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Heather Walder Interview
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Heather Walder

Describe the project you’ll be conducting with your GWIS Fellowship funds. What do you hope to discover through this research, and how will the GWIS Fellowship help make this research happen?

In my project, I will be analyzing the chemical composition of glass beads recovered on archaeological sites across the Great Lakes region, working to identify distinctive glass recipes. The goal of this work is to learn about the movements of the Indigenous peoples of eastern North America, specifically a community of people known as the Wendat, in the 17th century.  Today, the descendants of the people who once used the artifacts that I am studying are known as the Wyandot, and many of them live in Kansas and Oklahoma.  The funding from GWIS will not only fund the lab-based analyses of the artifacts but also will facilitate some visits to meet with Wyandot descendant community members, to work with them on this project.  I hope to build stronger relationships with Wendat / Wyandot stakeholders and in doing so, gain perspective on the lives of people living in the Great Lakes region approximately 350 years ago.



What’s the coolest thing about your research and/or favorite part of your job?

The best part of my work as an archaeologist is the variety in what I am doing from one day to the next. Some summers, I will spend several weeks or a few months conducting excavations, then analyze and catalogue artifacts in the lab in upcoming months.  I spend time writing, teaching, and keeping up with the latest research on a daily basis. It's really exciting to find an artifact in the field, return to it clean and catalogue it in the lab, have the opportunity to learn more about that same artifact using mass spectrometry or another scientific technique.  Tracing a past piece of material culture through this process, and learning something about past human culture along the way, is really exciting!

How did you end up doing what you’re doing? What was your path to becoming a scientist?

Currently, I'm a Visiting Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University for 2017 - 2018.  This means that I'll be teaching several undergraduate and graduate level courses in the Anthropology department each semester. I've always known that I wanted to teach and share knowledge with others in one way or another, and as an anthropological archaeologist, I get to explore what it means to be human, using both scientific and humanistic methods. I would say that my interest in archaeology first took root as an undergraduate, when I participated in an archaeological field school excavating a 9th century AD town site in the Czech Republic. I learned that I loved the outdoor fieldwork, camping, and camaraderie often involved in archaeology. However, as my mother would attest, I've been destined to be an archaeologist since childhood, when playing in the dirt and conducting messy “science experiments” in the kitchen were some of my favorite pastimes.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working on your science?

When not working, I enjoy camping and hiking across the Midwest, commuting around town on a bicycle, spending time with my family, and working in my vegetable garden.  I'm a strong proponent of Community Supported Agriculture and for several years have volunteered as a worker-share on a small farm in Wisconsin, helping them bring fresh produce to their members.

Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for girls and young women who wish to pursue a career in science?

I think that it's never to early to start exploring interests. For me, visiting museums, attending science camp, and reading voraciously as a young person, I was always curious about the world around me, and especially was interested in the idea that there were long-gone human cultures very different than ours today, speaking different languages and living in ways that we might not even fully understand or imagine. It's that curiosity that has kept me doing research and pursuing my scientific career.  So, if you want to pursue a career in sciences, figure out what questions you want to try to ask about the world around you... then follow that curiosity and see where it takes you!

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