You Can Do Anything You Want with an Anthropology Degree
Recent graduates from the UMW Anthropology program have pursued graduate studies in anthropology, medical anthropology and cross-cultural practice, law, education, film, library science, and humanities and social thought. Some have joined the Peace Corps or moved abroad to teach English as a Second Language before returning to school or starting a job in the U.S. Others have found employment in non-profit organizations and government contractors based in and around Washington D.C., as well as recruiting companies and research firms. Some are enjoying careers as lawyers, teachers, librarians, and administrators in higher education.
Here are narratives from a few recent graduates about what they have done with their degree:
Katie Toomey ’21 – AmeriCorps, Graduate School in Religious Studies
When I started college I declared for anthropology as soon as I could, intending to become an archaeologist. The more I learned about socio-cultural anthropology, however, the more I fell in love with the discipline (and shifted away from archaeology). The flexibility of anthropology as a subject, a methodology, and a lens through which to view the world has taught me to think creatively and see the connections between things that seem vastly far apart. Throughout college, I wove different interests- contemporary paganism and spirituality, the politics of nationalism, folklore, digital communities, consumerism- into projects and papers. Anthropology gave me the flexibility to explore niche interests while building real-world research, writing, and critical thinking skills that helped me get jobs later on. While learning how to do ethnographic research in various classes, I spent time in New Age bookstores and art galleries, learning how to talk and (more importantly) listen to people.
After graduating in 2021, I wanted to travel the country before applying to grad school. I joined AmeriCorps and spent a year doing disaster response and preparedness work. The anthropological training I received helped me interact with people confidently. After my service term ended, I got a job working at a Richmond history museum. I felt confident jumping from one field to another, thanks to anthropology. The writing and research skills I learned, and the practice in understanding different cultural communities, made me confident I could adapt anywhere. I’m currently working on applying to graduate school to continue studying anthropology and religion. I want to continue doing the work I started in undergrad, studying the identity and material culture of pagan, New Age, and occult groups in online and physical communities.
Cesare Zannoni ’13- APEX Systems Recruiter
During my senior year of college I had two main goals: 1. Put a lot of time and effort into my thesis and 2. Get a job out of the gate. While I was in school I knew that anthropology was the right path for me, but I wasn’t sure where that path would take me. I kept asking myself: What do I want to do for a career and how do I use my anthropology? I started my career search online and through career fairs on campus. I knew I wanted to live in Richmond, VA. Since I did not have any professional experience coming out of college, I wanted to have as many face to face interactions with the employers as possible to better grasp what they were looking for. That is where the career fairs came in. I looked up every company that was coming to the career fair to see if they had a Richmond office. If they did, I talked to them.
This is how I found my current employer. I work for APEX Systems as a recruiter. At the career fair their D.C office was represented, but I noticed online that the company started in Richmond, and this peaked my interest. I could see how recruiting related to anthropology. Ethnographic research, for example, involves interviewing people to understand where they are coming from. As a recruiter I now interview candidates for positions every day. I found that anthropology was the perfect education to prepare me for such interactions. It taught me the necessary problem solving and analytical thinking skills necessary to succeed in the working world. Anthropology is applicable to many careers; I just had to figure out how and where to apply it. The best advice that I can give any new graduate looking for a job with a degree in anthropology (or anything else) is: be persistent. Do not give up when it gets hard and your persistence will pay off. You might not land your dream job out of the gate but the job you do get will get you one step closer to that dream.
Rachael Sheaffer ’13 — Americorps Volunteer in Raleigh, NC
After graduation I moved to Raleigh, NC to start a service year with AmeriCorps. I’m doing some introductory counseling and case management work with the human services department here, serving primarily people with “disabilities,” former-offenders, at-risk youth, and homeless individuals. It’s intense, but I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m finding my Anthropology education to be quite helpful in this particular environment. Working in human services has me surrounded by people from many disciplines trying to solve the cultural problems of inequality in a very specific community, and I find I can bring a unique angle to the equation with my “anthro brain.” Many of my colleagues have backgrounds in psychology, so my more directly socio-cultural perspective has helped me approach things and propose ideas in a different way. I think it’s important to stress that degrees in the liberal arts, and particularly degrees in Anthropology, are incredibly and uniquely useful, and just as valuable as the more “technical” or “scientific” fields of study. I am finding though, that many people, after I tell them what I majored in, often say to me, “so, you like to dig stuff up…?” or, “oh, so you know a lot about dinosaurs then?” Then I tend to ramble on to them about culture.
UPDATE January 2014: Rachael was accepted to the Master’s in Social Work program at the University of Denver!
UPDATE January 2023: Rachael is employed a licensed social worker for Denver Health.
Jenny Stout ’08 — Reference and Instruction Librarian, Virginia Commonwealth University
After graduating in 2008 with a degree in anthropology, I considered a couple different career paths. On the one hand, I could continue my education in anthropology and maybe aim for a PhD. Alternatively, I could look into a career in libraries, since books and education have always been a passion of mine. After a visit to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I fell in love with Chapel Hill and decided to apply to get my master’s degree in library science at UNC-CH’s School of Information and Library Science. Now, more than ever, I feel that I made the right decision.
What surprised me about library school was how much less time consuming it was than working on my degree in anthropology at UMW. The class work at SILS (at least for the classes I took) was far less intensive than the many hours spent reading, researching and writing as an anthro student. However, I quickly learned to fill up those extra hours at UNC with jobs and internships. Over the course of two years at UNC, I worked at two separate campus libraries, did an internship at a local public library, and worked one semester as a graduate student assistant for a history professor. As helpful as my class work was in library school, my job experience prepared me far more for a professional job. And without my experience as an anthro student, I might not have been able to juggle my classes, jobs, professional development, and social life at UNC. Anthropology gave me the academic curiosity, research and writing skills, and motivation that I carried with me to library school.
During my last semester at UNC, I applied to over 30 library jobs all around the country. I was willing to move to take a job. I had about half a dozen phone interviews and two in-person interviews before I was offered at job at Cumberland University, a small liberal arts university outside of Nashville, Tennessee. More recently, I was offered and accepted a job at main undergraduate library at Virginia Commonwealth University. I teach library instruction sessions to undergraduate and graduate students. I provide reference and help with research, I oversee a couple student aides, assist with collection development, and work on various library projects.
My time as an anthro student at UMW taught me work ethic, how to research, read, and write effectively, and—most importantly—how to become interested in the world around me. Many people go through life and do the minimum amount of thinking they have to do. As an anthro student, I learned how to become curious, question my own assumptions, and to think.
Jacob Doherty ’07 — Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D. in Anthropology, Stanford University)
Since I graduated from Mary Washington in 2006 I haven’t been in any one place for more than a couple of years; it’s been an incredibly stimulating, hectic, challenging and rewarding time. I’m currently working on a PhD in anthropology at Stanford University; my research deals with the politics of garbage and cleanliness in urban Africa. Specifically, I’m looking at emerging forms of environmentalism and consumerism that are taking shape in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, in order to examine how ideas about urban belonging and the material, social, and economic processes of disposal mutually shape one another. This project continues some of the lines of inquiry I first encountered in my fieldwork for my honor’s thesis at UMW where I explored urban African ways of consuming soccer to better understand the cultural politics of globalization, scale, and identity. I recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to fund a year of ethnographic research for my dissertation; if all goes according to plan I’ll begin in September 2012.
Between Mary Washington and Stanford I lived in New York City where I studied for an MA in social anthropology at the New School for Social Research. This involved two years of extremely intensive coursework that built on, transformed, and deepened the understanding of anthropology I’d learned at UMW. My undergraduate work gave me a great foundation from which I was able to develop new ideas, connect the history of anthropology to contemporary debates, and begin to forge a research project that connects the discipline to the interdisciplinary fields of urban studies and environmental studies. I applied for grad school the fall after I graduated and spent the year in between in South America. I took intensive Spanish classes in Ecuador for two months, then traveled overland through Peru and Bolivia to Chile, where I spent six months interning for the national office of Amnesty International. Once I complete my dissertation I plan to continue doing research and hope to find a position teaching anthropology at the university level.
Update January 2023: Jacob is now a lecturer in the Anthropology of Development at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Susannah Jackson ’07 — Peace Corps
As of September 13th, I will be living in Africa for 2 years and 3 months, as a Peace Corps volunteer, doing agroforestry extension. This all sounds quite fancy, until someone explains that it means living in a rural village without running water or electricity, hauling all water (which can’t be used until after treatment) from a village well, and planting fruit trees with farmers.
Then it sounds a whole lot less fancy, and a whole lot more interesting. The trick (apparently) is integrating as fully into the community as possible –– once you are part of your village, rather than an outsider, you are protected and supported, rather than just an oddity. I certainly am glad I chose Anthropology as a major –– it will not be an easy transition in Africa, but my educational background will go a long way toward making my transition easier than it might be otherwise.
Christy Leckburg ’07 — Case Manager at Boat People SOS
I’m now living in Arlington and working in Falls Church at an organization called Boat People SOS. I’m a Case Manager there and I basically help survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence apply for and receive all the public benefits they are eligible for until they are completely independent. Sounds like a lot but really I’m a social worker without the degree. I’m happy here, but honestly I can’t wait to go back to school!
Bryce Davenport ’07 — Geographer , U.S. Census Bureau; M.A. in Anthropology, Brandeis University
When I graduated in 2006, I felt a little lost. I spent about 6 months teaching English in Taiwan and sounding out possibilities in Chinese archaeology, mostly because I wasn’t ready to commit myself to further schooling without becoming a bit more worldly.
Because of health-related concerns, I returned to the United States in March of 2007; I am now living in Fairfax, Virginia, teaching standardized test prep courses and getting myself ready for graduate school in Mesoamerican Archaeology. My biggest stumbling block out of the gate was uncertainty, and now that I’m preparing to go back to school I am very glad I took time off to travel and make sure my academic interest was sincere.