What now? A non-trad anthro student considers the options

As a non-traditional student, I often find myself re-planning my future. A new school year has begun, and for the first time in a long time, I am not registered for any courses.... so something is up, and I need to once again evaluate what my future holds in terms of anthropology.

I have completed all the anthropology coursework for my B.A., and only two Spanish courses stand between me and a relatively useless degree. I'm rapidly approaching 50 years of age, and after some frank discussions with people I trust, I believe it is time to abandon the original dream of getting that Ph.D. So what else is there?

There are a couple of directions I am considering, and I thought I would share them in case someone else in a similar situation might find inspiration, or just a new idea they hadn't considered.

1. Applied Masters In Anthropology

It seems there are a growing number of jobs available (compared to tenure-track positions, anyway), primarily in the private sector, for applied anthropologists. These programs can be completed in two years, or can often be stretched out if full-time coursework is not an option.

I'm interested in at least three areas that might be both exciting and marketable: Medical Anthropology, Border Issues/Migration, and Environmental/Sustainability.

There is a surprisingly large list of universities that now offer specific M.A. programs in Applied
Anthropology (in fact, there is a just such a list over at the Consortium of Applied Anthropology Programs).

Three schools of interest:

  • University of South Florida - USF has a very strong Anthropology department that is entirely focused on Applied Anthropology all the way up through their Ph.D. programs. They offer an M.A. in Cultural Anthro with a variety of applied sectors ranging from urban planning to public health.
  • Cal State - Long Beach - Who doesn't want to live in SoCal? CSULB has a smaller department (13 regular faculty), but they've had an Applied program since 1990. They offer three program options: communities/organizations, health, and education. Here's a link to their department homepage.
  • University of North Texas - UNT is the only university in the country to offer an M.A. in Applied Anthropology ENTIRELY ONLINE. This fully-accredited program offers the same coursework and faculty as their on-campus program, but you can do it all from wherever you live, and on your own schedule. This is an even smaller department, but is is completely dedicated to Applied Cultural Anthropology. You can specialize in Medical Anthropology, Business Anthropology, Migration and Border Studies, Anthro of Education, and Environmental/Ecological Anthropology.

2. Masters in Applied Archaeology

Okay, I have to admit that it was desire to be an archaeologist that led me to return to school in the first place. If it doesn't make sense to spend the next eight years finishing off a Ph.D. in archaeology only to not get a job, what else is there?

The answer is CRM. Cultural Resource Management opportunities have grown steadily over the last couple of decades, with dozens of private "contract archaeology" firms doing work in the Phoenix area alone. A number of universities offer Applied Archaeology M.S. and M.A. degrees that prepare the student for a career in contract archaeology and heritage management.

The SAA has joined the discussion about such programs, and in 2008 published a Recommended Model Curriculum for a Masters in Applied Archaeology.

My three favorite (for me, anyway):

  • University of Arizona - This "top 5" anthropology program has traditionally graduated only Ph.D.s, but they recently added a dedicated Applied Archaeology track that terminates with the M.A. This looks very promising! They even expect students in the program to take a little longer, since they are probably already working for local CRM firms. Here's a PDF describing the program in detail.
  • University of Hawai'i at Manoa - Near the beaches of Honolulu, UHM offers also offers an intersting-looking program in Applied Archaeology. The 30-hour program includes Heritage Management, Proposal Writing, and a lot of methods courses. Students have the opportunity to work on current CRM projects in Hawai'i undertaken by the university.
  • Northern Arizona University - NAU has been offering a Masters in Applied Archaeology for some time, It requires the most work (42 credit hours), and includes an internship. It prepares its students for "professional employment related to applied anthropology in archaeology."

So... which one will it be for me? I guess I'll be taking a little more time to figure that out.

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Comment by Francine Barone on September 14, 2010 at 1:32pm

Thanks for sharing this. Although as a mature student your situation is unique, it resembles that of many completing students of all ages: What next? Actually, I'm dealing with a similar conundrum nearing the completion of my PhD. There will be no further coursework (I'm not that masochistic), but the job market is varied, competitive and confusing. I spend quite a few years training to be an anthropologist, but now a recent surge in so-called digital media jobs has appeared outside of academia and it's tempting to jump ship to something more "applied" - albeit higher risk and probably temporary.

As for your own situation, an MA appears as a happy medium, especially in the US where it saves quite a few years off a PhD, yet lets you pursue your specialization and potentially opens more doors for work in the future. As an aside, 50 years old is no reason to abandon any hopes of a PhD. If you want more valid reasons, I can make you a list. :)


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