Students and Neuroanthropology: The Power of the Post

It's Not All Sludge Out There...

Students have formed an integral part of what we do on Neuroanthropology. After all, blogging can be more than one professor mixing research and rants or like-minded professionals pushing a field forward.

Sites like this one offer an online platform for students to engage in a digital world that they have largely made their own. The crucial difference is this platform asks different things of them than Facebook, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

Here too they make it their own, expanding how they learn, discuss, and reach others. Reaching a wider audience than a professor at the end of the semester or a limited number of participants at a conference is a wonderful opportunity.

All it takes is for someone to embrace the foundational values of the Web – open, shared, and public. The dominant mode for blogs has been individual people developing their own particular voices. But building a site can offer so much more than that.

Being inclusive has been wonderfully enriching for me. It also happens that my students have produced some of the most popular posts at our old home at So it is time to pay them their dues.

Senior Theses

Two students – Mark Flanagan and Brandon Sparks – have transformed their senior thesis research into powerful posts.

Hard Drinkers, Meet Soft Science
Alcoholics Anonymous is the most popular treatment out there. Here Mark examines how social science reveals, and questions, its popularity and success.

Funerals and Food Coping in Rural Lesotho
In the midst of a terrible AIDS crisis, Brandon examines how people cope with the social obligations of funerals and problems with lack of food.

Community Based Research

When Pink Ribbons Are No Comfort: On Humor and Breast Cancer
One of my first and still most successful CBR projects with students. Casey and the gang show how humor helps in coping with breast cancer and treatment

Forever at War: Veterans’ Everyday Battles with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
The students captured the veterans’ struggles, wisdom, and desire to share their insights with others. One of my favorite posts on the whole site – well-written, with a big impact, and coming out of how much the students and veterans shared with each other.

“We Pregame Harder Than You Party”
This title says it all! Students helped the university office of alcohol and drug education gain ethnographic insight into a phenomena that gets some play in the media and the administration, but not a lot of real understanding of why students drink this way.

Finding a Voice: Establishing a Support Network for HIV+ Women
In this follow-up research, students looked at why a previous effort to establish a support group for HIV+ positive women wasn’t successful. They found a wider arrays of needs and desires than just a group could address. It was great to see the students, my community partners, and myself get pushed!

Final Posts instead of Final Exams

Be Afraid, America. Be Very Afraid: The Effect of Negative Media
This post took off right after it appeared. Great pay-off for a semester’s effort – Mallory and Jacob worked on so many revisions to this piece. Besides, where else can you find Levi-Strauss, brain chemistry, and media analysis combined?

The New Performing Enhancing Drugs
These students took on a hot topic, and combined media reports, published research, and ethnographic insights into a great post on how cognitive enhancers are becoming a mainstream phenomenon

What’s the Dope on Music and Drugs?
What a post – pictures, videos, lyrics, and cultural analysis. Definite fun, and definitely insightful!

Inside the Mind of a Pedophile
What has made this post extraordinary are the comments. Two people, a woman victim and a man trying to reform himself, engage in frank discussion – sometimes harsh and sometimes hopeful – in the comments.


So that’s a taste of what my students have done here. I already have plans for more, so no worries! I want students to continue to be an integral part of PLoS Neuroanthropology.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to do this, or want to share your own experiences, please leave a comment or send me an email at daniel.lende at gmail dot com

You can also read more. In this post I describe how I approached the blog post assignment with students.

If you want to know more about community based research, here’s some of my thoughts on the topic, complete in a video with students and community partners.

The cartoon is by Tim Buckley, and is entitled “Intelligence Optional.” You can find his site Ctrl+Alt+Del here.

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8 Responses to Students and Neuroanthropology: The Power of the Post

  1. gregdowney says:

    I’m glad Daniel posted this because I think he’s done a remarkable job of getting student research, even undergraduate research, up to a quality where it really is worth sharing with the public. Some of these posts have rocked our site traffic at the old site and continue to get plenty of traffic.

    As an educator, I think it’s incredibly important to push young researchers to get their work out. Increasingly, in some of our systems, we’re encouraged to hand-hold and be more and more interventionist in their work and development; while this increased advising has its place, it can infantilize the students, delaying the time when they see their intellectual work as legitimate in its own right.

    Daniel’s used web-based publishing to accelerate student professionalization, if I can use the term, to help them mature more quickly and envision themselves as potential researchers and scientists. The more I see it, the more I’m impressed by this, and the more convinced I am that we need to do it more often. If you can check out some of these links, you’ll see what I mean — the work isn’t flawless, but it’s damn interesting and impressive, especially when you realize that these are the first steps many of the students are taking toward joining our community of public intellectual life.

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