J. Michael Plavcan, B.A. 1984, Ph.D. 1990

University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, Arkansas

1984 Major: Anthropology and Zoology; 1990 Ph.D., Biological Anthropology & Anatomy (now Evolutionary Anthropology)

How has being an Evolutionary Anthropology graduate from Duke helped shape you personally and/or professionally?

"My intitial training in Anatomy, with coursework in Microbiology and Neuroantomy, was intense and rigorous. As far as classwork went it pushed me to new levels, giving me confidence in my ability to work on problems and persist. My advisor -- Rich Kay -- along with other faculty (Bill Hylander, Matt Cartmill, Ken Glander, Ross MacPhee, Kathleen Smith, Carel van Schaik) pushed me intellectually and as examples gave me a good critical sense as well as a good background in functional and comparative anatomy. I still after all this time remember conversations with all of these wonderful people that in the end helped me to see both the big picture and the small details of problems. My entire approach to science was molded by the Duke faculty, and without their guidance and training I would not have succeeded."

What advice would you give students in Duke's Evolutionary Anthropology programs? 

"Work hard, drink a lot of coffee, read everything you can get your hands on, and remember that no discipline or topic, be it philosophy, history, statistics, functional anatomy, or primate behavioral ecology, is irrelevant to what you do. Remember to approach all science with a healthy skeptical eye, but also remember that every paper you read has something to offer. Never accept anything as flawless, but never dismiss anything without carefully thinking about what it has to say and offer. And finally remember that we are all people, and nothing makes us more or less special than anyone else."

J. Michael Plavcan with gator