Associate Professor Lars Fehren-Schmitz

Lars Fehren-Schmitz is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology.

Groundbreaking Work

Done Here

Lars Fehren-Schmitz has been widely published for his groundbreaking work in population history and evolutionary genetics at his UCSC Human Paleogenomics Lab.  Learn more.

What made you interested in the anthropology field?

"I trained in Germany as a biologist, because biological anthropology is combined with biology there. I was in between things, I wanted to maybe do archaeology or become a psychiatrist, so I went to med school first and studied archaeology parallel. At one point, I quit med school and went into biology, finished up in biology and in archaeology. I was always kind of interested in humans in general and that perspective, especially how humans interact with their environments and how things shape each other. I guess I ended up doing biological anthropology by combining my interest in these different fields. More or less, everything kind of happened along the way. I never had ever had a strict plan and I never planned to work in South America, My master's advisor recommended that I submit a proposal for a larger project that was happening in South America and that's how I ended up doing my research there."

Why did you decide to leave Germany and come to California?

"My contract was running out in Germany and I wanted to look for more international experience and opportunities. That year I was looking at three jobs, one was UCSC then one in New York and Michigan. I began looking into the overall structure of the departments of the universities and the surrounding environment, UCSC seem to be far more appealing than the other options. I definitely took an opportunistic approach but when given the chance to make a decision, I decided to come here because I liked the overall environment, the colleagues that I met here doing my job interviews, and the interdisciplinary environment that I felt exists here."

Do you have a dream class that you would want to teach?

"I hope that my classes that I teach get more dream-like in the future."

-Associate Professor Lars Fehren-Schmitz

"I hope that my classes that I teach get more dream-like in the future. Big lectures don't give you as much room as a smaller class. I love my Anth-195 series because it’s about 6 to 7 students, and feels like a group of peers rather than a teacher-student dynamic. We get to share experience and work together and that is something that I really love about it. In general, I think that my classes already go towards the direction that I want them to be, but I am constantly having to develop them more. My one class that I will teach one occasion, Anth 111- Human Ecology, I really love even though it is a large lecture class. Based on the topic, there is more room for discussion and gives more room for alternative learning approaches, not just lectures and exams but research projects and presentations. The fun part is that I had students doing amazing projects, like going out on fishing boats with the fisherman to learn fishing ecologies and how that affects ways of life." 

Why do you think biological anthropology is important to the rest of anthro?

"I think there has been a divide between cultural anthropology of biological anthropologists, due to theoretical discussions or actual things that happened in the past. The problem is, if you want to understand humans from a holistic approach you can neither neglect the cultural nor their biological sides because we are biological beings that also have is cultural side.

Rather than arguing that whatever we observe from the cultural side is just an adaptation for the physical side or the other way around, I think it is necessary for all fields to come together to develop a language that allows us to integrate these different aspects of human existence. That's why I think it is necessary that we retain anthropologists in biology departments, to maintain this dialogue. I'm interested in having this kind of conversation and finding an approach where we can bring together the cultural expertise, the context, with the biology. I think that's why it is necessary to have biological anthropology because biological anthropology is a facilitator role between the social sciences and the hard sciences. You always have to know a little bit of everything, you might not be the expert geneticist versus someone who does only genetics, but I understand both and so I can be there as a facilitator between the two fields. That's why it's important, even for students that don't plan any kind of future with biological anthropology, to still get some scientific literacy. Even if you end up in medical anthropology or environmental anthropology, or a more culturally driven anthropology discipline, you should still understand the science behind the things you might later criticize."


By Althea Knapp.  Althea is a lead peer adviser with the Department of Anthropology.