Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

October 5, 2016

CORNELL CLOSE-UPS | Library Analyst Describes Dual Passion for Research, Archaeology

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When she is not working in a secluded Ithaca library, Gabriela Castro Gessner, a library assessment analyst travels many parts of the world, and the world of thousands of years ago.

“My anthropology degree and my job at the library have been a happy union,” she said. “I can apply my anthropological training and methods to my current job and it’s been incredibly rewarding.”

After earning her Ph.D. in anthropology, Castro Gessner worked to become a prehistoric anthropological archaeologist, studying events that predated writing — particularly in the ancient near east.

Castro Gessner emphasized that the plethora of travel opportunities has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of work as an anthropologist. Additionally, while excavating sites for prolonged periods, Castro Gessner said she was able to form relationships with people living in the areas she was studying.

“While on a dig, you have the opportunity to visit their homes and meet their families,” she said. “I really love that. It reminds me that there is another world out there that is not like here.”

Her recent research has focused primarily on documenting and analyzing pottery fragments from ancient Turkish communities.

“We find sherds of pottery and dishes that people used,” she said. “From these sherds, you can piece together a whole culture, and make a connection with a kind of people that lived thousands of years ago. I think that is a really special, surreal part of what it means to be an archaeologist.”

Castro Gessner said one reason she finds anthropological archaeology so compelling is because much of what she does is analogous to solving a puzzle.

“It doesn’t make sense when you’re just collecting bags and bags of material, but it all comes together at the end,” she said. “You start by gathering clues, and you put it all together. One piece is not going to tell you a lot, you need to put the whole thing in context.”

Many of the skills Castro Gessner has acquired throughout her years in the field, conducting studies and publishing papers, she says have also been applicable to her job at the library.

“You put together a broader picture from lots of sources of evidence,” she said. “This kind of holistic approach is a skill that I have used in my job in the library and in really all other aspects of my life.”

Although Castro Gessner has been happily juggling two professions, she emphasized that pursuing these two distinct passions was never her plan.

“I don’t think that I intended to pursue two careers,” she said. “I think it just fell into place. If you had told me 20 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have said that’s impossible. I think some things occur by happenstance.”

Hoping her experience with determining a profession help young people confused about their future path in life, Castro Gessner advised undecided students to “do what you love.”

“If there is no clear job description that comes with your major, maybe there is an aspect of your studies that will help you to find something that you really want to do,” she said. “Enjoy what you’re learning and enjoy being a student.”

Castro Gessner explained that her desire to work in anthropology stemmed, in part, from a fascination with people.

“I am very interested in people,” she said. “I think that there is a broader sense that we are all connected in some way. We might have different cultures and different ways of doing things but we’re really all the same human race.”

Castro Gessner acknowledged that, while it is not always easy to ignore external factors pressuring people to pursue more “practical” careers, it is important to make an effort to follow your interests.

“There was no direct path to where I am now,” she said. “It just happened organically and I think it’s because in some ways, I’ve always stayed true to my passions.”