What do You Do With a B.A. in Anthropology?

What Do You Do?

Anyone who has seen Avenue Q remembers Princeton singing “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” and, if they were college graduates with a humanities degree, sharing that questioning  feeling. I remember being in college when I first heard the song and being able to empathize. After all, what do you do with a B.A. in Anthropology??

I remember trying to explain to my family what an anthropologist was and why I had chosen that degree. In my parents’ generation, students chose degrees that led to particular careers. Females, all the more so. You were either a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. I spent a great deal of time crafting intellectual responses to queries such as “But what does an anthropologist do?” and “So what are you going to do with that degree?” I would throw as many long words in my answers as possible in order to confuse my interrogator: “[insert family member/family friend’s name here], it’s all about understanding the ethnic and racial ethnographic information that clarifies historical misperceptions while at the same time clouding postmodern twenty-first century comfortable categorizations blah blah blah…oh, your eyes are glazing over? Great! How about this weather?”

Transferable Skills

The strange thing is that “transferable skills” was an easy concept for me. I knew that explaining my various skills to a potential employer was going to be more of a challenge but in day-to-day life, the application of concepts learned while studying for an anthropology degree were endless.

I concentrated in cultural anthropology, which means I had all of one class about bones. (It took me a couple of years of study and that course to understand why everyone had asked me about bones when I first announced my degree choice). My focus was people. I wanted to learn the story of People, wherever they might be from, whoever they might be, whatever sub-groupings they self-(or not)-identified with. One of my favorite anthropology professors spent an entire semester showing us the theory behind ethnographies. (Side note: I love my alma mater. I had classes named things like “Creative Composition and the Neuropsychology of Language”. I sounded magnificently collegiate just reading off my course schedule. Go Blue!) To get back to ethnographies, the key to the “enthnographic theory” was understanding that everything was a story. Anthropologists do their best to enmesh themselves in other people’s worlds. Everyone has a story, and we know it. Whether we’re after the story from their perspective (cultural immersion) or the story from our perspective having observed a group for some time from the outskirts of the scene, we know we can help inform the rest of the world about what such-and-such group is, believes itself to be, feels, hopes, desires, etc.

“Being an Anthropologist”

Being an anthropologist means you must communicate with people. We have to learn the language of a given situation. This might not be easy, because language is not always what is spoken. It is what is sung, drawn, painted, rapped, danced, signed, etc. Often times we seem to be doing our best to serve as translators to the wider world for the group in question.

Why is any of this important? Because it shows anthropology B.A. candidates their options. What we do is what sociologists, psychologists, communication majors and marketers do, but we do it from a different angle. Many other professions rely on the information anthropologists can provide. Combined with writing and critical thinking skills (how you could get a degree without those is beyond me), a newly stamped B.A.-carrying anthropologist can go just about anywhere.

For example: I have a B.A. in Anthropology. I currently work in higher education, at a public university that is closely connected to the local government but is just shy of being a government agency. (Washington, D.C., is like that sometimes, given its unique nature). I work as an administrator in what I like to call a mid-level management position focused on finance and facility management for the institution. (I won’t bore you with a title. Everyone is D.C. asks each other “What do you do?” when they first meet, but my title only tells you a portion of what I do. It’s a step up from “Staff Assistant” though, so at least you know I do more than answering the phones all day). You would think finance and facilities is a far cry from what most social science majors do, but I use the skills I learned every day in an urban university setting.

What I’m Interested in Now

Beyond my clear interest in my job and the postsecondary educational field, I am also heavily interested in technology, social media, social media marketing, and personal finance. I particularly like any applications for combining these interests. I find social media to be an excellent platform for connecting with other people who are intent on sharing their stories. (My friends ask me what is the purpose of Twitter all the time. I’ll get into that in another post, but it has a great deal to do storytelling). I love that technology (including advances in social media) can help educators spread a message to students. I’m a huge fan of technology invading classrooms and changing the status quo of 1.5hr lectures into an interactive forum for innovation and collaboration. I watch how much information passes through the various social media platforms and see how we can easily be lifelong learners on any topic, from marketing to personal finance to computer science.

What about the “Who”?

The stories of young people (by which I mean those of us in the 20s-to-30s range) are what I find the most interesting and also relate to best. They say to write about what you know. Being a young professional in my 20s, it seems useful to talk about the world from a 20 year-old’s perspective. We’re in the thick of global changes, especially when it comes to technology and social media. We have more tools at our disposal than ever before and more are being created all the time. We have to embrace these changes, but so much information out there is for those who have already embraced and are moving forward. I want my peers to share my passion, to not be afraid to the changes.

Moving Forward

This is my blog, and it will showcase all the things I find fascinating from the interests mentioned above. I hope to engage further innovative discussion around connective activities that can help various professionals come together to create new ideas across a range of topics. Some days we’ll talk tech, some days we’ll talk personal finance, some days we’ll talk education. Some days we’ll talk about combining all three (hello, financial literacy month!).

What We’ll Do Together

As anthropologists says, let’s problematize the issues, make them more complicated so that we don’t oversimplify issues but rather expand our approaches to encourage disruption. We all know that as humans we love grouping, categorizing, and “boxing” things. What I am suggesting is that we add a little chaos to the mix, break open some boxes, and see what we find.

Oh, Should I Answer the Title Question?

So what do you do with a B.A. in Anthropology? The answer is: whatever you want. What do I encourage you to do? Find the stories, wherever they are, and share them. Add to this and other discussions. Together, we can add to the global human story and make it one for the ages.