I'll swap my chainsawing abilities for this any day!
April 15, 2011 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Help me to wildly change my professional direction from Forest Engineering to Anthropology...I have some ideas, too.

I have a B.S. degree in Forestry, and while mildly interesting, I mostly don’t like the subject (long story short, I was 16 when I started school, by the time I realized I did not like the career, it was too late to change courses, so I graduated anyway)

After several years of aimless wondering during which I worked in GIS (natural resource evaluations) and got a tiny bit of anthropology experience assisting a professor at my university, I have decided I very much like Human Rights (particularly children’s rights, and more specifically girls’ rights), and I would love to get into a Master’s program that’s related to these subjects.
I of course have no professional background that could help me do so, except for my assistantship and a couple of contacts that could help me back in my country.

So, with school done and living in another country, I am struggling to find a way of building a background that will get me into a master’s program, and possibly a PhD in this field. According to our professional plan (husband’s and mine) I have about 5 years to prepare for grad school, which is more less the time we’ve calculated will pass before I’m financially able to enroll as a full time student. By that time, we will be free as the wind to relocate wherever in the world we find a job for the husband and a nice program for me.

Here is what I've done so far...

Experience: I have landed a job as a school liaison in a political refugee resettlement office, implementing a refugee schoolchildren program from scratch in 6 cities. My supervisor has given me her blessing to conduct research interviewing our children and their parents. The research would be focused on studying the process of adaptation that elementary aged refugee children go through when they come from refugee camps in rural backgrounds.

Research/possible publications: I have recently contacted the professor I assisted, and proposed the project I mentioned in the previous paragraph. He loved it. I am also working on translating some Spanish publications by said professor into English.

I am also trying to revive a connection I had with a curator from the Smithsonian (Museum of the American Indian), with whom I conducted research in Cuzco a couple of years ago. He has agreed to be a reference and has several academic contacts. I have the feeling this is a useful connection, but I don't know how to use it.

*So…what else can I do to make sure I get the most of these 5 years in order to get into an awesome program?
*How do I go about learning how to conduct anthropological research when I have no experience whatsoever?
*Is there a name for this branch of study that I love? My interest is comparing styles of learning/adapting in children from different parts of the world. I guess it's something like education research, but based on the cultural background and gender roles in different societies...does this have a name?
posted by Tarumba to Education (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What you want to do could be under the aegis of either sociology or cultural anthro or maybe maybe cognitive anthro, depending on what you want to do with the educational part of it. Don't discount sociology programs if you find one that is doing work on education or human rights that you want.

The type of research you want to do is qualitative research. You might want to find out if you can take a course in it at a college or university locally, without being in a program. I have some books on anthro research methods, and I frankly wouldn't do it for real without doing a bunch of practice analyses. The programs commonly used for the statistical, qualitative and quantitative analysis of found data were, to me, a semester of training alone.

Because you didn't ask, I'll withhold my opinion on people entering the social science field without realizing how cutthroat it is; right now you have a job that people with Masters' would have to fight for.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:15 AM on April 15, 2011

Oh cobaltnine, please say everything that's going through your mind, and thank you for what you've already said. I would loe to know your opinion on my plan. I really would like to get into a master's program that would help me financially, too.
posted by Tarumba at 11:18 AM on April 15, 2011

I'll MeFi mail you later tonight.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:24 AM on April 15, 2011

Wow! That's planning ahead. So you're interested in human rights and resettlement and refugees. Well, there are a lot of anthropologists looking at these sorts of things, although as cobaltnine says, there are plenty of people from other fields, too.

I think you could get into a master's program with very little trouble--most are not nearly as competitive as PhD programs. I was in a top UK master's program and of the 10 of us I think only one or two (not including me) had undergraduate degrees in anthro. Most came in sideways, as you have, and that's certainly not unheard of for PhD programs either (in my cohort of five only two had undergrad degrees in anthro, two had other social science/health master's, and I had an anthro master's). So you may be closer than you think.

In particular: having good research contacts and a project in mind? Golden. Keep doing that.

I think the challenge for you will be finding a well-funded master's. I'm afraid I don't have good advice on that, but most rich universities can fund a few master's students, while big state universities may have teaching assistantships for master's students.

That said, I would consider:
1. What do you want out of a master's? Practical skills? Academic enrichment (worthwhile in itself!)? Do you want to go into academia? (if so, do go and read all the "Never go to grad school in the humanities" articles so that you know what you're getting into.)
2. This will determine the type of program you want. A program with links to a law school? With environmental links? A more academically focused school? One with an "applied" focus (South Florida, Pittsburgh, for instance) that will teach you mixed methods and focus on preparing you for government/consulting/nonprofit work?

(If forestry/environmental studies is still interesting to you, there are some programs with very tight links to environmental studies. Yale has a joint Forestry/Anthro Phd, for instance.)

I'd try to get some articles by contemporary people in the field and see if you like what they're doing. A lot of research by anthropologists is quite critical of human rights and humanitarianism, or is focused more on the politics of human rights/humanitarian work than on the actual work itself. If that strikes your interest I'd look at Sally Engle Merry, Mark Goodale, Liisa Malkki (National Geographic or Speechless Emissaries--in one or other of her articles she has a specific interest in children). This isn't my field, so there are probably loads of important people who are slipping my mind.

Here is an old comment of mine about the different pproaches to anthro. Feel free to Mefimail me if you have more specific questions.
posted by col_pogo at 5:36 PM on April 15, 2011

wow, thank you so much, col pogo!

I would like to link anthropology with human rights. I have a good base in engineering (the only reason I didn't get a BEng is that I didn't stay to finish my dissertation)

It definitely scares me that the job market is so difficult, but I really want to do something that I love rather than something that I can barely tolerate. I will try to find a twist that can give me a special skill. Maybe learning languages during these years (I speak 3 and I'm learning one more) or looking for something more practical will help.

I do NOT want to work in academia! No way!
posted by Tarumba at 6:38 PM on April 15, 2011

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