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Beyond the Anthropology Department

Image Description: Overhead angle photo of attendees walking over the terrazzo turtle installation in the Metro Toronto Convention Center (MTCC) at the 2023 AAA Annual Meeting. 

At this year’s annual conference, I was invited by Daniel Ginsberg and Caitlyn Kolhoff of the American Anthropological Association’s Education Programs to participate in a workshop session entitled “Beyond the Anthropology Department.” The purpose of the event was to describe the pathway I took to my current position with NYKids, a state-funded research group housed in the School of Education at the University at Albany


Applying Anthropology

Although our group was small, together with Daniel, I shared some of my experiences as an anthropologist working across disciplinary boundaries and the insights that I had gained during this time. I explained that as an anthropologist of education studying the postsecondary transitions of refugees and immigrants, I naturally was drawn to courses in the School of Education. I found my way into my current position first as a graduate assistant while completing my dissertation and then later as a postdoctoral fellow. 

While my position is not in an anthropology department, my research skills as an anthropologist have often come in handy. Fortunately, I work with a small team of researchers with whom I share the goal of identifying and ameliorating educational inequalities. To this end, our research projects are designed to seek out and learn from educators who have demonstrated success especially in working with economically, racially, and linguistically diverse populations of students. These projects present me with valuable opportunities to use an “anthropological lens” which is attuned to deeper questions of power, context, and identity. Nonetheless, there are moments of constraints. For instance, as an ethnographer I am accustomed to spending long periods of time at one field site and developing rapport with participants. In my position, however, we typically investigate multiple schools, choosing breadth over depth so we may understand how different educational practices, policies, and processes look across a range of contexts.  

Lastly, I described how my training as an anthropologist had prepared me well as an educator. For example, when I was asked to teach a graduate course in qualitative methods at UAlbany, I found that questions of positionality and researcher subjectivity – issues which have been front and center in my graduate courses as an anthropologist – had not been fully considered in many students’ dissertation plans. Working through these issues with students not only helped them refine their own research projects but also allowed me to clarify my own position both as a researcher and teacher. 


Wrapping up

After Daniel and I shared a bit about our own career trajectories, we were able to hear from a colleague working in the field of public health who echoed many of the same sentiments mentioned above. It was heartening to hear that other anthropologists have experienced similar challenges and successes applying their skills in another field. We also heard from an undergraduate student who was just dipping their toe into the world of anthropology. It was exciting to hear the perspective of someone new to the field and hear their reasons for pursuing anthropological studies. Ultimately, I felt invigorated by our discussion and hoped that I had provided to session participants as much insight as I had taken away.