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.
Nicole is a cultural anthropologist, trained ecotherapist, life-long dreamworker, and licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). She is the Owner of Inner Tapestries, a private psychotherapy practice in Bellingham, WA. Nicole provides culturally responsive training, counseling, and clinical supervision grounded in both ecological wisdom and anthropological insights. Her work is centered on providing trainees, clients, and students with the tools to thrive and to grow amidst the challenges of life. She is the author of Walls of Indifference: Immigration and the Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border.
1. What made you decide to choose anthropology as a career path, and specifically your specialty?
I had two fantastic undergraduate teachers, Dr. Barry Michrina and Dr. Clare Boulanger. Both professors were inspiring to me in different ways. Dr. Michrina appealed to my interest in what is currently known as indigenous perspectives within the context of anthropology and more phenomenological perspectives, while Dr. Boulanger appealed more to my desire to understand the material conditions that often shape social conditions for people. They both piqued my curiosity to learn more about different anthropological perspectives and to be even further curious about how people know what they know. I have books that I read in their classes on my shelves to this day. Dr. Michrina introduced me to the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness (SAC). I found the members of SAC to be welcoming, the topics they covered to be utterly fascinating, and a good home for my own academic and professional interests. I am currently the Secretary-Treasurer for the section.
2. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
My ethnographic fieldwork on the militarization of consciousness in the United States was the biggest game-changer for me. I learned so much about political logic, activism in the United States, and how the language and social practices of militarism has the capacity to shape our consciousness in ways that we cannot fully understand. That was a great learning experience for me; it prepared me emotionally and intellectually for the inflammatory politics that had yet to fully move through the United States. I was fully prepared to support the many clients who were suffering from the stress and strain due to the noxious political climate - a climate that continues to this day. I am grateful to all of the participants and to my doctoral committee for working with me during that time.
3. What do you consider a challenge you've faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Leaving academia. Many current and former academics have written about the decision to leave academia. Unfortunately, there is a tacit understanding that in academia, you "go where the job is." I've relocated so many times in my life, some of it through my own inspiration, and some through the constraints of where I was accepted to graduate school. It is challenging to maintain meaningful relationships with friends and family, if the professional expectation is that one must uproot themselves to demonstrate dedication to one's career. I have worked with many academics from various walks of life in my counseling practice and they frequently vocalize similar professional challenges. One thing they all have in common is the loneliness and feeling of displacement that seems to stem from constantly being uprooted and, of course, working too much! To be fully transparent, I am currently an Assistant Professor at Western Washington University, but I did not seek out that position; I already had a solid private practice by then. I was able to build a private practice through my Master's degree in clinical social work. I had anticipated that a full-time position in academia was unlikely, so I had a career path that was not dependent on landing a tenure-track job. My anthropological skills greatly enhance my clinical work. I am so grateful that I have anthropology as my primary training.
4. What impact has the American Anthropological Association had in shaping your career?
Most of my involvement with the American Anthropological Association has been through the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, now the Anthropology of Consciousness. I love the people with whom I am currently working. The section appeals to my personal interests in all things related to the study of consciousness. The section is filled with people who have interdisciplinary interests and who have careers outside of academia. It is a fun and collegial group of people! I recommend checking out one of their First Friday events - they are free and open to the public.
5. What are you currently reading or listening to?
Wow - that's a good one. I read and listen to things from so many different perspectives - that is the fun thing about being an anthropologist! Since my current research and psychotherapeutic practice focuses on the connections between ecology and consciousness, I will keep my focus there.
- Theodore Roszak: Where the Wasteland Ends
- RJ Stewart: Earth Light: The Ancient Path to Transformation - Recovering the Wisdom of Celtic and Faery Lore
6. What is a piece of advice you would share with job seekers or offer a new anthropologist just beginning their career?
I have found that so much of my insights into human behavior stems from cultivating an anthropological curiosity and genuine appreciation for people in general. Studying anthropology has taught me how to be a better listener, be more curious about differing perspectives and further understand why people do what they do. My success as a psychotherapist is based in my decision to practice an applied form of anthropology. I connect with and learn from the cultural "other" and suspend my own disbelief and skepticism so that we can learn from each other in spite of perceived differences so that we may achieve a shared understanding. This is what was instilled to me as an undergraduate in anthropology. So, use your skills, be flexible, and apply your anthropological skills in different career paths!
7. Where would you like to see your career path going next?
I am currently interested in the new and emerging diagnoses of anxieties related to planetary climate changes, such as "eco-anxiety." As a result of this emerging category, I am interested in how people begin to develop what is known as an "ecological consciousness." I see my research and private practice focusing on this phenomenon and attending to people who suffer from climate-related anxiety and despair.
Learn more about AAA and its members.