Dear Class of 2013

California’s unemployment rate, one of the highest in the country, is at 9%. The national average kicks in at about 7.5%, which doesn’t reflect discouraged and underemployed workers.

Where does this leave our graduating seniors?

Roughly 1 in every 9 of your teachers was laid off. School days got cut. California’s per-pupil spending fell from 46th to 48th out of the 50 states. The average high school in America has 77 percent more teachers per student than the ones you attended. You had a curriculum so problematic it’s being replace wholesale. And the quality of your teachers is a mystery, because so few of them are evaluated on their performance…There won’t be much you can count on in this California. But you should count on your classmates.

Joe Matthews. “Class of ’13 already made the grade,” SF Chronicle. May 22, 2013.

Although he’s addressing public high schoolers, Mr. Matthews’ words of wisdom led me to think about the potential job market that lies before me. I am rolling out my sixth and final year of graduate school in Medical Anthropology and will be applying for jobs come this fall. How does Anthropology shape up in terms of job prospects?

According to Forbes Magazine, “the least valuable” major in college “for your time and financial investment” is Anthropology and Archaeology:

Recent college graduates of the major, those ages 22 to 26, can expect an unemployment rate of 10.5%, well above the national average. When they do land a job, the median salary is just $28,000, compared to a mechanical engineer’s initial earnings of $58,000…if you want to pursue the arts and social sciences, you should either combine the study with a more practical major or go for a graduate degree.

Choosing a major that buys and expects some kind of return security is not, in my opinion, very productive. I won’t go into all the reasons why I think anthropology is a critical tool for better understanding what’s political, cultural, and social about our world. I do think, however, that we need to better pivot this valuable knowledge beyond just academia.

phd comics

It’s hard to have respect for an industry that feels it’s taking care of its recent graduate students by placing them into lecturer positions, paying them very little with no health insurance, and expecting us to be grateful on the chance of *maybe* scoring a tenure-track position if we just tough it out for the next 5 years. It’s hard to imagine myself embracing and taking part in an industry that welcomes its new crop of fresh minds like this.

Forbes writes that there is a demand for “knowledge-based workers and technical training.” With Savage Mind’s Sarah Kendizor’s interview in my mind, I wonder how as anthropologists we can better tap into this knowledge-based market.

I’m an optimist. I hear Planet Money on NPR and think: we could totally do this. I read Phat Beets’ manifesto against gentrification in the “NOBE neighborhood” of North Oakland Berkeley Emeryville and wonder, what would an anthropologist do here? I watch start-up ideas swapped back and forth at little SoMa cafes with little discussion of their social, political, or cultural footprint.

These are all public spaces and topics where anthropological research, collaboration, and response could be generated and greatly appreciated. I’m still trying to figure out how to connect anthropology research to industries other than academia where social science is needed. To go back to Mr. Matthews’ high school graduation speech, I’m looking to my peers for ideas. Recently, I’ve joined the UCSF Entrepreneurship Club to learn about startups, collaborate with public health researchers and scientists, and figure out how to throw anthropological research into this mix. I’m not sure where this collaboration will lead to, but I’ll keep you updated on how it pans out. Other anthropologists are talking about this, and who knows, just *maybe* this could be a potential field for anthropology.

So come this July when I begin to sift through potential jobs and career paths, I’m not worried. I’m pivoting (and reading Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup;” more to say on him later). In the words of Lauryn Hill:

…everybody told me to be smart
Look at your career they said,
“Lauryn, baby use your head”
But instead I chose to use my heart…

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