Anthropologists in Practice

The following interview was originally posted on the blog Anthropologizing in May of 2013 and part of a larger ongoing series entitled Anthropologists In Practice. The goal of the series is “to provide a source of information and inspiration to other practitioners and (prospective) students of anthropology, and to illustrate the wide variety of jobs, skills and competencies held by anthropologists for anyone who is curious about what anthropologists actually do.” More than a year since I contributed to the original post, I took the opportunity to update some of my responses. (Note: this post could use another update.)

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ANTHROPOLOGY BACKGROUND. WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE RESEARCH PROJECTS, SUBJECTS, COURSES OR EXPERIENCES AS AN ANTHROPOLOGY STUDENT? WHAT ARE YOU MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT WHEN IT COMES TO ANTHROPOLOGY?

I have an M.A. in Urban Anthropology from the University of Memphis, a B.Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) from Carnegie Mellon, and am currently enrolled in the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Memphis. My interests lay in the interface between anthropology and architecture, as in defining, interpreting and experiencing places. One insightful moment that sticks in my head from my anthropology training is a discussion I had with a professor about kitchens. She was trying to get me to think more like an anthropologist and less as an architect. Our conversation started with my description of the imaginary lines between the sink, cook top and refrigerator, also known as the “kitchen work triangle,” and ended with my professor talking about the changing role of women in a domestic kitchen. It was a moment where the dots started connecting. After completing the masters program in anthropology I became involved with the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a prehistoric Native American earthwork complex located in southwest Memphis. My first independent project was working with AmeriCorps to design and construct a ghost structure on the site. Eventually I enrolled in the Museum Studies program and transitioned into a graduate assistant. This continued engagement with the Museum allowed me to explore the concept of Landscape Literacy. I came across this concept while in grad school and it continues to hold my interest.

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO USE YOUR ANTHROPOLOGY TRAINING IN YOUR CURRENT JOB? WHAT SPECIFIC TRAINING, SKILLS, AND COMPETENCIES HAVE BEEN MOST USEFUL TO YOU?

Skills from my anthropological training that I find marketable and continually try to refine are writing and editing. It’s important to communicate with a clear, open, and engaging style.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR JOB AND WORKPLACE. WHAT’S YOUR TYPICAL WORKDAY LIKE?

When not continuing with my education I am self-employed. The search contintues to find a title that describes what I do on a daily basis. In the past I have freelanced for several clients, including a museum exhibit design firm and a community development corporation. There’s typically an independent project in the works as well. My work involves a little bit of everything, but lately I turn other people’s ideas into tangible products. These products have taken form as architectural drawings for exhibits and museum spaces, budgets, grant applications, project proposals, graphic layouts, drafting a museum mission statement and formatting the qualitative analysis results of research.

HOW HAVE YOU NAVIGATED YOUR WORKPLACE AS AN ANTHROPOLOGIST? DO YOU DEFINE YOURSELF AS AN ANTHROPOLOGIST OR USE ANOTHER TITLE?

I do not use an in-your-face approach when bridging anthropology and architecture. Most of the time I talk around anthropology and don’t refer to myself as an anthropologist.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY STUDENTS WHEN MARKETING THEIR SKILLS TO PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYERS? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WISH YOU HAD DONE AS A STUDENT TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE WORKPLACE?

To market the core skills of anthropology, it’s important to have another passion that compliments what anthropology can accomplish. This response is obviously influenced by the fact that I was practicing in the field of architecture before starting graduate studies in anthropology.