Kaleigh Eichel

MA Public Issues Anthropology

Kaleigh Eichel“Evolution is such a strong part of my research and how I think of the world and how things came to be,” says Kaleigh Eichel, an MA candidate in Public Issues Anthropology. As a physical anthropologist, her field of research is the hybridization of Neanderthals and modern humans. “There are very few skeletons from that period in existence today, making model re-construction difficult” she says.

For her thesis research Kaleigh turned to CT scans of baboons which have a similar physical structure as humans, allowing her to examine the effects of hybridization on the facial bones. Hybrids will have a new set of genes, Kaleigh explains, which results in anomalies and strange developments in the bone. “Previous researchers have found external changes such as rotated teeth or multiple joints, but I am looking at the internal changes. Do these anomalies occur internally or just externally?” Mutations in internal development may have larger effects, such as breathing issues or an underdeveloped sense of smell. “In a way, it is a more dramatic issue.”

A huge component of this particular MA program is the application of research for the public good. In her work, Kaleigh must understand who the public is, and how her research can benefit this group of people. She explains that many perceptions of evolution are quite linear, i.e. “we came from monkeys.” But evolution is a complex web of different species and how they interact.

“I want my research to make evolution more sensible to people,” Kaleigh explains, hoping that her findings will help to reduce or eliminate any conflict members of the public may feel between evolution and personal beliefs. The public issues side of the program provides inspiration to Kaleigh; it makes her feel as though her research has broader implications and higher stakes than work for a single academic community. “I think all research should do this. After all, we are funded by public sources. It really is a great model for education.”

As for Kaleigh’s future plans, “I hope to complete my PhD and continue on in Anthropology. Maybe become a professor somewhere and teach and continue my research.” When asked, “Why anthropology,” Kaleigh expresses her love for the field. “It’s the study of humans. How did we get where we are? How can you not be interested in us?” It is such a broad field, and is almost interdisciplinary in nature. Using creativity and deduction, you must find a solution that fits the problem. 

July 2013 Megan Scarborough

University of Waterloo

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