So You’ve Got a BA in Anthropology…

ImageEvery year, graduating seniors are struck with bouts of anxiety when it comes time to think about what to do after graduating. I’m never entirely sure how to address this anxiety — when I graduated with a BA in English Literature in 1998, I went to work as a substitute teacher for a year, first in Ohio then Michigan, which was fun but not ultimately what I wanted to do — but here’s what I tell most students:

1) Most importantly, stay busy. Many students take time off after graduating, but it’s pretty important, both psychologically and professionally, to stay active. It can be really tempting to grant yourself a short vacation upon graduating, but unless you have a job lined up, a short vacation can often become a long one as you go through the process of looking for a job when you return to being active. And it doesn’t have to be your career — a job at your local coffee shop will do nicely, as will some weekly volunteering — but it does need to be something to get you out of the house and provide you with a bit of structure. After 17 or more years of having a life governed by school, a little bit of structure can be a very important thing in fighting off malaise and anxiety.

2) Find a volunteering gig. Idealist.org is a pretty good place to look for both volunteer and intern positions by area; InterAction seems to favor international opportunities. Ronald Hicks maintains a good list of more general internship opportunities for anthropology majors, but it might mean sorting through websites or relocating for a position.Your alma mater probably has a career center of some sort that can help you both with volunteering and an eventual job, and your home department might be able to help with volunteer positions as well.

It might not seem too important to spend 4-10 hours each week volunteering or interning, but: most of the other people in any volunteering gig are usually volunteers themselves, and they have contacts. If they know you through your volunteering, they might be impressed enough to connect you with people who have jobs available or even offer you a job that they have. Or, a volunteer organization might sometimes offer you a job, if you’re a dedicated and thoughtful person and they have a job to offer. Volunteering is really playing the long game: it might not get you something in the first couple of months, but it might turn into something great over time.

3) Start looking for a career. There are many, many job websites on the internet, and I can’t really recommend one over the other. But know that there are plenty of employers that are interested in the kinds of work that anthropology BAs can do; UC Berkeley and the American Anthropological Association both have overviews of kinds of career paths anthropology graduates have followed after graduation. If none of that sounds appealing, there are many programs to teach English abroad, like JET — just google ‘teach english [place you want to live]’ and see what comes up. Some programs seem sketchier than others, so it’s worth sussing them out a bit, but they all seem to pay equally poorly in exchange for you spending a couple of years abroad. There are also opportunities like Teach for America and the Peace Corps. Teach for America gets you teaching in exchange for teaching credentials, whereas Peace Corps volunteers can be asked to do any number of things based on their skills in exchange for pay. Really, there’s no shortage of low-paid, idealistic work for Anthropology BAs to do… But these are the programs that I’ve known former students to have worked with, and they’ve generally benefited from their experiences.

Remember two things: your first job probably won’t be your last job, so don’t despair if you hate it — it’s experience and at the worst lets you know what you don’t want to do in the future. And, secondly, every job is a step towards a career. As you winnow out the things you don’t want to do, as you build professional contacts and skills, you’ll be moving towards being employable in better and (hopefully) better paid positions. This might mean you’re perpetually on the job market, but that’s okay — ultimately, this is about finding a career that you tolerate if not enjoy.

4) Consider a practical Master’s degree. If everything isn’t working out on the job front, take a look at Master’s programs that can help you land a better class of job — M.A.s like Public Policy, Public Health, Social Work, and Education. Many of these programs are 1-2 years long and will cost you a fair amount of money, so look locally and benefit from paying in-state tuition. (Often the degree granting institution doesn’t matter as much as the content of the education, which is usually pretty similar from one institution to another, since it’s a much more practically focused curriculum.) They may require letters of recommendation, but letters from faculty and employers can work; and, some employers will help to offset the cost of your education if you come back to work for them for a while. Or, if you want to go on to get a Ph.D., this can be a way to get fresh letters of recommendation and training that might help you be employed on the other side of your Ph.D.

5) Or you can pursue a Ph.D.

Life after university can be tough and existential crisis-provoking — I only made matters worse by spending my free time reading Borges and Burroughs at my local city park when I should have been reading something more uplifting. Staying busy is essential, as is thinking about the kind of future you want, and working towards it. Faculty aren’t always the best people to talk to about this kind of stuff — we all chose a Ph.D. over other opportunities, after all — but talking to faculty early and doing volunteer work or internships prior to graduation can definitely reduce stress levels after commencement…

Preparing a Teaching Statement

Sometimes academic job advertisements ask you to submit a teaching statement or ‘evidence of teaching effectiveness’ (or something along those lines). These are two different things, which I’ll discuss presently. But first, one caveat for this post: I’ve never served on a job search committee where these documents have been reviewed, so I really only know them as a job applicant. So my understanding of them might be slightly flawed, but I think I have the general contours down…

Job letters usually include a paragraph about your general teaching principles and what courses you foresee yourself teaching in the near future. Teaching statements are meant to be a little more philosophical in their content, and abstract from the generalities of a job letter summary. But therein lies their danger: I’ve seen (and written my own) a fair number of teaching statements that are too philosophical. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) write a paragraph about how you believe in the Socratic method and Paulo Freire. Rather, successful teaching statements are usually pragmatic: they show to your reader that you’ve actually spent time in the classroom, and have critical thoughts about how to capture the interest of students and can deal with common problems that arise. The statement should give your reader a clear sense of what your classrooms are actually like. Do you lecture a lot? Do you emphasize group work and collaboration or individual effort? Do you give students grading options, or is everyone expected to take multiple choice tests? The more time you spend teaching, the better your teaching statement will be, so it really helps to start teaching early — or to find ways to abstract from your experiences as a teaching assistant. If you’ve never done either, think critically about those classrooms that you’ve been in that have worked and those that haven’t; you might be able to put together a convincing sense of what your classroom would be like based on your prior experiences as a student.

In much the same way, syllabuses that have been taught versus syllabuses that are new proposals can be wildly different. For example, over the years, the Policy section of my syllabuses has expanded from one little paragraph on academic integrity to a page and a half of text about attendance, enrollment, contacting me, style preferences, etc. Some of this stuff you can only learn by teaching: five years into teaching, and I’ve added something to my classroom policies each year.

Which leads me to those requests for ‘evidence of teaching effectiveness’ or however it gets worded. These are usually much longer documents, and often include what you would put in a normal teaching statement, plus, as they say, some ‘evidence.’ This depends on you actually having taught, whether as a solo instructor or a teaching assistant. If you have evaluations, this is where you’ll summarize them, listing your overall ratings (usually just mentioning the highest brackets of evaluation, e.g. what percentage of students ranked you as excellent or very good?); it’s also helpful to include quotes from narrative evaluations of your teaching, highlighting both supportive and usefully critical comments. If you’ve taught the same class numerous times, one of the best things you can do is to show how you’ve improved over time — have your ratings gone up? have you changed the syllabus to address student concerns? But, ultimately, these kinds of documents should be tempered with some pragmatism. How much do you think a committee is interested in reading? A couple pages of teaching philosophy and evidence is probably enough; you might supplement it with a syllabus or two, especially if they’re well developed.

Just like everything in the application process, a sense of realism is important to embrace in these documents; you want to impress your reader with a sense of who you are and what your experiences have been. If you don’t get the chance to be a teaching assistant or to teach throughout your Ph.D. studies, try and teach at a local junior college; a little bit of experience teaching can make a huge difference in preparing these kinds of documents.