Why Anthropology?

What can you do with a degree in anthropology? What can't you do?  

Anthropology is an education in the world’s diverse cultures and in the global flows and exchanges that shape all of our lives. A major in anthropology provides excellent preparation for a variety of careers that require critical intercultural literacy and attention to social justice, ethics, and power, including education, journalism, law, media, medicine, development, social justice organizing, and graduate and professional studies.

Some of our alumni in the news

  • Read Melissa Rosario, Wes Anthropology ‘05, on founding the Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action (CEPA) in Puerto Rico, decolonizing research, and building alternative communities that rework legacies of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism in this Savage Minds essay.
  • Read why anthropologist Susannah Fox, Wes Anthropology ’92, was the right choice for Chief Technology Officer for the United States Department of Health and Human Services at Forbes, and how Wes Professor Doug Charles’s course helped her make carework visible.
  • Read Will Tyner, Wes Anthropology ’13, the 2015 Fellow at Code For America, talk about how his anthropology training gave him the skills of analysis, creativity, empathy and problem solving to help improve the lives of others in this Anthropologists in Practice interview
  • Read an interview with filmmaker Sara Dosa, Wes Anthropology ‘05, about the connections between ethnography and documentary filmmaking that led her to make The Last Season, about the world of matsutake mushroom hunting in CAAM and in Whole Terrain. Dosa recently produced Audrie & Daisy, a documentary exploring rape, trauma, power, and coming of age in the world of social media.

Our alumni have gone on to work as community organizers, doctors, professors, teachers, editors, public defenders, non-profit researchers, documentary filmmakers, oral historians, nurses, writers, social workers, and media makers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employment of anthropologists and archaeologists is expected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations" (US Department of Labor; see Careers in Anthropology). Whatever your future path, majoring in anthropology will give you skills critical for your future: the ability to listen carefully and work with diverse people and organizations, to navigate complex local and global dynamics, to think critically and question power and injustice, to tell meaningful stories about the world in which we live, to see things differently.

We asked our alumni what they have done with their anthropology degree. Here is what they said:

Quotes From Our Alumni

I think it might have been Akos Ostor's introduction to ethnographic film course in my freshman year, a study abroad program in my junior year, and a hands-on ethnographic methods course taught by Linc Keiser that kept me moored to the field of anthropology long after Wesleyan. During university, I did well, but I certainly wasn’t the greatest anthro student. I also had no aspirations to go to graduate school. Instead, right after I graduated in 1998, I was able to get a job at a tiny Japanese advertising and marketing company in NYC based on my skills in qualitative interviewing and then quit after 7 months. Advertising was not for me, perhaps because I spent too much time critiquing the advertisements in my head instead of actually working on them. I then moved on to one of the best jobs I ever had, working as a Program Assistant at the Social Science Research Council, helping to organize academic/policy workshops and conferences in South Asia and Southeast Asia. It involved a fair amount of international travel, where I met fantastic scholars and practitioners from all over the world who were committed to issues of social justice. That experience led me to think about graduate school in anthropology, and I ended up at CUNY Graduate Center, a department known for paying attention to pressing social issues and activism. After braving the job market (that’s another story), fast-forward to today, where I am an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Amsterdam. I truly love where I live and what I do – teaching, researching, and collaborating. Of course, this career trajectory involved doubts (there was a point in time where I was about to give up the PhD and take a job at a record shop), wondering how I could survive being an adjunct and studying at the same time, as well as a bit of luck. However, because I always learn something new every time I teach an anthro course or head into the field, it still feels fresh and relevant. 

- Tina Harris, 1998

Quotes From Our Alumni

After graduation, I took a year off, and then got my masters and Ph.D. at Kent State University in Biomedical sciences with a focus on Biological Anthropology. Given my exposure to evolutionary theory, hominid paleontology, and gross anatomy, I accepted a job in the Biology Department at Western New England University... I received tenure this year and am currently an associate professor.

- Burt Rosenman, 1995

Quotes From Our Alumni

I'm currently at NYU pursuing a Master's in Public Administration and a Master's in Jewish Studies. I am a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a group that does organizing in solidarity with low-income communities and communities of color. I work on the Shalom Bayit campaign in support of domestic workers. While an anthropology major at Wesleyan, many of my papers focused on issues in domestic work. Being in the anthropology major also inspired me to work within my own community to make change, and I hope to work in a Jewish community organization or a synagogue after graduate school.

- Lizzie Busch, 2010

Quotes From Our Alumni

I feel very lucky to be using anthropology in my career as a documentary filmmaker. Right after Wes, I worked at a documentary production company for a couple years. I missed anthropology, though, so I went back to get a Masters at the London School of Economics in Anthropology and International Development Studies. I was accepted into LSE's PhD program, and while I considered going, I ended up deciding to go back to filmmaking. Since then, I feel like I use my anthropology background everyday in the documentary projects I work on, from the film "Inequality for All," which is about the political economy of income inequality in the US (on which I worked as a producer), to a recent film I directed called "The Last Season," which was inspired by an anthropology lecture by Anna Tsing while I was in graduate school. I have found that the methodology of participant-observation lends itself extremely well to conducting research for documentary, especially as it emphasizes creating reciprocal, meaningful relationships with the people in the film, which ultimately yield better access to intimate and nuanced stories. 

- Sara Dosa, 2005

Quotes From Our Alumni

After getting my degree from Wes, I headed out to the San Francisco Bay Area where I spent a couple years figuring out exactly what to do. I ultimately decided to pursue a graduate degree in journalism, which I like to think of as "practical anthropology." I graduated from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2001 with a focus in radio, and I've been doing various multimedia journalistic projects ever since. Interestingly, it was a Wesleyan anthropology class that sparked my interest in radio. I was a slow note taker, so I decided to record an interview with my grandparents for an oral history project so I could focus on what they were saying instead of writing furiously the whole time. When I played the tape back later, I was deeply moved - hearing the sound of their voices tell their own story was so impactful, and really changed how I thought about storytelling and sharing information. I started listening to Dave Isay’s (founder of StoryCorps) work in grad school and I've been seeking out opportunities to use the oral history model in my work ever since. 

These days, I'm an instructor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. I also consult on a number of multimedia projects: In addition to the Wesleyan Storytelling Project, I produced a series of mini-oral histories about women in science (Stories from the Field) and have reported on a number of different themes from science and technology to arts and culture, always focusing on the people behind the stories. I think the best journalists, especially radio journalists, can walk into a new situation, make themselves a part of the culture, and capture the most realistic portrayal possible of that community, school, lab, or household. These are skills I learned as an anthropology major at Wes, and they've served me well throughout my career.

- Mia Lobel, 1997

Quotes From Our Alumni

It's hard for me to imagine my life had I not been an anthro major. It's been personally and intellectually meaningful because of the lens that it has provided me in my approach to life, which can mean finding the interesting routines in the banal, the ability to frame and pose the 'correct' questions in analyzing a situation, the ability to relate with others (which is helpful if you're doing direct service), and building research and writing skills (my last position involved writing grants) etc. The industry I've been pulled into - nonprofits - fits with the mindfulness and empathy you gain through fieldwork and anthropological reading. 

- Kapish Singla, 2011

Quotes From Our Alumni

After graduating from Wesleyan in 2007, I spent about 8 months in rural Honduras with a non-profit organization teaching 4th grade. I then moved to Brooklyn and worked with a college prep program in Bronx public middle schools and then worked as a reproductive health educator for a community health organization in Harlem. Next, I went to Columbia University to get a degree in nursing, and now work as a Family Nurse Practitioner in a community health clinic in NYC. I split my time between a busy urban community health clinic and an adolescent clinic located in a high school. As a medical provider for traditionally underserved individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, I feel that my anthropology training provided a backbone for my work as it is imperative that I am able to be empathetic and open-minded in order help my patients and to understand and meet their needs.

- Naomi Ray-Schoenfeld, 2007

Quotes From Our Alumni

Currently in the child welfare field as a foster care case planner, I practice my participant-observation skills every day. My specialty is people and navigating complex interpersonal dynamics while remaining neutral and calm. My role is to work with birth parents, foster parents, therapists, children and the legal system in order to address the issue that caused foster care intervention in the first place and to help create stability and permanency for the child in the process. I've also created movement workshops for birth parents and children to do together in order to help families bond and to ease the trauma of separation. Studying Anthropology at Wesleyan has given me the critical skills to see where there is need and the guts to fill that need. It's been very rewarding to implement the movement workshops and to see the program become a success. In the near future I plan to expand the workshops to other populations and to start a lifestyle-design company where I assist others in creating the best version of themselves. Anthropology has equipped me with the skills to engage one-on-one with all human beings, no matter what size, shape, color, background, or ethnicity, and to understand and appreciate the complexity of human emotions, thoughts, and needs. I take my ethnographer tool box with me everywhere I go, always eager to inspire mindfulness and courageous conversation.

- Miriam Kwietniewska, 2013