Good questions, Christopher. Someone once told me that marriage is like flies on a window: all those on the inside are trying to get out and those on the outside to get in. So the answers you get will depend on where people are in their career. I would say it was a poor time to launch an academic career in anthropology, but ways of teaching and using anthropology outside the universities are opening up. Are you looking for a structure to adapt to or to equip yourself with the means of making a good life for yourself? Having made my academic career already, I tend to celebrate the latter possibility which I think is only beginning. In any case, an academic career hinges on a PhD which is a hard and lonely path carrying no guarantee of a job at the end of it. So you had better enter it because you love it for its own sake, to research and write at length about a topic you really care about. The great thing about anthropology is that you can do anything you like and call it anthropology. As for entering the profession in middle age, I am all in favour of starting again, having had 4 or 5 lives myself. But it is likely that you will be anxious to get quick results and that may push you in the wrong direction, towards bureaucratic conformity and away from discovering what anthropology has to offer to the free thinker.
Thank you for your reply, Mr. Hart. My interests are in applied anthropology, not academia. Specifically, I'm interested in anthropology as a foundation for a second career as a journalist. I'm definitely not looking at Anthropology as a path for self-improvement except as it pertains to gaining meaningful employment.
Many schools of management and/or business studies have a strong interest in ethnography as a method.
Mr. Wadle, Mr. Hart, Mr. McCreery
Q: Are you happy as an anthropologist?
A: Yes, but it's not the way I make my living.
Q: Is your job boring?
A: No. As a translator and copywriter, I learn a lot of interesting stuff and interact with interesting people.
Q: Do you travel as much as you hoped?
A: Yes. I live in Japan and have traveled a fair amount in Europe and East Asia. Just came back from a trip to Taiwan.
Q: Are you learning what you hoped to learn at the outset of your career?
A: I never imagined that I would live in Japan and work for over a decade for a Japanese advertising agency. There is always new stuff to learn, and anthropological training has made me pretty good at finding connections that other people haven't noticed. Very important that, if what you are trying to sell is understanding or creativity.
Q: What's a day like?
A: Varies. Just now business is slow, so I'm spending more time than I'd like piddling around. It's good to have time for my own research; but I miss the pressure and worry about the future.
Q: Do you make adequate money?
A: My first job in Japan, working for a small corporate communications company, paid twice what I was making as an assistant professor in the States. But that was the start of the 1980s, when Japan's economy was accelerating into the late 80s bubble. Things are not quite as good today; but unless it's a very bad year, the company my partner and I own and run will earn enough to support a comfortable life.
Q: What skills do you wish you had developed more as an undergrad?
A: I wish that I'd done some accounting and learned more in a practical way about statistical analysis. I feel like I'm playing catch up learning some of the basic languages of the modern economy and scientific method.
Q: Is the industry friendly to second career graduates, people starting out at middle age?
A: I couldn't say. Been doing the small business thing for nearly 13 years. My sense is that owning a small business with a network of happy customers now offers greater stability than any corporate gig where you'll always be worried about the pink slip. From what friends tell me, the advertising job market is really bad just now. A senior Japanese executive put it this way: "Think of the economy as a dog. Our business is a flea on the dog's tail. When the dog is happy, the tail goes way up. When the dog is unhappy, the tail goes way down." I'd say the critical question to ask about any potential employer is not a generic "Will they hire me?" but a pinpoint focused "What do they need?" and "How can I give it to them?"
For other, more useful advice, check out Seth Godin's blog.