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Rutgers Anthropology Graduate Students Win NSF Funding


From South Dakota to Indonesia and Mongolia, Anthropology PhD Students are Pursing NSF Funded Research in the Field

Five students in the Department of Anthropology have been awarded Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants from the National Science Foundation. These grants are among the most competitive in the nation, and it is rare for a department of Anthropology to receive five in one year. The grants fund on-location field research for graduate students who are working on their dissertations. These five awards demonstrate the strength and breadth of the work being done in the Rutgers Department of Anthropology. 


Meet the students below: 


Shauhin Alavi

Nutrients in and nutrients out: diet, cognition, and nutrient cycling in orangutan habitats

"My research focuses on understanding what types of information orangutans have about their environments and how they use that information to achieve their nutritional goals. I did all of my data collection in Borneo, Indonesia, at the Tuanan research station."

"Currently, I am back at Rutgers developing new quantitative approaches to analyzing the data, and processing the urine samples we collected in my advisor, Dr. Erin Vogel’s Laboratory for Primate Dietary Ecology and Physiology."


Michelle L. Night Pipenightpipe

Can Wokiksuye (Memorial Rides) Reduce Prejudice?
Blending Ethnographic, Psychological, and Historical Approaches to Understand Racial Conflict on the Northern Plains

"My project seeks to document and explore racialized perceptions stereotypes, and prejudice against Native people in South Dakota, with a strong focus on how these implicit and explicit attitudes can best be eroded and transformed."

"My research design accomplishes these goals using a mixed methodology, blending ethnographic research on the Sacred Horse Society’s Honoring The Women and Children Ride, which memorializes the genocidal aftermath of the Dakota War of 1862, with the replication of two quantitative psychology-based prejudice reduction experiments. These seemingly disparate strands of evidence will be woven together to provide insights and data on how commemorative performances that facilitate positive contact, educate the public about past traumas, inspire empathy and perspective taking, and provide opportunities for relationship-building can mediate and ameliorate racial tension between non-Native, white settler individuals and Native American people on the Great Plains of the U.S."



Tim Bransford

The energetic costs of motherhood in wild Bornean orangutans

"Orangutans are one of humanity's closest living relatives, yet we still know very little about their behavior in the wild. One thing we do know is that mother orangutans will nurse babies for up to eight years. I ask questions specifically about how these mothers are able to support an infant for such a long period of time, including how a mother's diet and energetic status change as her infant grows."

"Right now I am at Rutgers analyzing urine I and other researchers have collected from wild Bornean orangutans in Indonesia to gain a clearer picture of their energetic status. In addition to my lab work, I also manage the feeding behavior and dietary data we have from the same wild orangutans. This research is particularly important because Bornean orangutans have recently been reclassified as Critically Endangered due to anthropogenic activities such as deforestation and new oil palm plantations."


Tom ConteConte

The Impact of Environmental Risk on the Development and Maintenance of Cooperation and Community Resilience

"Do natural disasters bring people together or drive them apart? Research on the evolution of human behavior suggests that the human capacity for cooperation may be partially a result of our earliest ancestors' need to cope with variable climates and resource scarcity. This issue is of particular importance in the present when even the world's most remote populations are affected by both global economic integration and the effects of climate change. Cooperation often provides a viable solution for both communities and national governments to mitigate the negative effects of risks such as economic crises, transnational resource conflicts, and threats to national security. However, efforts at cooperation are often stymied by resource shortages, conflict, and the competing goals of populations and interest groups."

"I am currently studying Mongolian herders’ social and economic responses to harsh winter conditions and natural disasters. I’m based with a group of nomadic herders living in Tosontsengel, which is known for having the harshest winters in Mongolia. To understand how herders respond to negative climatic events, I am using a mixture of interviews, experimental economic games, and network analyses."


mareike nsfMareike Janiak

Dietary adaptations in digestive enzymes of New World primates.

 "My research looks at enzymes that are produced in the digestive systems of primates. All animals produce these enzymes to aid in digesting the foods they consume and my work aims to determine if different primates have specialized enzymes depending on their diets. I’m especially interested in digestive enzymes as adaptations for a diet rich in insects. Insects are an important food source for many primates, but their exoskeletons are difficult to break down. Do primates that rely on insects produce specialized enzymes to digest this nutritious but challenging food?"

"Currently, I am spending most of my time in the Molecular Anthropology Lab at New York University, where I am sequencing and analyzing genes that code for digestive enzymes in a diverse sample of primate species, from leaf-eaters to strict insectivores."



Learn more about the Rutgers Department of Anthropology.



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