Posted in Mentors

The Unconventional Anna Tsing


Last week, blogger Nadya had one of her best PhD moments: she met one of the most innovative anthropologists of our time.

When I was working on my master’s thesis five years ago, my supervisor told me that I was like Anna Tsing. At the time, although Anna Tsing’s work was mostly on Indonesia, I was not aware of her. Since then, I have been trying to discover myself through her works. I read her book ‘Friction’ three times. Imagine how surprised I was when I heard that she was coming to Wageningen!

I am dying to know what your research is about!

‘I am dying to know what your research is about!’ she said to me in front of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. I will never forget her warmth and genuine enthusiasm. Anna Tsing is a professor of anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz and Aarhus University. She visited Wageningen University to perform at the internal launch of the Center for Space, Place, and Society. Instead of giving a lecture, she decided to play the ‘Golden Snail Opera’ on this occasion.

Work ethic
Me and one other student helped her with the performance. She was very generous to say that it was an honour for her to meet us. I learnt about work ethic from her dedication to make sure that we practiced at least twice before the final presentation, despite her hectic schedule. She was also presenting at three other universities before, and she prepared three completely different presentations.

Her ground-breaking work, such as the ethnography of global connection and the multispecies approach, had made her well-known as an original and unconventional anthropologist. When she was a PhD candidate, one of her advisors read three chapters of her dissertation and told her: ‘You are a much more interesting person than this.’

Trying to please
She had to rewrite her dissertation, but she thanked him for that comment. ‘Otherwise, I would be a much more conventional anthropologist,’ she said. ‘In the beginning, I was trying to please,’ this was the challenge when she was writing up her dissertation. I think most PhD candidates are familiar with this tendency. I hope we can find our way to become independent scientists and overcome the ‘trying to please’ tendency.

Posted in Nomad Family

A charming old house

Dutch people understand the special charm of an old house. The family house that I am renting is more than a century old. I am sitting in the living room, in front of a round wooden table. The fireplace brings a light sizzling sound in the background. The floor is also made from wood and three wide windows are facing the street. Through these windows, my son often watch the thick morning mist slowly fades into thin air.

My landlord is a former sailor and a handyman. He can make a lot of furniture or housing parts by his own hand, no wonder his house is brimming with characteristics and functionality. As a sailor, he has to conquer the volatility of tidal waves, but for sure he has no problem to tame the heart of a woman who is said to be deeper than the sea. While he went for adventures on his boat, his wife enriches her life through adventures on the written world. She is a librarian at WUR. During our housewarming dinner, she speaks the word “free” a lot. She also gave us a dictionary to learn Dutch language.

They defied the stereotypes of Dutch being highly penny-pinching people. When we arrived, they picked us up at Ede-Wageningen station. In the house they’ve already provided every little things, all furniture, all cleaning and cooking utilities, also food, including bread, margarine, milk, yogurt, homemade berry jam, homemade salad dressing, coffee and tea.

They have been living approximately 30 steps away from this house for 25 years, complete with two dogs, a lot of sheep grazing on their large lawn, chickens, and a small “hideaway” self-contained room in front of a nice pond when they want to take a break from their house. With the spring looming, we are going to join them cultivating onions and potatoes. We really enjoy to be into the true rural feel of this place.

After a day at the office, it’s nice to bike home for 30 minutes to the hilly parts of NL, to a place that really feels like home.

Posted in Nomad Family

City of Alternative Lifestyle?

Wageningen prides itself as the city of life science. Blogger Nadya Karimasari found that some people think of it as a city of alternative lifestyle.

It feels like summer in Wageningen. What a relief, especially after a hail rain in late April. Now the weather is more bearable and warm. Cows are finally out and horses too. People are wearing light clothes and soak up the sun. Such a perfect time for liberation day festivities!

During the liberation day, we went to Emmapark. There were a lot of fun and games for kids. My son met some new friends, and I became friends with their mothers.

Having conversation with other moms brings me away from the academic bubble that I’ve been in. One of the mom whom I talked with said Wageningen is not only a city of life science. It is a city of alternative lifestyle. Interesting. How come?

In a time where a lot of farmers went bankrupt, she said, there are still a lot of people who wants to do agriculture in Wageningen. Maybe, in an era where urbanisation is the norm, doing agriculture has become an alternative lifestyle.

Wageningen is the place where people still have a lot of pride to work on the land.

Wageningen is the place where people still have a lot of pride to work on the land. My landlord is one example. He’s seems to appreciate agriculture work more than ‘office’ work. He enjoys cultivating the land, tending his plants and cattle carefully, diligently. He said he doesn’t want to be lazy.

There’s another aspect that makes Wageningen a city of alternative lifestyle. Farming-related organisations and activisms are very common in Wageningen. The mom that I talked with was an activist at ‘Future Farmers’. It’s an organisation that creatively finds ways to tackle the barriers of doing agriculture, especially for new farmers who do not come from an agricultural family, have never done it before and don’t have land inheritance.

Perhaps, being an activist, not necessarily related to agriculture, is the norm here. Even my neighbour who obtained her PhD on ethnobotany works at an organisation that support farmer’s movement. There’s also organisation for young farmers, organic farmers, do-it-yourself activism, and a lot more.

I am just starting to get to know this city. Is it true that Wageningen a city of alternative lifestyle? Are you also part of an organisation or activism? I am all ears.

Posted in Academia

Anthropology of the academic conference

An academic conference is a social event and so much more, concludes blogger Nadya Karimasari after attending a symposium at Oxford University last week.

Subscribing to academic list-servs, checking call for papers, getting in touch with panel organizers, submitting abstracts, and finally presenting research findings at academic conference have increasingly becoming a ritual for both emerging and seasoned researchers. Such events are expected to circulate ideas, broaden academic network and boost the outreach of research.

When I was in Oxford (and at other conferences in the past), most symposium participants wore their conference name-tag outside the venue. It is not clear whether their mind were too preoccupied with research knick-knacks hence they couldn’t bother taking it off, or is it a deliberate act with hidden meaning.

Conference name-tag serves as a symbol to distinguish the wearer from ‘other’ random passers-by, tourists, or jobless ramblers. Perhaps it resembles a much-deserved badge of honour worthy of showing off to the world. It might also be worn like an imaginary shield to soothe and temporary protect the researchers from their own constant horror of being irrelevant after long and painstaking research process.

Conference name-tag serves as a symbol to distinguish the wearer from ‘other’ random passers-by, tourists, or jobless ramblers.

Or, maybe, it is a sign that researchers are secretly expecting to be found. To be recognized. To be discovered instead of discovering. Although, it is yet to be known whether wearing such symbol would ignite conversation with people or shoo them away.

Other researchers had enough of academic conference. They are not eager to unwittingly spending time for long-distance travel that could otherwise be used to simply sit down and write. ‘All this effort, just meet each other and talk’, as my colleague phrased it.

Yet, the mystique of academic conference have magnetic power that does not easily wear off. Researchers delve deep into their topic and specialization, making it harder to find other people who gets them. All the extra efforts to ‘just meet each other and talk’ would hit the jackpot when they finally find ‘academic soulmate’ who share the same level of enthusiasm on similar topic.

It is not easy to find ‘the one’ who ‘just clicks’, but it’s worth the try. Hanging that shiny little plastic name-tag might just be the key for researcher to get noticed. Keep trying.

Posted in Academia

Challenge my supervisor?

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We expect you to challenge us, not the other way around. That’s the message blogger Nadya Karimasari gets in a meeting with her co-supervisor.

My co-supervisor, Wolfram Dressler, visited Indonesia a couple of weeks ago to do fieldwork in Berau, East Kalimantan. Thereafter he came to Bogor to present his findings. This is where I met him.

We had agreed to meet inside the majestic Bogor Botanical Garden, a vast area of approximately 87 hectares established in the 18th century that today contains more than 13,983 specimens of trees and plants. A tinge of freshness hung in the air; the grass and leaves were a bit wet; light rain had just stopped falling. We sat at a café near the orchidarium. Wolfram, in need of some energizing liquids after a workout session, ordered a cup of double espresso, a glass of mango juice without sugar, and a bottle of plain water.

After a while, I asked him what he thought about my research preparation so far. At first he replied: ‘Really? I thought we were just going to socialize?’ I couldn’t help it. I am eager to start my PhD research. Wolfram, who was an Associate Professor at Wageningen University for two years before he moved to University of Melbourne, Australia, gave me some advice. Among other things, he emphasized the need to balance meta-theory, meso-theory, and fine-grained empirical data. Also, he pointed out that it is important to not only work the whole day. ‘Go to the beach when you feel like it.’

We secretly expect you to challenge us

Because my PhD research is part of a collaborative team project, I also asked him how I could make sure my PhD proposal would fit well under the umbrella project, to which he replied: ‘We secretly expect you to challenge us.’ I paused, transfixed by that eye-opening line. ‘Otherwise, what would be your contribution to science? You have to come out of this PhD as your own independent mind’, he said. I was still without words, trying to absorb what this meant. As my research is on nature conservation in Indonesia, he added: ‘You are Indonesian. You have to tell us about your country, not the other way around.’

Take away message noted: I have to come to terms with this new perspective. My supervisors don’t intend to tell me what to do, which would be so much easier, instead they expect to be challenged by me. How am I supposed to challenge ‘giants’ when I am standing on their shoulders? It’s a huge task, indeed. I have to study really, really hard.

featured photo: Autumnal vibes in Oxford — © Stephanie Kelley