The Impotent Anthropologist

I remember very vividly the day that I stood in my thesis advisor's office discussing my future. She was very clear that there were two things that I could not avoid if had any intention of continuing a career in anthropology. The first, and perhaps the most frustrating, was a PhD. I say frustrating, because I had every intention of getting one until life stepped in and "got in the way." Now, like Howard Wolowitz on the show The Big Bang Theory, I am relegated to a lifetime of "justs" and "onlys," as in, "I just have my masters," or "I only have a masters degree."

The other thing my thesis advisor noted was that I needed a foreign language. The fact that I was going to an expensive private school and paying for the majority of it myself, I figured I would save a few pennies and skip that little optional "requirement." I do wish I could go back and make that decision over again because while anthropologists with "just" a masters degree DO find jobs, those jobs are often serving minority or marginalized communities which frequently do not speak English. Five years later I now realize what my thesis advisor was telling me. If I do not wish to continue on with a PhD, the best way I can make myself marketable is to know a foreign language. Oh how I wish I had listened to that little piece of advice. By ignoring it I robbed myself of the most relevant skill I could posses to culminate my aspirations (although I am currently working on fixing the issue).

Shortly after graduation I remember, also very clearly, reading an article about the utilization of anthropologists in many fortune 500 companies. The article discussed anthropologists' various contributions to things like advertisement, product usage in the hands of real people, analysis of workplace and co-worker dynamics and product development (think the infamous "green button" on the copy machine, brought to you courtesy of an anthropologist). The article clearly delineated anthropology as one of the hottest new degrees with the promise of a bright shiny future, even outside the hallowed halls of academia. Then the recession hit, the economy retracted and fanciful degrees like philosophy and anthropology were suddenly forced to compete against people in the job market with much more streamlined, clear-cut degree tracts.

In hindsight I might have done a lot of things differently before arriving at that point in my advisor's cramped, windowless, first-floor office. For one, I might have flown back in time to the moment when I was sitting on my bed in that crappy apartment I shared with a co-worker, post-undergrad, looking at pamphlets on graduate schools and puzzling through what I wanted to do with my life. I could go back to that moment and take a different path. Sitting there in front of me were about four schools worth of information on various Anthropology choices, and one lone pamphlet for the University of Denver's Library and Informational sciences department, I could have picked up the "safe choice" and made it.

In hindsight, becoming a librarian would have been much more conducive to my current lifestyle with children. The schedule, job opportunities and family-friendly flexibility  might have made things easier but, I had such dreams and they demanded I follow them. In all honesty, I wouldn't have traded all my schooling in the social sciences for anything. I felt they gave me a greater understanding of myself and where I fit into the universe, and it was one of the main things that I enthusiastically embraced about the discipline.

Flash forward. While my mother always used to say, "do what you love and the money will come," I am not really convinced of that after living it for a decade. I followed my heart and it landed me in a sea of student loan debt with no promise of a future payoff . My lack of foresight has rendered me impotent in the current job market. I possess no clearly translatable skills, no language skills to fall back on. Instead I am left with broad based degree, whose very validity is currently being debated within the academic community, many of whom are postulating the demise of the discipline. So, I am left with the promise of a dream and no real way to fulfill it. And yet...I am not ready to abandon it. Somewhere out there is the perfect niche who could benefit from an anthropologists unique criticism, viewpoint and contribution.

Then today I saw a fellow anthropologist post this link with the recent conclusion that Anthropology is the #1 worst choice in majors for current undergrads. I could be angry, but I am not. Instead, I figure, if our subject is considered outside of the box, then that is where I need to be thinking. Am I sad I didn't become a librarian? Some days I am, when the bills are rolling in and there seems no end to it. But, in the end I am an anthropologist in my heart and that will never change.