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Searching for a Career in Anthropology

Today’s guest blog post is by anthropology student Ennis Barbery.

When Elizabeth Van Dolah and I became the student representatives for the Washington Area Professional Anthropologists (WAPA), we thought about the main reasons students are interested in attending WAPA’s events, and we held student happy hours to discuss what sorts of events students wanted. One of the main reasons that students become involved with WAPA is that we want to make connections with anthropologists working in the career settings to which we aspire. We want to learn about how they got started, the challenges they faced, and the advice they have for those of us trying to find our way into their chosen career field. With this knowledge about student interests and goals in mind, Elizabeth and I began planning the WAPA Career Panel that was held on the evening of April 2nd, 2013 at the Charles Sumner School in Washington, D. C.

For the panel, we attempted to recruit practicing anthropologists from a variety of sub-disciplines and working in different types of agencies. We ended up with a nicely balanced group of three: Kirsti Uunila, an archaeologist working as a Historic Preservation Planner for Calvert County, Maryland; John Primo, an ecological anthropologist working for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; and Frances Norwood, a medical anthropologist working as a social science research analyst for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. On the night of April 2nd, followed by some time to eat and socialize at a nearby restaurant, each of the panelists gave a brief talk about their current careers, explaining the paths they took in finding those careers, how mentors helped direct them, and giving advice to those wishing to get started on a similar path or to make a change in their current careers. Then, we opened up the floor for discussion. 25-30 people were in attendance and I recognized many of the attendees as students. The questions they raised ranged in topics, from navigating to the government job application website to balancing work and family; from the rationale for getting a PhD as compared with a master’s degree to recommendations about specific medical anthropology programs in the area.

Apart from the important advice that the panelists provided, this career panel helped to humanize these professional and very successful anthropologists for students. Sometimes, especially when we are insulated in coursework, it becomes difficult to imagine that we will eventually be getting paid to do anthropological research. The panelists told stories about bartending and cleaning park toilets. Their paths to their current careers were meandering, and the stories they told helped me relate to them and see myself as a practicing anthropologist.

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