Life is hard. Adulthood is hard. These two go hand in hand, and always seem to be fast approaching in the life of an undergraduate. Undergraduates are under pressure to know their career path from day 1, but the truth is that isn’t always the case. In fact, many people have no idea what they want to do with their careers until the last minute. If you find yourself in this position, stop panicking. It is okay to not know what you want to do. Many of these individuals can be found right here at Emory.
Hanne van der Iest is a graduate student at the Laney Graduate School, in the process of obtaining her PhD degree in Anthropology. Similar to many Emory undergraduate students looking to pursue a PhD later in their career, choosing a topic, location, and the overall process of a dissertation can be very overwhelming. Fortunately, Hanne was kind enough to take a moment to answer some questions to make the process seem a little less scary for students in this position.
Hanne earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at a university in the Netherlands and completed a semester abroad at the University of South Carolina. She then went on to study at the University at Oxford where she pursued a Master’s degree in evolutionary anthropology. In the mayhem of taking her exam, she moved to the US with her husband and began to apply to graduate programs to begin the process to earn her PhD.
Within Anthropology, Hanne is specifically interested in studying cooperation and social networks—essentially studying how communities form and work together. She came to this decision after several years of coursework that began with studies of hormones and the brain. Usually, people already have a particular location in mind and choose a question for research based on the location. However, this was not the case for Hanne. She took her question and looked for locations where she could best answer it. Since her question is related to social networking, she looked for an isolated island that would allow her to observe a small social network with a small population. In December she will be traveling to the Orkni Archapelago part of Scotland, where she will be able to focus on social networks, and specifically the language involved in cooperation among the individuals living there.
Overall, Hanne admitted that the most difficult part was choosing a topic to study. She advises students to choose a narrow question that will devote all attention to one specific area. It is also important to be able to explain why this topic matters now. Finding a good topic requires an intense load of reading to find what questions have already been answered. Hanne advises students to critically annotate these past studies to get inspiration for future studies. Almost all undergraduates have at one point felt lost when it came to deciding what they wanted to do with their future. Stories like Hanne’s are here to remind everyone that these feelings are perfectly normal, and should not ruin your life. Everything will be OKAY.