Research Relationships: An Interview with Monet Watson

Research Relationships: An Interview Seton Hall student Monet Watson

Monet Watson is a Junior at Seton Hall and is a Triple major in Anthropology, Sociology, and Philosophy.

You are doing a lot of exciting research these days. Can you describe what you’ve been working on?

Most of my time has been spent working on the Woman in the Iron Coffin. I was lucky enough to be able to present the results of the isotopic chemical analysis (looking at chemicals in the body and inferring things based on their levels) at the Women and Gender Studies Conference here at SHU and as a poster at the Society for American Archeology Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before this project I was going to do the same type of analysis on teeth from southern Sudan, but it is a much bigger project than the Woman in the Iron Coffin so decided to forgo that project in favor of the Woman in the Iron Coffin. I don’t know what project I’ll be working on next since I graduate soon but I’m hoping I can continue doing this type of work in the future.

Anthropology – what brought you to it?

I am the youngest of eight by 11 years and my siblings would have me watch the National Geographic channel to keep me busy and out of their hair; after the program ended, I’d have to tell them what I learned. I grew to love National Geographic and wanted to be like the experts on the shows I watch. I learned through National Geographic that the people who were working in Egypt were called Egyptologists. The one I idolized at the time was National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. So, I decided to be an Egyptologist and take his job when he died. Well, he’s still alive and I realized that more documentaries had many people with anthropologist after their name and I started paying more attention to what they did. Soon enough I was in love with the field and decided to pursue it; by this time, I was 14 years old.

When I got to college, I wanted to be a cultural anthropologist who was going to study Ancient Nubia because their language is like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics but there is no Rosetta stone to translate it. I thought I would go there and crack the language and learn all there is to learn about ancient Nubians. However, ancient Nubia may be flooded soon due to the construction of hydroelectric dams and I would have nothing to study; also, I don’t like large bodies of water. So, I talked with Dr. Savastano, Dr. Quizon, and Dr. Quinn in the anthropology department and that was when I was introduced to the southern Sudan project and biological anthropology.

Afterward, I changed my focus to cultural anthropology and pursuing a curation career, but curators need around 20 years of academic experience to be considered for those jobs and I didn’t want to wait that long. So, projects and analysis became my main interest because if I was going to work for 20 years I might as well know it well and enjoy it. Through that I found more appreciation for biological anthropology and now that is where I want to make my mark, hopefully something of ancient Nubia will still be left by the time I’m ready to go there.

What was your path to working on the Martha Peterson (Iron Coffin Woman) project?

Sometime during the last summer Dr. Quinn emailed me about the Woman in the Iron Coffin project and asked if I’d be interested in working on it and presenting at the Society for American Archeology Conference. After that she gave me papers and articles to read that were relevant to the analysis and Martha’s circumstances. I was ecstatic to work on this project because as a young black woman I’d be helping give a voice back to another young black woman who lived in a tumultuous time of our shared history.

As the analysis started and I learned that she was a free black woman in the 1850s I nearly shouted for joy! It became clear that she was a woman who did not fit the dominant narrative of what so many of us are taught in school. She was free. That was the point of no return for me. Martha Peterson’s story has a piece of me – a fragment of our intertwined narratives, background and existence that speaks to better days on the horizon. I’ve learned a lot from her from this project and I am honored each time I tell her story. The knowledge that she was not alone in being free during this time will help reconstruct the inaccurate narratives we are told about free black people, enslaved black people, and black immigrants in America in the 1850s. What’s more is that Martha may have eaten black eyed peas 148 years before I had some for my first new year. We still practice the same food traditions that we have for hundreds of years and that links us more than anything else.

How do you find time to balance all these activities?

Unfortunately, I cut out going to club meetings and majority of my extracurricular on campus activities. I also assigned specific days for certain projects so I could stay on top of things. I didn’t always adhere to that but when I did it helped calm the feeling of being overwhelmed and allowed me to make headway on my projects. The good thing though, is that I really do enjoy what I’m working on, so the stress comes more from deadlines than the actual material. Finding a balance and staying on top of things is a daily struggle.

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

I used the library to research designs and architecture of the houses of Martha Peterson’s time period. Mainly information I could use to have a deeper understanding of what the 1850s were like. I didn’t need to use the libraries as much for the isotopic chemical analysis of Martha because Dr. Quinn provided all the information I needed to know.

Which library databases are your preferred starting places to begin when you are looking for current research articles?

EBSCO Host (SHU Search), but it’s just because that is what I’m familiar with. If I start a project reasonably early, I poke around in the other databases just to see what’s in there, but as it stands, I start in EBSCO Host (SHU Search).

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice would offer fellow student that we can share with them?

Talk to your teachers! I’m not joking! I would not have been given the opportunity to work on the Woman in the Iron Coffin if Dr. Quinn didn’t know who I was. Teachers are people too, and oftentimes they want to help not hurt you. Branch out with what you’re interested in, this is your bachelors. If you want to change your major, change it! If you want to take an art class, take it! Find what you’re interested in now because it’ll just become more difficult to justify the change the longer you wait.

You are in college to network as well as learn, this is your job for the years you spend here. Make connections and meet people, this will help you find friends as well as become familiar with others in your field. For writing, have your essays edited by as many people as you can before you turn it in, however, everything is a suggestion so follow what you want your paper to be. Don’t be afraid of criticism, it’s a facet of life that will help you grow and become certain of yourself, your beliefs, and your arguments. For research, use your resources! The library is more than a study hall, the books there are some that you would not have access to otherwise. If you dislike going to the library bring friends so you can groan about it together. Lastly, enjoy yourself! Yes, your entire future may be hinging on these years but guess what? It’s not! Do you and don’t be ashamed of your decisions if you made them for you, not if they were made for you.

What are your next steps?

Graduate, get a masters, get a doctorate, be stable, work on projects until I can’t anymore. Hopefully, in that order. I would love to continue to reconstruct narratives with geochemistry for other individuals throughout history; I am leaning towards individuals who would be classified as black. I feel that those narratives get lost and are neglected when research is conducted and I want to remedy that. During all of this I would like to teach and share what I know, that is the first step to disseminating knowledge in my eyes and there is a lot of rectification to do.

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In the Libraries: Research Relationships Interviews Dr. Simone Alexander – May 2016

In the Libraries: Research Relationships

Seton Hall is home to world-class researchers whose work denotes a broad array of scholarship. In this space, we share their ideas on research and making the most of the academic experience.

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Dr. Simone Alexander – May 2016

Dr. Simone Alexander of Seton Hall’s English department, researches primarily in the fields of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Postcolonial Literature, Migration and Diaspora Studies.

For her most recent book African Diasporic Women’s Narratives: Politics of Resistance, Survival and Citizenship (University of Florida Press) Dr. Alexander won the College Language Association Creative Scholarship Award, in 2015. Offering an in-depth study of literature, analyzing selective texts by the migrant writers Audre Lorde, Edwidge Danticat, Maryse Conde, and Grace Nichols, the book has been reprinted and the paperback edition will be available May 3, 2016 (read an excerpt here).

Dr. Alexander took time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about her research.

You research, publish and teach, and, you have received numerous awards and grants recognizing your work. How do you find time to balance all these activities?

I don’t even know how! I go to bed even today at 2am, and I’m back up at 6, 6:30am. I love doing this, I love doing research, and I love when I can connect my research in the classroom. I feel as though I get this special adrenaline.

It has not been easy. I’m raising kids—my kids are older now, so it’s a little easier—but there are times when you have to give up certain things. You can’t show up at some of your kids’ events, you just have to say “You know what, I just can’t do this today.” So I have to find ways and means, it has not been easy.

Trying to juggle being a mom, being a wife, it’s a very difficult space to be in at times. I feel as though having a family, sometimes I’m at a disadvantage and I have to do more just to keep up. Because when you are in the academic space, no one cares what happens behind your closed doors, you have to produce. And I’m still kind of in that moment of “publish or perish”.

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

In my earlier years I physically went to the library to use books. I checked them out, but then I hung on to some of the books beyond their due date. I didn’t like the fact that the library just gave it [the book] to you for two months! And I kept saying “Can you extend this to the end of the semester?” Quite often most of the books that I used I don’t think anyone else was using them.

Recently, I love the fact that you can get everything electronically. You can also do interlibrary loan through PALCI, I’ve been using that a lot. When I’m doing research, for example on Toni Morrison, I get every piece of work that’s been done on her. I also love using ILLIAD. It’s so effective, you can submit a request today and by the following morning you get all of your articles. It has been a tremendous help.

In the past, we had an option if the library did not carry some of the books that we wanted, we could put orders in. I haven’t done any recently, but I’ve supplied different lists [of books] to order. When I first came to campus the library didn’t have much on diaspora studies, transnationalism and migration, they were relatively new fields. So I helped bring in books to build the collection in these areas.

Which library databases are your preferred starting places to begin when you are looking for current research articles?

Always MLA Bibliography, it’s my thing. It has such a volume of different things. Even in my classes I tell students “Go to MLA, you can’t fail.” They give you everything, and then it directs you to JSTOR and everything else.

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice research you offer your own students that we can share with them?

Normally I’m considered (by students) to be very challenging—which I keep saying to students it’s not a bad thing, it’s good! I do not allow certain things to slip, I’m very particular when it comes to grammatical construction.

I love the interaction in my classroom; I don’t lecture to students, I want them to talk back to me. I also grade them based on their class participation. I want them to talk, it’s part of their grade. Many of them are very good, they talk, they interact, but when it comes to their writing, it’s different—they don’t engage the same way. This for me is so interesting, because when I grew up, you wrote the way you spoke. For the first few years here I couldn’t figure out “How come you’re speaking this way and then you’re completely not translating what’s here into your writing?”

Again, I would send students to MLA and I would walk them through and show them exactly how to find information—if they’re doing work on Nella Larsen for example. And back in the day visits from librarians were incorporated in the elementary English courses. On these designated “research days” librarians Tony Lee or Marta Deyrup was invited to show students how to use the library website for their research. Now I access the library website and show them everything, and I’ve been encouraging them to use ILLIAD.

Get your research going way in advance so you can sit and read everything. Quite often students feel as though research is just about reading the first page—you have to read about 10 articles even though you may not use all of them. You have to have a very broad perspective of what it is you’re going to write on.

And quite often secondary sources can give you ideas. You may go into a project not knowing; you may say “here’s what I want to work on” and once you’ve read something different it completely will change you, it can bolster your argument much more.

Listen to Dr. Alexander Talking About Her New Book “African Diasporic Women’s Narratives: Politics of Resistance, Survival and Citizenship”

In the Libraries: Research Relationships Interviews Rev. Thomas Guarino – February 2016

In the Libraries: Research Relationships

Seton Hall is home to world-class researchers whose work denotes a broad array of scholarship. In this space, we share their ideas on research and making the most of the academic experience.

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Rev. Thomas Guarino is Professor of Systematic Theology at Seton Hall’s Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. His most recent book, Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics explores the key accomplishments of the groundbreaking, ongoing dialogue between Evangelical and Catholic Christians (read an excerpt here).

We caught up with Rev. Guarino to talk about his research.

You research, publish and teach, and, you have been recognized for your work. How do you find time to balance all these activities?

Of course all Faculty members face this same issue—trying to teach well, do your research, write. It’s work, but I think it’s important for the students to understand that nothing in life comes easily. Any type of noteworthy achievement is the result of intensive effort.

I like to mention this story about research:

Jaroslav Pelikan was a famous historian at Yale University, and he used to tell students “If you have a choice between a great teacher who doesn’t do research, and an average teacher who does research, take the latter.” And his point was that even though the person is an average teacher, he or she is involved with the field, is engaged. So it’s always important to stay with somebody who’s doing at least some research.

Do you have clerical responsibilities in addition to your academic work?

Of course I’m a priest, and to celebrate the liturgy is part of who I am as a priest. I also try to be available to people, particularly to those who wish to talk about issues affecting their lives.  So, yes, I try to be available as a priest to all members of the Seton Hall community.

But my main job on campus is to teach, write, and research Theology, so I spend most of my time doing that. I see my life as a priest and my work as a theologian as convergent realities, precisely because I’m writing all the time about this question: “What role does God play in life?”

One of the advantages of a Catholic university is that faith and reason are seen as conjunctive realities. The library is a great representative of the tradition of reason, the tradition of seeking knowledge and truth.  At the same time, one of the axial and bedrock principles of Catholicism is that faith and reason are not opposed. Sometimes in journalistic narratives they’re presented as opposing points of view, but in the Catholic tradition faith and reason are deeply convergent since both are gifts of God. A Catholic university is a special place where faith and reason come together.

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

I’ve moved on from this book and I’m now researching a book on the Second Vatican Council.  The Church just celebrated the council’s 50th anniversary. In many ways Vatican II was the most important ecclesial event of the 20th century—and its ramifications are still being debated. Vatican II gave birth to official Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement.

The book Evangelicals and Catholics Together is part of a wider spectrum of Catholics being engaged with Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Evangelicals in ecumenical dialogue. Inter-religious dialogue is important, too, with Judaism, Islam and other religions.  Vatican II gave birth and impetus to all of these initiatives, and the library is a great repository of the documents and all of the commentaries that have been published since then. I deeply appreciate those vast library resources.

The databases are excellent; I usually start my own research with Academic Search Premier—I find that to be a comprehensive listing of academic journals. Because of my field I usually then move on to the American Theological Library Association’s (ATLA) Catholic Periodical and Literature Index.  The Philosopher’s Index has also been very important to me. We also have a wonderful database Patrologia Latina, which has all of the writings of the early Christian authors in the original Latin, so you have those original texts accessible. And I just discovered—I think this is a recent acquisition—we have the Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts which has all the works of Luther and Calvin in the original and, when available, in English translation. It’s a terrific resource for the kind of ecumenical work that Evangelicals and Catholics Together represents.

However I do want to say to students: we’re all seduced by computers and digital research—but there’s a great joy in shelf browsing. How many times have we experienced this: you’re looking for a particular book, but then you see 10 books alongside of it of which you were unaware—books which treat a topic in unique ways you didn’t at first realize.

Even though I spend most of my time in Walsh Library I do want to mention the importance of the Turro Seminary Library. It was built as a graduate theology library. Consequently, it has more resources in Latin, more books from the earlier tradition of the Church, more collections that perhaps would have been inaccessible to undergraduates but would be familiar to graduate students.  Stella Wilkins is the librarian there and she and her staff have been very helpful.

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice research you offer your own students that we can share with them?

I think students can easily be intimidated by all that’s available today; it’s almost too much for them to digest. One of the things we try to do in the School of Theology is to conduct Research Seminars during which we introduce students to the library resources. We have not only librarians, but librarians and faculty together involved in these seminars. We go through the resources of Turro Seminary Library, and then the resources at Walsh Library, and try to introduce them to the basics of what library research is all about.

I often tell students one of the most profitable things they can do is take two hours and just go through the digital resources available on the Library website. They will find extraordinary resources they didn’t know existed.

Listen to Father Guarino Talking About His New Book “Evangelicals And Catholics Together At Twenty”