A Q&A with Anthropology Doctoral Candidate Caitlin Yoakum
Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology
In this conversation, Yoakum talks about her love of archaeology and anthropology, how working with soft tissues like muscles and nerves led to her career aspirations in gross human anatomy, how much she enjoys using the campus microCT scanner for her research, her passion for Northwest Arkansas and its wonderful outdoor activities, and the importance of developing a healthy life balance while in college.
Editor’s Note: You can also take a deeper dive into Caitlin Yoakum’s research in this story about her recent NSF grant. Check it out!
I am currently starting my fifth year in the anthropology Ph.D. program and it has really taken the last four years of work to discover what I want my career to be (on top of the other 6 years I spent in college).
Prior to starting at the U of A, I was really more focused on the archaeology side of anthropology and fully expected to work in the archaeological field with a specialization in human remains. Coming to Arkansas meant changing my area of study to soft tissues (like muscles and nerves), rather than just the bones of humans.
Getting to use the microCT scanner on campus (check out our MICRO facility at micro.uark.edu) and learning new iodine staining techniques has been the best part of my research here! On top of that, I got to take my first and second human gross anatomy course with my advisor at the U of A and a colleague at the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine down in Fort Smith.
Taking this course allowed me to discover what I really wanted to do with my life: teach Gross Anatomy at the university level. I’ve already had the opportunity to do this once, last summer at High Point University in North Carolina, and plan to start applying for these types of jobs in fall 2020.
Q: How long have you been at Fulbright College? What have you enjoyed most about your time here?
I’m the president of a council that helps advertise and inform people about the extensive museum we have on campus and I’ve gotten to participate in a ton of outreach events through our department.
Between teaching local Girl Scouts about human evolution to opening up our labs for the Northwest Arkansas community on Anthropology Open Lab night, I’ve gotten to meet tons of people through my research and educate them on why anthropology should matter to everyone.
Q: What has your favorite class been so far and why?
My favorite class by far has been human gross anatomy. We have had an amazing opportunity through the anthropology department to get a graduate level (and medical school level) course taught by my advisor, Claire Terhune.
We had lectures here on campus and on weekends we would travel down to the Osteopathic Medicine school in Fort Smith to spend time in the cadaver lab dissecting and viewing cadavers.
Q: What advice would you give to new students about to join the college?
To explore the classes that sound fun to you, not just take the ones that your advisor suggests.
A lot of the time people take classes that they think will be easy, not interesting. When you do that, you are almost guaranteed to be miserable all semester and not learn as much as you could.
I have fallen in love with the nature of Northwest Arkansas and how the community loves it too. I’m a runner and I ride my bike almost every day, so having the trail system has been a part of my everyday life. I’m also a huge fan of all the close hiking trails and nature areas we have.
Northwest Arkansas is also really focused on local businesses – particularly food-related ones – and I love to explore new places on my weekends.
I’ve tried very hard in the last couple of years to work during the week and complete all of my tasks, so that nights and weekends are about doing things that just make me happy but won’t necessarily further my degree.
Q: When do you anticipate graduating, and what’s up next on the horizon for you?
I should graduate in May of 2021 and hope to have secured a teaching position in human gross anatomy for the fall of 2021.
Staying close to the Northwest Arkansas area is a priority for me because I’ve really come to think of this place as my home. I hope to continue the relationships that I’ve built here at the U of A that have been collaborative and helped me learn to research areas outside of biological anthropology.
After having been in college for 10 years now and having taught many classes as a TA for the last six years, my advice would be to have as much fun as you can – both in the classroom and out of it.
Take classes that you’re passionate about and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Remember, your professors and TA’s are human just like you and they really do want you to learn as much as you can!
When you care about a subject, or at least most of it, it is easier to do just that. But also try and develop a healthy life balance – find passions and hobbies outside of school that help you to de-stress and build a community.
University – at both the graduate and undergraduate levels – can be incredibly isolating and sometimes it is more important to make sure that you are physically and mentally healthy than getting a certain grade.