My graduate applications–probably like many of yours– are almost completely submitted by now. I spent the fall traveling around the east coast and filling out the same information on similar looking websites for hours on end. I poured over my personal statement line by line until I could recite it by heart and my girlfriend almost stabbed me. I met with professors, teasing myself with ideas of where I might end up next year.

I’m approaching my last semester as an undergraduate at Binghamton University, and if you haven’t guessed it by the context of this blog already, my envelopes were addressed to graduate schools of anthropology.

Now that I have almost finished paying a small fortune in application fees to play a lottery, I have had the time to start to catch up on some reading. While prospective graduate students might feel pessimistic about waiting to hear back about acceptances, what I’ve been skimming has sobered me up a little bit from my fall daydreams of excavations in faraway places.

I found myself searching the web reminding myself how as an anthropologist you should never expect to ever really get hired by a university. Not to say that I learned anything new.

There aren’t a lot of tenure track positions. You’re just going to have a lot of debt. It will take you a literal lifetime to pay back your loans. You’re going to be an adjunct professor and be paid less than a graduate student on a fellowship. Just don’t expect to work in academia.

That is a lot of negativity, but everyone has heard something similar. The most positive remark I hear about careers in academia is that the job market just can’t get any worse.  Surely by the time I finish my graduate work in a decade things will have turned around some, right?

For some reason like many others I am not dissuaded or in the least bit fazed by the outlook, at least at this stage in my aspirations. It is important to note I recognize that I am still in my naïve undergraduate phase. I hear in the long years of graduate school it becomes easier to get disillusioned. For now I am content. Call it unrealistic, but I’ll work my hardest and keep my fingers crossed.

I feel like most of my peers too have their eyes on the prize of a tenure track position, some time down the road. They too probably brush off knowing that very specific job listings for such positions receive hundreds of applications.

Knowing the odds, I am very curious what percentage of individuals starting work on a PhD have the intention of working somewhere other than a university. Are there a lot of you out there?

How many of you have thought about other applications of highly specialized degrees? If in eight years I am an expert on Neandertal lithic industries in southwest Belarus—as a random example– what jobs are most likely for me? Cultural resource management? Museum work?

I suppose it is something I can start thinking about, assuming I get in somewhere. If I am accepted I will have a solid seven years to mull over future directions, which should be sufficient time. Right now I am looking forward to it.

By Matthew Magnani