office, we had a plan in place for me to begin working on my masters thesis right away, audit a course here, register for a course there, and be his research assistant until I can make the transition to being an official student in his laboratory next fall. He provided me with a laundry list of funding opportunities for me in hopes to have me as his future PhD student. The best part? We discussed the kinds of questions about Gigantopithecus my thesis could propose that haven’t been answered yet. And I would get to travel to China to excavate the fossil data to answer MY question.
Just like that, my disappointment of taking a year off school was filled to the brim with opportunity to stay involved. A lot of pieces to the puzzle still need to fall into place – but I am hopeful and elated that I have this plan being molded. He was very confident that I am a competitive applicant for his laboratory, however, there is never a guarantee of admission into any university. My application process will be same as any other’s, and therefore I will still need a whole plethora of graduate schools on my list to pursue for next fall.
The future is still slightly uncertain. But I’m aiming for the best possible outcome, which would put me in a University of Hawaii laboratory as a PhD candidate in Anthropology next fall with a head start on my thesis involving novel Gigantopithecus research. ❤
P.S. For any of you fans of The Jungle Book, you might be interested to know that the original book actually never included a “King Louie”. King Louie was added to the story when Disney created their cartoon 1960s version of the book, and they made King Louie an orangutan. Apparently this caused some “factual turmoil” in The Jungle Book community, since there were never orangutans that lived in India. And since the book was nothing but factual entertainment, the creators of the 2016 Disney’s The Jungle Book decided to right this wrong by making King Louie an enormous, terrifying, and close relative to the orangutan – Gigantopithecus. Now when you see the movie, and your friend (a fellow Jungle Book enthusiast) turns to you in confusion when Christopher Walken starts singing about being a Gigantopithecus, you can explain why. You’re welcome.