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Graduating an Anthropologist: What I’ve Learned as a Summer Intern

Today’s guest blog post is the AAA/AFA Summer Intern, Rachel Nuzman:

Rachel2Long before graduating from Saint Mary’s College in May, though exponentially more as the date approached, I got asked the two questions most graduates dread but expect to hear: what is your major? And what are you going to do?  The assumption being that we, as recent graduates, will chose a profession immediately after graduation and that will be the job from which we one day retire. Or at the very least, we will magically know and somehow manage to land a job relevant to our degree. If they do understand that a life of research and travel might be in my future, the general public assumes that research will be on dinosaur bones.  While in DC I even had a roommate’s mom refer to me as the ‘bug girl ’.

Upon learning of my double major in Anthropology and English, and minor in Women and Gender Studies, it is usually and almost always automatically assumed that I will be a teacher.  And though academia is a commendable profession and one I would love to eventually fill, there is so much more to the humanities than teaching.  There are so many more options open to Anthropologists; not to mention what I believe to be is a natural a desire to do what you have devoted four years to, rather than simply teaching those same classes that inspired you to be an anthropologist in the first place.

Besides the additional perk of attending the AAA Staff Summer Outing to ArtJamz (the pictures featured here), my time in DC as a Summer Intern has been very rewarding. As an AAA and AFA Summer Intern, I have been working on a few very different projects.  The largest project is the one specifically for the Association for Feminist Anthropology (AFA) where I work closely with AFA President Jane Henrici to create a complete history of the association for its twenty-fifth anniversary.  Over the course of seven weeks I have been and will continue to conduct interviews with members and past leaders, as well as research AFA records at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA).  This means looking at the way the association’s purpose and focus has evolved over its twenty-five years as a section under the AAA, as well as the challenges specifically related to an association dedicated to the advancement of feminist and gender anthropology.  Looking at the association’s focus on the intersectionality of gender and race, as well as minority status, sexuality, income, and education, a history comes together that represents the founding mission of 1988, while showing its relevance today.  Incredibly, through one summer internship, and specifically this project I am able to use all three of my disciplines: an anthropological approach, English writing skills, and a women and gender’s studies lens.

Rachel1While at the AAA, I am working closely with AAA Professional Fellow Courtney Dowdall on a follow up project with past participants of the Leadership Fellows Program, which is allowing me the unique opportunity to interview anthropologists just starting or well into their careers, and learn what their advice is to recent graduates.  The interviews themselves are a learning experience as I apply concepts learned in methods and theory courses.  While in college, doing field research and conducting interviews sounds far off and exciting – mostly because it is, but what is hard to grasp is how long the process takes.  Coming up with the questions and the focal point is time consuming, not to mention the extra time taken to record the answers to those questions.  When a professor tells you that transcribing a fifteen minute conversation will take over an hour, you hardly think of what the consequences of this are.  It really does take time, not only because you are tasked with recording, but also how to represent those you are interviewing.  How true do you stay to their grammar or pauses? What is most important, getting their opinion and the overall meaning, or using their exact wording, ‘ums’, ‘likes’, ‘ahs’ and all?

While doing the important task of learning where past fellows are today and their ideas for strengthening the program, I am almost greedily soaking in their career paths, looking at where they have travelled, what they have researched, and what all they have accomplished.  This, coupled with my other project of compiling a list of graduates from Anthropology Departments associated with a larger program of Applied Anthropology, has led me to a wonderful world of CVs and LinkedIn profiles.

Though seemingly innocuous and routine, what this has done is created a long list of possible career options that I can take and use to answer those who ask, ‘what will you do as an anthropologist?’ Bolstering my new found wide-eyed approach to job searching is my temporary mingling with Washington Association of Professional Anthologists (WAPA) at a delicious happy hour.  Coming together with professional anthropologists to network is an opportunity I might not have had if not for learning about the program through my internship.  Though I did not walk away with a job to present to well-meaning inquirers, I did make connections and I did get introduced to other, non-conventional, anthropological career paths.

 

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