Kate Sherwood ('15 Anthropology)

Photo of Zoe VanderPloeg What do you do for your undergraduate research?

I am testing a revised method of estimating the age of human skeletons using the patterns and timing in the maturation of the vertebrae. The goal of the research is to improve the knowledge and techniques of estimating skeletal age in unknown individuals in a forensic context. By exploring and improving this method we can provide more accurate descriptions of unidentified human remains, which increase the chance that an unknown individual will be identified.

What made you want to pursue an undergraduate research project?

I've known since my junior year of high school that I wanted to be a forensic anthropologist, so I wanted to get involved in the field as soon as possible to confirm that this was the right career path for me. Also, doing research as an undergraduate makes a student more competitive as a graduate school applicant, which is important in a field where a doctorate degree is most valuable.

How did you start your research project?

I visited Dr. Albert on campus before I was accepted to UNCW to learn about her research endeavors. I was impressed with her work and wanted to be involved, so the fall of freshman year I interviewed her for my Honors seminar "Dream Job" presentation. We kept in contact and by the middle of the spring semester she invited me to start doing research with her.

Was doing your own research fun? Be Honest.

Yes! Going to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to collect data on human skeletons was an incredible experience. I also was recently granted access to a skeletal collection housed at the National Museum of Natural History and Science in Lisbon, Portugal, where I will collect another set of data in April 2014 that I will analyze for my honors thesis. Collecting data alone in an unfamiliar foreign country is a daunting experience, but one that will be invaluable and (hopefully) fun. The process of analyzing data isn't always fun and games, but the learning experience is definitely worth it.

It isn't required to do research as an undergrad, so what advantages do you think this experience has provided you?

I think it puts me a leg up on other graduate school applicants who do not have any publications or research experience. Also getting to work hands on with people in the field has been a great way to establish connections in academia.

What recognition and/or grants did you receive for your research?

I was awarded a CSURF Travel Award in spring of 2013 to travel from Wales, UK (where I was studying abroad), to Washington, DC to present my research at the American Academy of Forensic Science's annual meeting. In Fall of 2013 I was named a UNCW Undergraduate Research Scholar. I also was selected to be an intern at the Smithsonian in Summer 2014!

What are your plans after you receive your degree from UNCW?

Upon completion of my B.A. in anthropology, I plan to attend graduate school to focus on forensic anthropology, with the intent of pursuing a professional career as a scholar and a consultant.

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