Image credit: iStock. A diverse array of hands holding up question mark bubbles.
Undergraduate anthropology students conducted research surrounding career resources for anthropology majors.
Most often, when students decide to major in anthropology, it’s because they’re captivated by the discipline’s unique perspective on cultural difference and its respect for human diversity—not because they see it as preparation for a certain career. As graduation approaches, though, the question “What are you going to do with that?” becomes more and more pressing, and they may find little support either in their department, where faculty may not know much about professional careers, or in the campus career center, where staff may be more used to working with pre-professional majors with clear employment goals.
In 2019, a group of undergraduate student-researchers, coordinated by AAA staff, carried out ethnographic research into what anthropology majors actually do when they’re facing this transition. The difficulty is that when students choose anthropology, they generally value its openness and adaptability to many workplace applications, and many find it difficult to focus on just one.
To ease the transition, students see a need for opportunities to meet anthropologists other than their own professors, ideally in an internship or fieldwork context where they can gain experience, but even the opportunity to meet and network is valuable. They want support that goes beyond resume-writing and is personalized to anthropology majors—something that will help them narrow their interests to specific kinds of jobs they might apply to. They also asked for chances to practice talking about anthropology to non-anthropologists in ways that help others understand what we do.
Many points of intervention for departments and career centers alike are outlined in the student-researchers’ full article. As a first step, though, careers and professional applications have to be an acceptable topic of conversation within the department. No one’s faculty mentor will know about every possible career for an anthropologist, but they can help to clarify what anthropologists know and do, and they can listen and support their advisees as they work to figure out their next steps.
Read more: Ding, Emily, Angela D. Storey, Briana M. Lee, Anastasia Jhoslien, and Maria Cora. 2023. “‘Where Do I Even Start?’: Exploring Resources for Anthropology Students’ College-to-Career Transitions.” Annals of Anthropological Practice 47 (1): 79–90. https://doi.org/10.1111/napa.12199.
This article is part of a special section in Annals of Anthropological Practice that was comprised of six papers from the AAA Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Read full article on AnthroSource.