Read this interesting account from a social scientist—does it pique your interest?
Ann Gardner—Social Anthropologist
Ann Gardner is a social anthropologist who has done extensive fieldwork in the Middle East, especially working with Bedouin women in the Sinai Desert. She earned her B.A. in anthropology from Friends World College (Jerusalem Center) and studied Arabic for two years at the American University in Cairo. She received both her M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.
All of her education, and over six years of living in the Middle East, resulted in a doctoral dissertation titled “Women and Changing Relations in a South Sinai Bedouin Community.”
Getting Started. Ann believes that she has always been interested in other places and even named a childhood toy “Journey”
because she planned to bring it on all of her travels. She thinks that the inspiration came from the nightly bedtime stories her mother read to her, combined with her own natural interests.
She took some anthropology courses in high school and majored in anthropology in college. Since she attended a college
with centers around the world that stressed cross-cultural experience, she had far more field experience than most graduate students.
Ann explains that most large university anthropology graduate departments offer programs in social-cultural anthropology, economic anthropology, physical anthropology, linguistics, folklore, archaeology, museum studies, and, sometimes, development anthropology. Some of these specializations overlap to certain degrees, and the professors have expertise in various geographical regions. Students may also take classes from other departments.
She recommends choosing your area of specialization before entering graduate school to study anthropology. As a graduate student, you will be required to take core classes covering the various specializations, but generally the more undergraduate courses you’ve completed in your area of interest, the better your chances are of getting into graduate school. Most students also already know which world regions they are interested in, too.
Based on her own education experience,Ann says that you need to have, or quickly learn, many skills to be a successful anthropology graduate student. You should be able to perform very well academically, which usually means not taking incompletes and not getting more than one B. In her own studies, students were expected to read around five hundred pages a week, per class. Most full-time graduate students took three courses a semester, while some took four.
You need to be able to write theoretically for an academic audience and also still be able to write well for the general public, and grant-writing skills are a must for gaining the support needed to conduct research. If you are working as a teaching assistant, you’ll likely need course-development and teaching skills. In this capacity, you’ll also need rapid grading skills, because you will often have several hundred exams and essays to read at once, usually at the same time that your own papers and exams are due. You need to be able to do research, which, for anthropologists, often includes living in another culture while doing cross-cultural fieldwork.
Anthropology is a diversified field, which has the potential to grow with your evolving interests. As an undergraduate social anthropology student researching Sinai Bedouin women, Ann’s initial attraction to the field was her interest in other cultures and in promoting international understanding.Over the years, she saw the Bedouins become increasingly marginalized by development, and she became interested in that subfield as well, since anthropologists are in a good position to help voice the concerns of people and help access the possibilities for change.
Advice from a Professional. If you are interested in majoring in anthropology as an undergraduate, Ann strongly recommends that you attend a good college that offers anthropology, rather than a large university where you will likely get little personal attention.
If you are interested in working in anthropology, you will need to go on to graduate school. Ann explains that graduate training in anthropology is an enormous commitment, in terms of both time and money. Ten years is about the average for getting an M.A. and Ph.D., and you must also face the financial reality of undertaking graduate school.
Ann was fortunate to have been offered teaching assistantships from her first semester, and she also received numerous grants as well as the support of her parents. This doesn’t always happen, however, and many students must work outside of the school and must repay student loans after graduation.
She also stresses the importance of taking fellowship and grant writing classes early on, since most anthropologists need this vital skill to do funded field research and writing. Ann has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Anthropological Society, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Research and Exploration Committee of the National Geographic Society.
Ann suggests that you choose your graduate school, subspecialization, and potential graduate advisor very carefully. The main focus in your graduate program will be academics, unless you select an applied program or have previous in-depth field experience to draw on. Many programs focus on training students in postmodern theory and teaching. Some also offer museum and folklore studies and may include training for museum positions, which you may be able to get with an M.A.
She reinforces that the competition is very steep for teaching positions and that you will need a Ph.D. for a professorship or even a lecturer position. In light of this, she suggests that you may be more marketable if you can teach in more than one discipline. For example, an anthropologist might get a job as a women’s studies or religious studies professor. It isn’t uncommon to find hundreds of applicants for an open position, even for one with a low starting salary. Some Ph.D.s take jobs as teachers in private high schools, which can be easier to secure and may pay more.
If your interest is in applied anthropology and you want a fulltime job at a development, government, or nongovernment
agency, you should also take management courses and secure intern positions with an agency. Although a Ph.D. is best, some positions can be obtained with an M.A.
Other applied anthropologists do contract research.While this can be unreliable, it is becoming more common for development agencies, for example, to want the input of anthropologists. Ann focused on development as one of her specializations, and, even before she’d completed her Ph.D., was offered the possibility of working on a three-year Bedouin-related development project. Her first priority at the time, however, was to rewrite her dissertation into a book for popular press publication. Most people publish their dissertations with an academic press, but Ann wanted to reach a wide audience, including students, academics, development personnel, and the general public.
As a practicing anthropologist,Ann is continuing her interest in writing and field research. She receives income from professional writing, grants, and consulting contract work for development agencies, research organizations, and similar organizations. She also may teach at some point, although she is not interested in being a full-time professor.