Monday 31 August 2015

Anthropology... What kind of job will you get with that? - Chats with Sam

Last week at Victoria University, we had 'Study at Vic Day' - an open day for prospective students. I spent some time on the Cultural Anthropology stand, talking to potential students who were interested in studying Anthropology... aside from many people having no idea what it was, I was asked the same question from every person

So... what kind of job can you get with that?

Classic. Luckily, anthsisters have another installment of 'Anthropology... what kind of job will you get with that?' To answer that question.. and to prove that anthropology can land you an awesome job, I talked to Sam, who finished his honours year in anthropology at Vic Uni last year. Enjoy!

- Tayla

Sam is currently living in London and working in the digital marketing world. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology and Music and a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Cultural Anthropology. His passions and interests are art, literature, music, film, television, music video gaming and people. 

Tell us a bit about how you got into anthropology? Why you love it / hate it?
When I was 14, my father had returned from a TED conference in California ... he brought back a series of DVDs of the talks and one of the talks he showed me was of Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist based out of British Colombia and a National Geographic 'explorer in residence'. Having grown up in a very visual family of artists and advertisers, I was exposed to a plethora of visual mediums including photography, art, film, television shows, documentaries, music videos and magazines. 

I was utterly captivated by the photos he had taken, the stories he told of people living with different attitudes, lifestyles and beliefs as me blew my mind. After watching the video I said

"What does he do and how do I do that?"

Thus, I was introduced to the world of Anthropology. I began to find general books on Anthropology to determine what this world was. The more I read, the more I felt the subject calling me. Having studied mainly social sciences throughout high school, it seemed the right path after talking to career advisers and family. 

I love the manner in which Anthropology has forced me to question not only the people who share this world with me, but myself. The influences, beliefs, actions and attitudes I perform are shaped by social and cultural forces around me. It has made me become intrinsically interested in people's backgrounds and stories and has made me embrace the diversity of human nature and to never stop asking why. 

What do you currently do?
I am a Experience Strategy contractor working for a digital advertising agency called Sapient Nitro.
Our aim as an agency is to break boundaries where creative and technology meet, whilst embracing the power of storytelling to bring tailor made, informative and relevant content, campaigns and work to the intended audience. I belong to a team of 12 people responsible for planning the strategic actions a client regarding their presence on digital interfaces. These include websites, mobile phone applications, technology and social media content to name a select few. 

Having only been there since 1st June, I have been exposed to and had the privilege to work for clients such as BT, HCA London, Nexxus, Diageo and British Airways. My job involves diving deep into the minds of the intended audience, which requires utilising qualitative and quantitative research methods, to provide concise, data driven and story based insights that will propel our campaigns and strategies forward. 

Can you tell us a bit about what you have been passionate about in anthropology? – Your research areas?

1) Technology
I am interest in the relationships people create, maintain and develop with technology and how it impacts their lives. My focus within my honours has been around communication technology, specifically the utilisation of mobile phones with teenagers in their construction of friendship and how they converge time and space. Throughout my time at Victoria, I was able to write about themes of virtual ethnography, transhumanism, anonymity, representation and cultural appropriation within the realms of online and offline realities. 

2) Music
By studying ethnomusicology in by Bachelors degree, I was able to channel my  forever burning passion of music with the theoretical backgrounds of anthropology to explore some incredible subjects. These included gender representations within K-Pop (pre Gangam Style), reflexivity of my experiences in teaching and performing Haka, assessing the cultural appropriateness of Paul Simons Graceland album and conducting ethnographic observations of learning Javanese Gamelan. 
We explored themes of cultural representation, hybridity, copyright, reflexivity and subjectivity to keep the list short. 

How does anthropology fit into your job?
To my surprise, Anthropology is a long credited buzzword within the marketing realm. Agencies of all kind are pushing their work to become more customer-centric where understanding how the intended audience will react to this piece of adversing, a product or service. By leveraging ethnographic research methods and holistic mindsets, large technology companies such as Apple, IBM and Google are hiring anthropologists to assess the company culture, provide consultancy services or through deep dive research methods. I have been given the opportunity to give talks to my internal team about the practices and attitudes anthropology can give to the digital marketing world. One of the talks I discussed the use of cultural relativism, reflexivity and thick description in relation to a piece of work I created for a client. 

What was your favorite part of doing undergrad and post grad as an anth student?
Not to sound meta, but the main highlight for me was to meet some extremely memorable people from not only around NZ, but from around the world coming together to study this subject. The variety of cultures we would study from week to week was astounding to me. I loved the stories that lecturers would share from their personal ethnographic endeavours captivated me and made me want to learn even more. The further you go down the academic train, the numbers grow smaller each year. This was fantastic in getting to know both staff and students more intimately, again finding out their back stories and what they bring to the table. 

The level of support you receive from staff at all levels is reassuring, especially when it comes to Honours level. All those reading who have gone through the same will be able to relate in regards to stress...

Does anthropology affect the way you see the world around you? How?
110% Yes. 

I feel there three main things which anthropology has affected me: 

1) The ability to question myself in regards to what beliefs, biases, stigmas, and experiences I bring to the table. In any aspect of my life. 

2) The ability to embrace peoples differences and to accept people for who they are. 

3) The ability and tools to be curious about why people do that they do in the most ethical manner possible. 

What makes you different from other people in your area of work?
Being one of the very few entering the building with an anthropological background, people turn often ask me how would an anthropologist  approach this problem or situation. Not only for research methodology, but for ways to use reflexivity within out team and cultural relativism to place ourselves in our intended audiences shoes. 

What would you say to people who were wanting to study Anthropology? Any advice?
There are three little things I would say about entering work with an anthropology background:

1) Leverage an appropriate mindset
If you think about it in a broad sense, any area of work that involves understanding people can require an anthropologist. The problem is people not fully grasping and understanding how they will go about that. Find a way to prove to others your unique set of skills and mindsets, all of which will make a tangible difference in peoples lives. 

2) Be a sponge
Never lose the curiosity that a baby has in regards to learning. Be willing to read a new book, listen to new music or strike up a conversation with a work colleague. Use all of it to sharpen your sword and your craft of understanding people. 

3) Do not undervalue to skills and attitudes you learn within anthropology. 
This is one of the biggest things I hear from people. Going through higher education can lead people to forget the tangible skills that you learn. The ability to do independent research, skim read, create powerpoint presentations, deliver a speech, work in a small group and everything in between is of paramount importance to promoting yourself out in the real world.

Thanks for your insight Sam! We are so happy to hear everything is going awesome for you over in the UK! Keep repping Anth!


  1. Thank you for your share this information about Anthropology. anthsisters have another installment of 'Anthropology... what kind of job will you get with that? That is the most important question. Thank you Sam to answers such type questions.

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  3. Hi! I have a quick question for Sam (and anyone else who might have an answer). How do you recommend finding such roles - because they typically aren't listed as "anthropologist". I currently work at a health care start-up incubator, and have been fortunate to use my anth research skills in my work thus far, but I am super confused about which graduate degree to pursue -- there are so many options; Anthropology MA/PhD, MPP or MPH, MBA for a more private sector take, and/or human centered design masters. Any advice here, Sam?

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