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Assistant Anatomy Professor and Bioarcheologist’s Many Passions Led Her to NYCC

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Dr. Robyn Wakefield-Murphy Headshot

Dr. Robyn Wakefield-Murphy
Assistant Professor

Studying the skeletal remains of a prehistoric Native American woman, bioarcheologist and Northeast College of Health Sciences Assistant Professor Dr. Robyn Wakefield-Murphy discovered the likely reason for the body’s unconventional burial – a mystery that stood out to researchers. Noting four arrowheads in the chest of the young woman’s body and fetal bones in her pelvis, Wakefield-Murphy uncovered the violent death, and pregnancy, of the prehistoric women buried outside her ancient village.

"The specialized nature of the burial is thus a product of greater societal grief invested in the unexpected loss of not one but two members of the community," Wakefield-Murphy wrote in the poster she presented at the 2018 American Association of Physical Anthropologists Conference. Wakefield-Murphy’s discovery was also covered in Forbes and Newsweek magazines.

A research fellow at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pa., who studies ancient human remains, bioarcheology is just one of Wakefield-Murphy’s many passions. Another is walking her dogs, Hope and Sasha, on Seneca Lake.

Wakefield- Murphy is originally from Pennsylvania, where she received her Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. She also holds a master’s degree in human osteology and funerary archaeology from University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Today she lives in Geneva, N.Y., home to the largest of the Finger Lakes and just a 15-mile drive from her job teaching gross anatomy at Northeast.

Teaching cadaver-based anatomy courses is another of Wakefield-Murphy’s passions. “You get to interact with students in a way you can’t through lectures and textbooks,” she said. “You really get to engage on a 3D-level and hands-on basis.”

Working at Northeast allows Wakefield-Murphy to balance all that matters most to her, including life in the Finger Lakes, which she describes as peaceful. Northeast gave her the opportunity to teach cadaver-based anatomy, while the location of the College allowed her to be close enough to the Carnegie Museum to access her bioarcheology research.

A Few Questions with Anatomy Professor Robyn Wakefield-Murphy

Tell us why teaching cadaver-based anatomy at Northeast has become such a passion for you?
‘Now I get it,’ is a phrase I hear so much more in the lab. The students have a lot more light-bulb moments. Cadaver-based dissection is the cornerstone of clinical anatomy and teaching it is really one of the best experiences I have had. I think it’s all the more important for chiropractic students, who diagnose and treat people with their hands, to have exposure to the human body to really appreciate the different tissues. It is such an honor to work with the human body. Body donation is such a selfless gift.

What drew you to settling down in the Finger Lakes?
When I was on the job search I was looking for a place that would allow me to teach cadaver-based anatomy while being in a clinical-based field. The College came up and we were familiar with the region because my sister studied at Cornell University. My husband and I actually honeymooned in the Finger Lakes before we lived here. We love Lucifer Falls in Robert Treman Park, Hector Falls and the gorges at Watkins Glen.

What do you love about the #NortheastBlue community?
With Northeast being a relatively small college it gives our community a really close-knit feeling. Our students have a real sense of community and a lot of support networks. They always strive to help each other. It doesn’t have that competitive environment that I felt at a bigger school. Students have a lot of work cut out for themselves getting their doctorate, they don’t need the extra competitive vibe some schools have. They are very supportive and chill and that’s a healthy attitude. I feel like it’s the same with the faculty and staff. My colleagues are some of the best I have had, extremely collegial and supportive.

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