All About Applied Training and Careers

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Elizabeth K Briody

NAPA’s New Online FAQs

As part of its broader mentoring program, the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA) has recently launched an informational tool – online FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) – that should be valuable not only for students, but in time, new professionals and those contemplating a career change.

Photo credit:  Kathleen M. Robinson

Elizabeth Briody. Photo courtesy Kathleen M Robinson

Since early 2008, Tom Greaves (Past President, Society for Applied Anthropology) has been actively involved in the ongoing NAPA Mentor Match Program (which pairs mentors to those who are facing the job market) and in corresponding with students who had questions about their future.  The concept of creating a list of web-based FAQs was proposed in 2011. Mary Odell Butler (NAPA Past President) had noted that the mentoring program was aimed primarily at graduate-level students and new professionals, whereas Greaves observed that most of the queries he received were from undergraduates.  A decision was subsequently made to develop the FAQs to make the overall system more efficient at addressing incoming queries.

In the meantime, Terry Redding (NAPA Communications Committee Chair), had been hard at work reinvigorating the NAPA website and NAPA communications generally.  He took a few of the queries that Greaves had shared (sources were not identified) and added them to the NAPA Mentor section of the website as a trial.  Shortly thereafter, Niel Tashima (NAPA Past President) assembled the current NAPA Mentor Committee to assist with producing more formalized FAQs.  Committee members included Sarah Cote, Tara A Eaton, Bill Roberts, Greaves, and me; Redding participated ex officio as Communications Committee Chair.  The overall goal was to make the FAQs available to anyone with an interest in the application of anthropology to issues facing communities and organizations.

Greaves and I (NAPA Past President) organized the FAQs from the questions he had received over the years.  Beginning in fall 2012, we began to write responses to all the questions, completing a draft by spring 2013.  Since then, the fifty seven FAQs have been reviewed by many individuals including the NAPA Governing Council, NAPA Communications Committee, and a number of anthropology students—both undergraduates and graduates.  Redding offered assistance to us throughout the process, but his primary role was to upload materials to the website once the effort was completed.  The FAQs were posted to the NAPA website at the end of summer 2013.

The FAQs are divided into several categories to assist students and new professionals as they access the information:

  1. Basics: Anthropology and Applied Anthropology (7 Questions/Answers)
  2. Undergraduate Information (7 Questions/Answers)
  3. Undergraduate Scenarios (4 Real-Life Scenarios)
  4. Understanding Graduate School Programs
    • Part One: About Graduate School (8 Questions/Answers)
    • Part Two: Getting an MA in an Applied Graduate Program (8 Questions/Answers)
  5. Applying to Graduate School (12 Questions/Answers)
  6. Applying Anthropology at the PhD Level (6 Questions/Answers)
  7. Next Steps After Graduation (5 Questions/Answers)

Questions associated with the second main category (above) focus on undergraduates.  One of the questions asks: “What undergraduate courses should I take to prepare myself for a career in applied anthropology?” while another question states:  “I find that I like what I am learning in my anthropology courses. What else could I explore on my own?”  The responses are targeted and concise and reflect an integration of both academic and practitioner perspectives.  For example, the response to the latter question emphasizes branching out to identify anthropologists in the local area, those participating in anthropology listservs and groups, and a variety of anthropology websites that provide information on such matters as current events in which anthropologists are involved and insights into the kinds of projects in which they are engaged.

Category 6 focuses on becoming an applied/practicing anthropologist at the PhD level.  The questions and responses tackle difficult issues that students may face.  For example, one of the questions states:  “I want a PhD to become an applied anthropologist.  Some graduate departments offer a PhD in Applied Anthropology while others offer a PhD in Anthropology that can include an emphasis in applied anthropology.  How do I decide between these two types of programs?”  The response makes clear that perspectives differ and then describes the varying viewpoints.  What is useful is that the reader is made aware of the different perspectives and can investigate the potential choices further through an exploration of the pros and cons of each.

One aspect of the FAQs really appeals to me:  readers can post additional questions and comments after the questions in each of the seven categories.  New experiences, new perspectives, and new alternatives can inform the current set of FAQs as well as any additional questions and answers that are suggested.  As such, the FAQs represent a “living document” that can be easily updated and refreshed.

The final section, “After the FAQs,” invites students and new professionals with further questions to access additional NAPA electronic resources.  There is a career resources list that includes books, reports, videos, and professional associations.  Individuals desiring more tailored responses can engage the NAPA Mentor Match opportunity; applicants to this program share their educational and professional backgrounds and are then matched with a NAPA volunteer mentor for customized support.

The NAPA Mentor Committee believes that these FAQs provide a strong introduction to career options and considerations of the application of anthropology in professional settings.  These FAQs are designed to be under continual review, development and refinement to keep the information fresh and relevant.  Additional FAQs are being developed for starting professionals and those who experience career shifts.  The field of professional/practicing anthropology is constantly evolving and the opportunities for participation will reflect the creativity of individual anthropologists.  The FAQs should help spark ideas and creative thinking for anthropological training and application.

Elizabeth K Briody is past president of NAPA and a co-founder of the NAPA Mentor Program.  She is also founder and principal of Cultural Keys LLC which helps firms and nonprofits solve organizational and cultural-change issues.  It specializes in improving internal organizational effectiveness and understanding and reaching customers. 

Barbara Rylko-Bauer is contributing editor of Anthropology Works, the AN column of the AAA Committee on Practicing, Applied, and Public Interest Anthropology.


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