Tuesday 19 August 2014

Anthropology... what kind of job will you get with that?

Hands up if you have ever told someone what you are studying and have been hit with the response..."Anthropology... what kind of job will you get with that?"

I can't even count the amount of times I've been asked that.. my friends Dad once told me I would be better off busking on Cuba Street than trying to get a career with an anthropology degree (if he ever heard me sing he would take that comment back immediately).

Anthropology is #1 on the Forbes 'Most Useless College Majors' list, it's #5 on Complex.com's list of 'Most Worthless College Degrees', it's listed at #3 on Yahoo's 'Don't bother Earning these Five Degrees' list and Prince Charles made the '10 Celebrities who got Shit Degrees' list for his anthropology degree. So yeah. We are reminded all the time of how 'useless' our degree is.

Whether you are choosing courses for your first year of study, you're in your third year of your Anth major or you're halfway through your Master's degree, you've probably started to ask yourself "What job can I get?" Many people who study anthropology go on to pursue postgraduate degrees and eventually their PhD's, working as academics - teaching in Universities and conducting their own research. But if that route isn't for you.. there are endless possibilities for job opportunities with an Anthropology degree.

Because the anthsisters know just how frickin' awesome an anthropology degree is, we have decided to contact our fellow anthropology degree holders who are out in the workforce to explain what they do, why an anthropology degree is rad, and to give you an answer to that question you are asked all the time.

So before you start freaking out thinking you have chosen (or are about to choose) the most 'worthless' degree.. start by reading about our first anthropologist in the workplace, Caitlin.

Caitlin has a BA in Anthropology and Geography and a BA (hons) in Anthropology. She studied at the University of Canterbury for her undergraduate degree and did her Honours year at Victoria University of Wellington last year with the anthsisters and a number of other amazing people. Caitlin talks to Tayla about why she decided to study Anthropology and how it's been valuable for her in her new job.

What made you decide to study Anthropology? 
I really enjoyed cultural and human geography at secondary school, and liked the sound of Anthropology as it was like Geo without the more physical environment focus that I didn’t enjoy so much.

Was studying Anthropology what you expected it to be?
Better! I hadn’t actually heard of it before I read the University subject catalogue when I was deciding what to major in, so I really didn’t know a lot about it. I knew it would be interesting but didn’t expect to enjoy it so much.

What are some of the most valuable skills that your Anthropology degree has given you?
1. To appreciate human diversity – I think this is the most valuable skill that I draw on every day. I have a lot of cultural knowledge and understanding that I would never have if I hadn’t studied Anthropology. I think I am very good at recognising that my own beliefs/ values/ opinions are no more accurate or justifiable than those somebody else may have –and that’s what makes the world so interesting!

2. Critical thinking – Even though I am not an overly opinionated person, anthropology has really encouraged me to think for myself, rather than conforming to a certain idea or opinion simply because I have read something or because it’s shared by those close to me.  

3. To write! This was crucial to my degree and writing essays etc became second nature to me by the end.

4. Research – Definitely one of the most valuable skills that I use in my job now. Anthropology gives you a lot of freedom with essay and project topics, and encourages you to choose something that is unique and hasn’t been looked into before. This means that often you had to start from scratch and spend days gathering information before you can even make a start.    

5. Communication –When I first begun Uni I would lose a lot of sleep about upcoming presentations and speeches but by the end of my studies I rarely even gave them a second thought.

Describe your current job
I am a Graduate Advisor in the Government, Executive and Ministerials group at the Ministry of Education. We are responsible for drafting ministerial speeches and responses to letters sent to the Ministry or the relevant Ministers.

How does Anthropology fit into your job?
I draw on my Anthropology training every day. A huge part of my job is writing, so I am constantly using this skill. A lot of the time I need to write a speech or response in a very short time frame (often a matter of hours) on a topic I know very little about, so that’s when my research skills really become useful. In addition, because Māori and Pasifika educational outcomes are big focus of the Ministry right now I use my cultural knowledge a lot. My Honours research project actually looked into how Mātauranga Māori is incorporated into NZ public policy so this is extremely relevant to what I do. There’s a lot going on at the Ministry at the moment around Māori-medium education and raising the achievement of Māori learners, so I really enjoy working on projects associated with this and feel confident doing so.  

What makes you different from other people in your area of work?
There are people from a big range of backgrounds in my team so everybody has their own strengths. I am often given assignments with a cultural topic because of my background. In addition, I am often given urgent assignments because I can work under pressure without freaking out! Another skill I definitely gained from my degree that I haven’t mentioned.

Other comments?
I think lots of people believe that just because most job titles don’t have the word anthropologist in them (outside of an academic career)  that people aren’t hiring us. But this was definitely not my experience. I am often asked what my job has to do with my degree but the answer is A LOT! And I also know that as I become clearer about what exactly it is I want to do in the Public Sector, I will draw more and more on the cultural knowledge and understanding I developed through my degree. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. l am currently finishing my master's in Anthropology in the States. I will admit--the demand in my writing has increased exponentially in just two years. However, I couldn't relate to the early theorist in my discipline because they were all WHITE PPL that reeked off colonial gaze in their narratives.

    1. Hi, sorry just saw this comment. Yea so true! I think that many modern anthropologists also still employ the colonial gaze in varying degrees.

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