So, you want to study anthropology?
When I first started college I didn’t declare a major. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I focused on getting my core requirements out of the way first. Sophomore year I took an anthropology course and fell in the love with the discipline. But like most love affairs, this one was not without the occasional conflict.
In the end I have few regrets about the path I chose, but there are some things I wish I would have known before I started.
So, for new anthropology majors (or those considering the discipline as their field of study), here are the things I think you might want to know as you begin your journey! This list will be continued later in part 2.
Note: This list applies mostly to cultural anthropology majors. Those who study archaeology and physical anthropology will likely face separate excitements and challenges. Also, this list is based on my personal experience, so your experience as an anthropology major may be very different! Feel free to leave a comment about your experience below.
1. The Relationship Between Applied and Academic Anthropology is Complicated
As I worked my way through anthropology courses as a grad student, I realized that the separation between applied and academic anthropology is not always clear cut. At certain times the distinction is clear and even aggressive, but at other times the line between the two parts of the discipline is murky.
For example, many anthropologists doing applied work have doctorate degrees, which means they spent many years in an academic setting (and academia may still be their primary source of income).
The master’s program that I graduated from is an applied program, and my degree is an M.S. in Applied Anthropology. However, during my graduate career, my fellow students and I often discussed the underlying influence of academia that we felt in our course curriculum, our degree requirements, and our professors’ perspectives. Some of this influence is obvious and inevitable—after all, a master’s degree is (by definition) a distinction granted by an academic institution. But on the other hand, most of us applied to the master’s program expecting to become prepared for a career outside the university, and some of us felt that our experience in the program was not as reflective of that expectation as we had previously assumed.
This is not to discount the importance of anthropologists in either (or both) side of the discipline, or the importance of academic institutions. I have a great respect for the work of many different anthropologists working under many different institutions and/or independently. I just wish I had known more about the relationship and politics of these two sides of the discipline. In the end, the other students and I found ways to navigate through the challenges the best we could.
2. You May Need to Get Creative When Looking for Career Opportunities
As an anthropology major, you will rarely find job opportunities that directly call for anthropologists (especially outside of academia). As opposed to careers for those who majored in engineering or marketing, career opportunities for anthropology majors are usually not explicitly labeled as such.
You will likely need to think outside of the box when looking for anthropology-related internships and jobs. For example, instead of searching online with the key word “anthropology,” you may want to do a search for opportunities with different words that incorporate the skills and practices of an anthropologist. This can include words and phrases such as:
- Qualitative data
- User experience research
Another way to approach the job search is to look for positions that relate to your other interests or areas of expertise, but that can also incorporate what you have learned as an anthropology major. You might start by researching a company that makes products you are interested in and see if there is a way you could apply your anthropology skills to any of their job positions.
For the record, I still have a lot to learn and explore when it comes to careers and job hunting. So if you have any advice in this realm, please feel free to share by commenting on this post!
3. You Will Constantly Have to Explain What You Do/What You Want to Do with Anthropology
The most concise answer I’ve learned to give is that:
“Anthropology is the study of human beings, and as a cultural anthropologist, I study the living ones.”
(If you are trying to market yourself for a job opportunity, you should go into a lot more depth than that. But for a quick answer to the casual acquaintance or curious relative, this answer may suffice. 😊)
No matter how many times you explain or how many people you meet, there will still be someone who thinks that you student dinosaurs or arachnids. It may get annoying at times but try to take it in stride. Try to think of every explanation as an opportunity to share the amazing aspects of a discipline that you love. And remember to ask others for more information about their major/career as well—you can always learn something new about others!
Check out more things that anthropology majors should know in Part 2 of this blog post, coming soon!