Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Journey through the World of Anthropology

Usually I reserve my blog for educating the masses on anthropological topics that are interesting to me, topical, important or pulled from my studies in college. Today I’m going to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about myself and where my anthropology degree has lead me to at the present moment and will lead me (hopefully) in the future.

It is first important to note that I actually did not start out as anthropology major in college (shocking I know!) but rather a forensic science major. Of course I was focused mainly on forensic anthropology, specifically the human skeleton and decomposition but heavy on the science side. Things changed drastically when I took my first cultural anthropology class. I fell completely in love with anthropology (archeology, cultural and biological aspects) and more specifically with other cultures and other culture’s objects.

I started to drift farther away from the biological side (though of course still took classes on it) and studied heavily on the archaeological side especially when it came the archaeology of cultural beliefs. Along the way I took Human Evolution classes, forensic archaeology classes, GIS classes, Primitive Warfare classes, Landscape archaeology classes, mythology classes, Russian, Mesopotamian, and Native American history classes and so on. In the process realized that I didn’t have to limit myself to one specific area of anthropology in my undergrad and strove to learn all I could about every aspect of anthropology. It’s true my focus was mainly on archaeology, specifically that of the Near East and North American Indians, but I expanded it to many other aspect.

Then came the defining moment in my anthropological studies: working at the anthropology museum. Not only did I get to handle all the amazing hominid casts, human bones, animal bones and artifacts galore but I even designed a specific exhibit as well as a whole museum section. Of course what was the subject I was given to design? Why biological anthropology of course (specifically Human Evolution for the exhibit I created)! It seemed that my undergrad came full circle and I realized a career I could take all my knowledge of anthropology and apply it to: Museum Curator/Exhibit Designer.

That was my plan for quite awhile and I had very lofty aspirations. I wanted to work for the Smithsonian, something that as a child I had always dreamed of doing, but never knew the right route to take to make it there. I spent my last semester and time after I graduated applying to every possible position in the Smithsonian that I was qualified for as well as many other Federal government museums (mostly park service). I made it to the second round for a few and even got an interview at the Smithsonian itself! I made contact after contact, but they all had the pretty much the same news to tell me. It was either “I was qualified, but someone they hired was more qualified (i.e. had a Masters degree)” or “We’re under cutbacks due to the economic downturn.” Frustration is putting it very mildly on how I felt.

Then something quite wonderful happened. I went in for an interview at Laurel History Museum and they loved me and wanted me to work in their collections department right away! The catch: it was volunteer work. But hey, it was work and it was a museum so I jumped at the chance. I quickly progressed and joined both the collections and the exhibit committees which was great but just one little snag: I wasn’t making ANY money. Still keeping the dream of the Smithsonian and other big museums alive I continued to apply but got the same results. In the meantime I wanted to keep my knowledge of anthropology fresh, while being able to combine my two passions of writing and anthropology together. Thus Bones, Buried Treasures and Beliefs was born. Once again though, it was something that I loved, but something that I made zilch off of.

Finally, I began to face the reality that I wasn’t going to get something in my field that paid right out of college. I began looked for office jobs, or what a lot of people in my field consider “selling out.” Then a new host of problems I ran into became possibly even more frustrating: I was almost too qualified for most of these jobs. Once again I guess the gods were watching out for me because something amazing happened: I found a job. This wasn’t just a normal office job either; this was a job working for a government contracting firm that has contracts with half of the federal government agencies I dreamed about working with when I was starting out in the anthropology major. Even more exciting though was when I found out that they were getting into the field of GIS. This was how I knew I was in the right place.

The GIS class I took in my undergrad was perhaps my favorite class. The ability to take maps and convert them into these databases and 3D image models was amazing to me. It combined my love for technology and my love for archaeology. Not only that but it lead me to create my proposal for the geospatial relationship of Hoodoo artifacts at Mid-Atlantic sites (which I will hopefully get to present at next year’s Mid-Atlantic Archeology Convention). I fell in love, but it fell by the wayside with my new love for museum studies. Since being at this firm though, my love for it has reawakened and even inspired me to apply to the GIS Masters Program at the University of Maryland.

So the point is no matter what area of anthropology you’re interested in you’ll get to where you need to be. You could be like me and want to study everything you can possible get your hands on. Now many people wonder why I spent so much time studying anthropology and continuing to study anthrolopology when I have an “office job” and am getting more into the technical aspect of things. I answer them with five words: I love anthropology, always will. I would never want to settle studying something that I wasn’t interested in, in order to get that “perfect, high pay” job right out of college that everyone strives for. All my action and decisions were obviously done for a reason.

Right now I have the best of all three of my worlds. I work at a steady job, getting to work with government contracts, while working to pay for my Master’s degree, I volunteer at a museum that I’m in love with and I get to continue to write my heart out (and hopefully very soon will get my first novel published). This is where I’m supposed to be right now, I know that now. If you had told me four years ago when I started college what I’d be doing now, I probably wouldn’t have believed you but now I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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