2016 Essay Competition - View all entries

Old Bones, Old Books, and Murder Mysteries

Lauren Carter - Abingdon, MD, United States

I have very many passions in life, but the three I am most invested in are old bones, old books, and murder mysteries. If I had to pick a word to describe myself, it would be "curious". I am curious about life, about death, and what I'm most curious about is the question: Why study anthropology? By December, I wish to be able to answer this question and justify it, so that I can be confident in my decision of pursing anthropology.

Anthropology has been a subject that I have been interested in since I was a child. Anthropology, being the diverse discipline that it is, is the comprehensive study of humankind and its origins. As a child, I frequently read books and watched documentaries about Ancient Egypt and other old world civilizations. I always found it fascinating that artifacts and human remains could stay preserved for thousands of years. Ever since, I have wanted to study and learn more about how people in the past lived and developed different cultures.

The Department of Anthropology at Penn State is filled with opportunities to make the most of my time here in State College. The university offers a major in Biological Anthropology that focuses on the evolutionary and scientific aspects of human life and culture. This major is great for a person like me who wants to pursue pathology as a career path. There are several research labs in a variety of topics to take advantage of and participate in. For example, I can take part in a Primate Functional Morphology Lab. In this lab, technology is used "to understand the relationships between bone structure and activity patterns in living and extinct humans and nonhuman primates" (Primate Functional Morphology Lab). Considering the fact that this lab concerns bones and evolution, there is no reason why I should not take advantage of it.

I get many types reactions when I say that I want to study anthropology. My parents do not understand why I would choose a major that does not have many job opportunities. They would rather I major in biology and then go to graduate school. I know that majoring in biology would help me in the long run, but it's way too much focused on science and not enough on history and the humanities. However, with this degree, I will be taught many skills that will be beneficial to me when I am out of college. I would develop skills like interpreting large and small amounts of data, better observational skills, and analytical skills.

Other times when people ask me about my major they have no idea what anthropology is. After I explain to them they ask me, "Why would you want to study that?" This reaction is the most discouraging because it makes me second-guess myself. It makes me think that I could be studying something more important, but I always come back to anthropology. Anthropology helps me to connect with the world and the cultures within it. Pathology is the career path I have in mind when I graduate college. More specifically, I want to become an anatomical pathologist or medical examiner. Anatomical Pathologists perform autopsies to determine the circumstances and causes of death on dead bodies. This career goes hand in hand with biological anthropology because I have an intense passion for studying human remains.

One way to become a pathologist is to go through medical school. Firstly, this involves getting a bachelor's degree and taking the right amount of biology and chemistry courses to meet requirements. Since I am majoring in anthropology, I would have to find creative ways to fit all science courses into my four-year academic plan. Secondly, I have to apply to medical school and then complete residency in an anatomical pathology program. The tradeoff for this path is the amount of time that it takes to complete. All in all, this path takes about fifteen years to complete.

Another way to a career in pathology is to become a pathologist's assistant. This involves going to graduate school. Unlike a physician's assistant, pathologist's assistants are only trained to work under licensed pathologists. Also, in the United States and Canada, there are only eleven schools accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) to give graduate degrees in pathologists' assistant programs. Going this route only takes two years instead of fifteen.

Both paths take me to a career in pathology, but different ways of getting there. Becoming a medical doctor takes time and I would like to start my career as soon as possible. A pathologist's assistant does just that, it takes less time and I'm doing what I love. Also, the job market for a pathologist's assistant is great coming right out of graduate school.

Anthropology, for me, is all my interests combined into one. It combines the sciences and the humanities and it allows me to study what I want. The opposition to studying anthropology that I have experienced will not stop me from doing what I love. It also allows me to enter a great line of work studying and performing pathology. Relationships with all kinds of people are cultivated based on a common interest in wanting to know and study the world. I know the world is full of opportunities to learn from people and I think that anthropology will allow me to do that.