Applying to Grad School in Anthropology- Where will we go?

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

4 thoughts on “Applying to Grad School in Anthropology- Where will we go?

  1. One of the graduate programs you might want to consider is Library Science. It pays somewhat better than anthropology, if not a whole lot, and there are great academic positions available. Museums also hire anthro folks. In both cases you would want to look for an institution which supports your interests and where you might also do some research.

  2. I would say this – if you are excited about learning and being in anthropology, go for it. Academia is a vocation, like the priesthood. You do it because you love it, not for financial reward. I have a PhD in anthro, 1999, and couldn’t find a job. I have spent 10 years working in health policy and research and pensions, using lots of my academic skills and making far more money with less aggravation than in academia. There are lots of non-academic jobs that will challenge your skills and intellect if an academic appointment isn’t in the cards. The flip side is that in the ‘outside’ world, there are very few PhD’s. I have been the sole PhD in every organization I have worked for, and that brings some perks. In academia, the PhD is the price of admission – everyone has one. Do what you love to do while you have the time and energy to do it. Having a PhD and the experience is for life, regardless of what you ‘end up’ doing. Its a lifestyle that can take you places you would never imagine. Good luck.

  3. This is me in four years. lol

    I just started my second semester of my freshman year at my local community college. Majoring in Anthropology, with the thought to teach it. I plan to specialize in the Mythology and Occult.

    My adviser, the head of our Anth department, has been frank with me about the job market in teaching the subject, but I remain resolute myself. Though, I’ll admit, I’m also thinking outside of my hopeful future job.

    Hope to have you as a colleague someday!

  4. “Abandon ye all hope who enter here” should be posted above the entrance of every anthropology department.

    Or as Big-D said it, “The dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity.”

    Or better yet, read, 100 reasons NOT to Go to Grad School

    Alternatively, read about how to keep the dream alive.

    The question is: *why* do you want to be in academia? What do you *really* want? What do you think you’ll want when you have kids? Gotta think long term.

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