One of the questions we asked in our survey of post-adjuncting anthropologists who are now gainfully employed was ‘what steps did you take to make yourself a desirable job candidate?’ Overwhelmingly, respondents identified publishing as the key thing they did in order to land a tenure track job. Among other common responses were networking (especially in the form of attending more than one conference each year), and being willing to move to an ‘undesirable’ location (which is pretty subjective). For those who ended up being employed in a non-academic job, acquiring new skills was the most important thing respondents identified. And this was the case for some who landed in academic jobs as well – which isn’t something that we often talk about, but, it seems, many people do.
One of the responses I found most interesting was this one (which I’m excerpting a bit):
I’m currently TT in a Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology–but I was hired via the Criminology portion. My ethnographic research was on police, and I was hired as part of a search for someone whose research focused on policing. I don’t know what steps I can say I took to make myself desirable–I feel pretty lucky. I didn’t have any real background in Crim, but my application caught the eye of the search committee just enough for them to imagine the creative possibilities of hiring an anthropologist to teach their policing classes.
Anthropologists are in a potentially beneficial position in the contemporary university in that they have the ability to cross disciplinary divides in relatively natural ways by studying people that are of interest to other disciplines. I know of a couple anthropologists who have been hired in Criminology departments, who work in North America and conducted fieldwork with police. There are a limited number of anthropologists who can find jobs in Criminology departments, but similar experiences were voiced by respondents who sought out training in epidemiology to be hired into Public Health and GIS to be hired into Geography. Sometimes – it seems – just a little more specialization in one’s skill set is enough to set applicants apart from the masses.
I often tell undergraduates who ask me about pursuing a Ph.D. in Anthropology to start by getting an M.A. in a more applied field – public health, social work, public policy, journalism, etc. My reasoning is in part based of the utility of the skills taught in those programs; but, more importantly, in the long run it can make people more desirable job candidates since they are clearly able to do more than just teach anthropology. I’m also pretty convinced that no one wants to go back for an M.A. after they get a Ph.D., so it’s better to get it out of the way first. It can also mean a job while conducting fieldwork or while writing up – which might be better than adjuncting. In any case, having skills outside of anthropology seems to help people on the job market – and it gives you something to fall back on if an academic job doesn’t come your way, as reported by some of our respondents.
Anthropologists are also regularly housed in (as above) Sociology and Criminology departments, and less regularly in History, and taking coursework in those areas might benefit job seekers after graduation. In my own case, I took courses with sociologists and that familiarized me with the way they conducted their research and the expectations they have of ethnographic work. It didn’t make me particularly interested in doing quantitative work myself, but hearing sociologists talk about numbers made me much more aware of disciplinary differences, and also taught me to be ecumenical about social science research. Being able to talk sociology might get Sociology departments more interested in an anthropologist for a given position, since most people appreciate colleagues who demonstrate the ability to talk shop – even if they have deep ontological differences.
At UC Santa Cruz, we allow students to receive Designated Emphases in disciplines other than those they are seeking a Ph.D. in; it usually means taking four to five classes, and shows up on transcripts as an official emphasis. If you’re starting or in a Ph.D. program, it’s worth looking at what your university offers that might be similar. And even if you don’t seek out an official emphasis, taking courses in sociology is especially useful, since there are many anthropology jobs in sociology departments for anthropologists (both as ethnographic researchers, but also as anthropologists). If your institution doesn’t support cross-disciplinary coursework, just reading recent work in sociology might help.
In any case, stretching beyond anthropology proper seems to be a technique worth considering, especially during graduate training. For those on the job market, it might also be worth thinking about how to acquire new skills – which might require more coursework, but might also be possible by developing a research partnership with colleagues in other fields. Because anthropology takes the epistemologies of others so seriously, we might be especially able to work in other contexts and alongside other specialists.