Neither Here Nor There

Anthropologists who aren’t faculty members struggle with identity.
December 1, 2005

One psychology faculty member with a Ph.D. in anthropology said his department wouldn’t let him include "anthropologist" on his business card.

A librarian with an anthropology Ph.D. was told to do research, and then had to file a grievance to get promoted because administrators wanted her to do research “in her field.” They since made doing research in one’s primary field a requirement. 

When Angela R. Linse, trained in anthropology, and now director of the Teaching and Learning Center at Temple University, tells anthropology faculty members that she is not a professor in the field, they tend to ask, “Oh, how are you?” with concern, she said. Linse noted that, while a faculty career at a research institution may seem like the only future for an anthropology graduate student, more than half of them, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, do not end up as such, and yet are largely unprepared for alternate careers. “I’m fine,” Linse said she answers those who ask. “I make more money than you.” 

But some of the people at a session called “The Anthropologist Across Campus” at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in Washington Wednesday were not so sanguine. They spoke of the identity crisis, and isolation from other anthropologists -- no anthropology faculty members showed up for the session -- that comes with being a trained anthropologist who did not follow the only path that advisers pointed them down. 

Like several others, Robin B. Devin, a health sciences librarian at the University of Rhode Island, identified herself as an “expatriate anthropologist.” In her job as librarian, Devin is a faculty member, and was delighted to use her training to fulfill her research duties doing field work in Haiti.
She said her graduate work in anthropology helps her determine what library resources anthropology faculty members need, and suggest interdisciplinary opportunities to them.

But administrators were not happy with her research. Shortly after she finished, a rule was instituted that limited librarians’ research to the “library profession,” she said. Devin said she has much less contact with anthropologists than she would like, and yet can’t discuss parts of her anthropology interests with her own colleagues. Like a good anthropologist, she analyzed her feeling of isolation. “As passionate as you may  be, if your daily experience is played out in foreign territory, that identity slips away,” she said.

All of the session participants were proud of their careers, and, rather than wishing to be anthropology faculty members, they wished that anthropology departments would recognize their usefulness as professionals trained in anthropology, and use them to counsel graduate students on careers beyond the research institution faculty. 

Linse noted that, according to the National Doctoral Program Survey, over half of all anthropology Ph.D. students reported that they never got effective guidance for careers outside of academe. “Go to the parties and declare yourself an anthropologist,” she told the audience of about a dozen, urging them to make contact with graduate students socially so that relationships might develop. “Talk about your deliberate career choice.” 

Several of the speakers focused on ways for non-faculty anthropologists to convince themselves and anthropology faculty members that they are the real thing. Some advised offering to teach on a per course basis, though they acknowledged that the hours are not worth the money.

Others said publishing helps. Riall W. Nolan, who was trained in anthropology and is dean of international programs at Purdue University, couldn’t care less what anthropology faculty members think of him. But he does wish that anthropology departments would reach out to people like him to talk to students about non-faculty careers.

Still, there are certain perks to being an anthropologist in “foreign territory,” as some called it. Monika Bolino, an anthropology Ph.D. and coordinator of professional development at Brown University Medical School, likened her interactions with administrators, students and doctors to field work. She even finds that, though the physicians sometimes pay her no mind, name-dropping “anthropologist” can be useful.

“Being an anthropologist makes one a sanctioned gossip,” she said, adding that the flow of information she got helped her aid a new dean in figuring out what faculty members needed.

James B. Waldram, a psychology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, characterized the existence that the speakers described as “a lonely one,” void of the water-cooler chatter that department-bound anthropologists take advantage of. He said that “anthropologists across campus” might be the ones to break down some of the “departmental silos.” For Waldram's part, though, some things aren’t worth crossing the aisle. As far as the anthropology parties Linse mentioned, “I actually avoid them, myself,” he said.


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


+ -

Expand commentsHide comments  —   Join the conversation!

Today’s News from Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Quick Takes

Back to Top