Wisdom I Didn’t Have: Advice from Practicing and Applied Anthropologists for Students

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2014

Link to Podcast

David Colon Cabrera

Session Summary

27-30 people in attendance.

1. Introductions

1. Amanda Mason is a Senior Manager for Conservation & Education Philanthropy at the National Wildlife Federation. She held jobs at the Ocean Conservancy, and Vanguard Services Unlimited.

2. Mary Butler is a Senior Study Director at Westat. She has held jobs at Batelle and is currently an Adjunct Professor at The University of Maryland and University of North Texas.

3. Tim Benner is the Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics at Samsung Telecommunications America. He also held a previous position at SmartRevenue.

First, each panelist gave a short introduction about themselves, and talked about their work trajectories.

Dr. Tim Benner mentioned the importance of the idea of translating data into research. He mentioned how the usual adjunct professor way is too competitive. He first did consumer ethnographies for a boutique research team called Smartrevenue; he later started working in the technology field. In regards to the skills he mentioned how academia does a disservice to a lot of students, especially those departments that don’t have applied programs, and as such don’t teach the skills necessary for applied anthropology jobs. He mentioned how the most important thing in the job market is what you can take and translate your work into other opportunities. Anthropology can’t be limited to market research and working with the government. He emphasized the importance of anthropology’s broad set of skills that can be taken to different areas. One of the soft skills that is needed is the way students present themselves professionally, especially outside the academic environment.

Dr. Mary Butler talked about how the anthropology she came into, was different. She loves her job, even though she is retired. The academic experience was fun, but wasn’t for her because it wasn’t giving her what she needed to survive. After being denied tenure, she moved to Washington DC and struggled to find a job for a period of two years because she didn’t envision being anything else than a professor. Out of her dissertation work on microeconomics, she found a job which led to her later becoming project manager in which she designed and managed studies. While working with Batelle, she worked as program evaluator in public health research projects. Academia couldn’t have told her that there could be jobs that are not academic. She encouraged students to look their skills instead of a degree and to constantly network. You should be ready to tell your potential employer why you should work for them. Why they should want to employ you.

Ms. Amanda Mason attended the University of Maryland, College Park to get a terminal Master’s degree. While a student she took classes outside her department, especially in resource management. She mentioned that students need to communicate their skills effectively, as well as communicate what you can do. In non academic careers the anthropologist should be able to figure out what the employer needs. She emphasized how someone may start in a role that they don’t fit, but that that should be an opportunity to observe and look for needs that can be filled with your skills. You have to wait for the opportunity to come, because the political and economical conditions might not be there when you are looking for jobs. After leaving a heritage corridor community based research project in New York, she now works as a grant writer and training others on methods.

Following their introductions, there was a breakout session where the panelists met with the attendees in different groups to be able to be asked specific questions. After the breakout sessions, everyone came back and asked the audience if there were any more questions. Two questions came up:

1. What does IRB mean in the context of non-academic anthropology?

It depends on the research that you are doing. The research might have legal implications, what laws you might be breaking? It also meant to think about the ethical conundrums where you are doing interviews with people you work with (in the case of in-house research). This can be complex, and can have implications for job relationships.

2. How do you reconcile anthropology’s critical stance on capitalism and the work that they do?

1. Tim mentioned how it’s all about having a job and your own personal ethics. In the case of technology, it means to understand how much these companies know about you. But this might also mean how to make that impact more beneficial to humans and the end consumer. The job is to make innovations and changes that are beneficial to the consumer and the corporation. Sometimes people say that you sold out, but the value of working in this area that is so cutting edge and that has an impact on people’s lives. In the end, we all work for someone; the universities are corporations and some of them are for profit. Corporate social responsibility is all about what can you do more effective from the inside with a position of power.

2. Amanda mentioned how in environmental field is about selling out. The source of money funding your work is a big ethical issue for any NGO since it is really difficult to get clean money. You can take a stance and not take money from a particular source. But at the same time the BP settlement is funding all this work towards environmental issues. The big question is what is clean money?

3. Mary mentioned how we are part of complex society, and trying to understand all these ethical rules is really difficult. You have to have an understanding of what you’re doing and what you would not do. Sometimes it means quitting a job, but you can’t make hard and fast rules. In the end, everything can be made better.

Session Abstract

Students and recent graduates often wonder about intangible knowledge that they did not learn in their academic programs; knowledge that is often tied to “real-world” experience. Anthropology’s holistic perspective is in part due to its ethnographic roots. This model provides the base for a pedagogical exercise for this session. First, practicing and applied anthropologists share short stories about “what they should’ve known then…” in a roundtable discussion, Then, these experienced anthropologists lead small group discussions with students and recent graduates to allow more participation. Finally, panelists contribute to a student led concluding discussion about anthropology degrees and applied/practicing anthropology.