“Anthropology helps us think about the world differently; it helps us uncover social silences.” These words by anthropologist and journalist Gillian Tett resonated in my mind while attending the conference “Building Careers in Anthropology” on Friday, May 13th, 2022 held at the Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University, New York. The one-day conference, which I attended with two of my undergraduate majors, was packed with valuable information, reflections, and conversations about why anthropology matters. It was one of the most exciting and well-organized conferences I have attended in quite some time. From the information provided for registration to the instructions sent to participants before the conference to the numerous networking opportunities around delicious food, the event stood up for its comprehensiveness and welcoming environment. The organizers, Elizabeth Briody, Riall W. Nolan, and Tim D. Malefyt, covered every detail.
As an applied anthropologist and educator, the conference offered invaluable ways to solidify my commitment to training students on the urgent relevance of anthropology today. Plenary speaker Tett likened anthropology to salt: “it makes everything taste better.” The three speakers in the plenary sessions (Elizabeth Briody, Gillian Tett, and Riall W. Nolan,) stressed the importance of professionalizing the discipline and the crucial role that anthropology departments need to play in this professionalization. In addition to the plenaries, participants could select three workshops throughout the day (out of twelve workshops) on topics as diverse as teaching practicing anthropology, becoming an entrepreneurial anthropologist, telling anthropology stories through social media, and straddling academic and industry jobs.
For my students, this was the first anthropology conference they attended. Our hosts, practitioners, and academics made them feel welcomed. My students also took advantage of the opportunities available to interact with university students in the region. For anthropology senior Hannah Elliot, the conference
was a fantastic introduction not only to the American anthropology community but also to an amazing learning opportunity regarding the future of our field. The central focus I took away from the Commission was how versatile anthropology careers could be, especially separate from academia. To many outside of our field, anthropology is often a subject assumed to lead only to academic careers. Still, as the Commission has shown, there are plenty of practitioner opportunities outside education. Each presentation at the conference brought new career possibilities, including journalism, consulting, internet influencing, and human resources. These great presentations allowed those attending the conference to explore many of these practitioner careers. As a recent graduate from the University of Delaware, I immensely enjoyed learning about all the possibilities I have when searching for my first position outside my university studies.
The conference encouraged reflection in more than one way. For Hannah, the undergraduate teaching assistant for one of my spring 2022 courses, the topics discussed related to the conversations she and I had about anthropology pedagogy. Based on her own experience and her interactions with students, Hannah noted that anthropological vocabulary proficiency is crucial in academics but also a potential barrier. We discussed the difference between learning a specialized vocabulary as part of our training and mindlessly using unintelligible jargon to sound erudite. Hannah noticed that guest speakers and workshop leaders at the conference used anthropological terminology wisely to foster inclusivity among participants. She stated:
The language used within anthropology is highly formalized with specific terminology; however, often, this vocabulary is not taught to incoming anthropology students. Students come from diverse backgrounds and education levels. This leads to many students struggling in their education and even leaving the study of anthropology. The conversations within the conference about this issue were promising and hopefully will lead to a student-centered pedagogy for anthropology in introductory courses.
The conference offered a glimpse of the numerous possibilities that can emerge from our commitment to professionalizing the discipline. As plenary speaker Riall Nolan stated, practice is the default option for our graduates in the United States today. If we want to keep the discipline relevant, anthropology departments are responsible for bringing practice into academia while also increasing and enhancing our public presence and voice.
All in all, the “Building Careers in Anthropology” conference was fantastic. At the conference, I even had the opportunity to take a picture with a cutout figure of Pope Francis, making my mother very happy.