Career Spotlight is a series of interviews with anthropologists who are members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to share insights, knowledge, and expertise about career opportunities, growth, and development.
Gabriela (Gabby) Lingren manages research grants and projects as a Program Officer in the Gulf Research Program (GRP) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). Before joining the GRP in 2022, Gabby was the Senior Science Associate at the Society for Research in Child Development, where she managed awards, grants, and fellowships, and implemented the organization’s science initiatives and programs. Her interest and experience in the social and behavioral sciences have taken her to the National Science Foundation, where she helped coordinate peer review panels and program evaluations, and the Association for Psychological Science, where she supported science policy programs and events. Gabby earned a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology from George Mason University. Her undergraduate and graduate research focused on tourism development, land dispossession, community participation, and national narratives among Garifuna communities in northern Honduras, her native country. Gabby is also a certified Project Management Professional.
1. What made you decide to choose anthropology as a career path, and specifically your specialty?
Like many people, it happened by accident. I pulled a book out from my high school’s resource library that (thankfully) listed degree options in alphabetical order. Anthropology was exactly what I had in mind: learning about how others perceive and engage with the world around them. However, my career path became less clear towards the end of college. I didn’t want to pursue a PhD or an academic position, so I explored career options within science-based organizations to buy time. I started working in grants and project management soon after and my training in anthropology has been a superpower ever since. As business anthropologists can attest to, a background in anthropology is useful when planning and organizing a project or program. You’ve trained to ask yourself: who are the stakeholders and how are they involved in this effort? What are the cultural and contextual dynamics at play? How do we communicate ideas in a way that others find meaningful and actionable? How can we magnify diversity and equity issues? It is about keeping your feet ‘on the ground,’ understanding your stakeholders’ backgrounds, and always considering how decisions and processes affect those who ‘live and experience’ that project or program daily.
2. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
Getting certified as a Project Management Professional! It had been a personal goal for many years, and I kept putting it off thinking I didn’t have enough experience to be eligible to apply and sit for the exam. I also worried that I no longer had the discipline to study after attempting several self-study plans and failing. Fortunately, my employer partners with a Project Management Institute-authorized training instructor at a special rate and then reimburses staff after completing the course. It was a complete gamechanger as it offered the required 35 contact hours for certification, and I received guidance from the instructor on how to apply and study for the exam in a matter of 6 weeks. Sometimes all you need is a little serendipitous push to build momentum.
3. What impact has the American Anthropological Association had in shaping your career?
AAA membership helps me stay current with new research and the people behind it. As a Program Officer I am often looking for peer reviewers to assess proposals submitted to our funding opportunities, so I keep an eye out on new publications and conversations in the forum.
4. What are you currently reading or listening to?
I read primarily nonfiction and lately I’ve enjoyed reading about human-animal interactions. A couple of notable books are Beastly: The 40,000-Year Story of Animals and Us by Keggie Carew and Mary Roach’s Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.
5. What is a piece of advice you would share with job seekers or offer a new anthropologist just beginning their career?
My advice for job seekers (especially those outside of academia): take a moment to think about and articulate the value of your anthropology background in whatever field you’re pursuing. More likely than not, you’ll be working with folks who are unfamiliar with the field and therefore unsure of what you and other anthropologists might bring to the table. It will be helpful to have that message thought out in advance. My advice more generally would be to keep learning. You can’t predict where you’ll end up career-wise, but there is always a new tool, certification, or topic that you can pursue. These new skills might spark a move to a new role, career trajectory, or network of professionals. It also keeps things interesting.
6. Where would you like to see your career path going next?
I see myself gaining more robust and diverse experience in project management as it combines a lot of what I enjoy doing day-to-day: working with people, managing constraints, streamlining processes, and providing value to an organization/group of people.
Learn more about AAA and its members.