Letter to an Anthropology Major

Dear Anthropology Major:

Your major is worthless.

It’s a waste of time and money. Or at least that’s what everyone thinks.

The thing about undergrad is that your major doesn’t really always matter. Keep a solid GPA, but the most valuable thing you can do is make connections and learn how to market yourself.

I knew I was going to major in anthropology senior year of high school. I was taking AP Biology and I was in love with studying evolution. I came across biological anthropology and decided that I’d do anthro and not be a typical bio/pre-med student. Then I took ANTH 101 and got bored to death. I mean, I can tell you a pneumonic device for remembering the geological epochs of Earth, it’s PEOMPPH — Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene.

Well, it’s supposed to be a pneumonic. I always thought of it as POEM but switch the O and E, add a couple Ps and an H…okay so maybe it’s an awful pneumonic but you get the idea.

At the same time I was taking a human geography course taught by Dr. Ed Carr, who became my life coach and is still my closest mentor. He convinced me to stick with anthro until I took the intro cultural anthro course the following semester. (It also helps that Ed has 2 doctorate degrees, in geog and anthro.)

102 convinced me to stick with it. I was still pre-med but I dropped it after sophomore year and added a geography minor.

No one knows what to do with an anthro degree. Probably because no one knows what anthro is. If you major in anthro, be ready to hear, “what is that?” “where do you work with that?” “Is that Bones?” It’s frustrating.

When I dropped pre-med I decided I wanted to do anthro, specifically ethnography, in a business setting. I didn’t know if that meant just doing a research thesis, or even if that was an real job people could do. As it turns out, the venn diagram of anthro and business overlap in marketing and advertising. The more you understand your customer, the better you can tailor your message, right?

Your major is worthless.

So I started looking at advertising agencies. Creative, strategy, planning, accounts. Then I did my senior thesis and realized that planning and doing my own qualitative research project was by far the most fulfilling experience I had in all my years of school. I finally found a way to blend the qualitative work of anthro with the creative work of marketing and advertising. It was a perfect solution.

I looked up qualitative research jobs. I graduated with honors and found Red Associates, in NYC, my dream place to work. I applied for their apprenticeship program. There were 4 rounds. I didn’t make it all the way through. That sucked.

Then I had an interview at USC to work for the Faculty Senate. My interviewer was Dr. August (Augie) Grant, Chair of the Faculty Senate. We talked about undergrad and he basically told me I was overqualified for what the Faculty Senate needed. He asked why I majored in anthropology. I explained what I saw myself doing and how I thought I would be able to get there. Then he asked, “So why didn’t you just major in mass communications in my department?” To which I replied: “Huh?”

The interview was over. We walked over to the Journalism School and he got me some info on the Master’s of Mass Communication program. Long story short, I took a job doing sales for an energy company during my gap year. Now I’m in the Master’s program and I have Augie’s class every Tuesday. And every Tuesday, he blows my mind with new things I’ve never thought of.

Anyways. Anthro is great. You’ll learn how to deconstruct the everyday things we take for granted, how communication works, how we create culture, and how culture in turn shapes us. It’s so abstract, but so concrete and fundamental. I stuck with cultural and linguistic anthro, and now I’m in a new environment where I can take all that anthro in my head and apply it to the communications field. I’ll even list some thoughts I’ve had while just writing this post:

  • agenda setting function of the media
  • the mediating function of mobile phones as interpersonal communication devices
  • how speech changes from in-person to over text
  • how different internet sites have different cultural values
  • the ritual of accessing the internet or other media for information
  • the disconnect between social media and life

I could go on for days.

Choose a major that’ll keep you interested. But you have to supplement it. Pick a minor. Teach yourself something on the side. Learn graphic design. Learn code and build a website. Figure out who you can meet and talk to that can give you connections in the future. Figure out what you like, then find a way to do it and make money. You have to think ahead.

Thanks for reading.

Until next,