Help me convince my dad that I won't end up working in a bookstore
July 12, 2007 8:25 PM   Subscribe

What can I do with a double major in Anthropology and Journalism?

I'm a rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I recently decided that I wanted to major in Journalism and Anthropology- journalism because I love writing, and anthro because it turns out I've always been interested in it without actually knowing it. When I entered school last year, I intended to study political science and become a diplomat, but I quickly realized that that wasn't the life for me. I'm already pursuing my interest in journalism by editing a campus humor magazine and writing for a blog (the second is a paid position).

I guess I'm mostly asking this question for my dad's sake; I'm already pretty convinced that this is what I want to do. My parents have always said that my life was own and that I could do anything I wanted to do with it, but I think that my dad- a former English major who isn't currently using his degree- is sort of worried about my future job prospects.

It would be nice to tell him something beyond my current ultra-vague plan, which is basically "go into journalism, hopefully with some kind of anthro focus, or maybe work for an NGO or something". I do plan to talk to a career counselor, but I was wondering if anyone had any input into how I could potentially use these degrees, especially in tandem.
posted by showbiz_liz to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could say something like science writer, but in all reality it will probably be something unexpected through someone you know or will meet in the next couple years at school or internship.
posted by starman at 8:33 PM on July 12, 2007

I majored in English and minored in communication. However, my English degree was primarily made up of writing and journalism courses. And the kind of communication I studied was more in line with sociology or anthropology. I worked for my student newspaper, worked at relevant part-time jobs and did co-op. When I graduated, I went to work in marketing communications for the high tech sector. Because of my background, I understood diffusion of innovation. I used this to craft marcom campaigns that tapped into that theory. (Now you hear about Crossing the Chasm all the time, but I was working from the hybrid corn studies of decades earlier.) I eventually moved into marketing. I still see my work as tied to my early academic studies.
posted by acoutu at 9:02 PM on July 12, 2007

Anthropology degrees are useful in the museum field - both history and natural history museums - and not only do museum research staff and curators publish frequently, but museums also need writers who understand the subject matter to do the marketing and development writing that connects museum missions to donors. Exhibit label writing and web content development for museums are also possibilities. In fact, the money is better if you work for an exhibit development firm as a content expert.
posted by Miko at 9:04 PM on July 12, 2007

This doesn't answer your question directly, but maybe it will give you some insight. I can't speak to the journalism part of your question, but I am currently working on a PhD in anthropology. I graduated from college in 2001 (double major with Latin American studies), did a master's in an unrelated field, and in fall 2003 began my PhD in anthropology.

If I could do things over again, I'm not sure whether I'd choose this path. With any liberal arts degree, you need to think long and hard about what you want to do with your life. This may seem obvious to some, but I didn't do this nearly enough, and I wish I had. I also wish I had focused more on learning specific skills (research and otherwise).

You need to start reading job descriptions, think about what interests you, and pay close attention to what employers want you to know. It took me far too long to learn that it's not about what your degree was in, but rather what you know how to do.

When I was in your position, I had to choose between a path that was practical, fairly lucrative, but not something I was passionate about, and a path that I knew would not offer any certainties when it comes to employment, but that at the time I did feel passionate about.

Today, I am still passionate about the approach anthropology takes to understanding people (it's holistic, comparative, focuses on individual experiences, etc.). What has changed is the area I want to work in. I could probably have made a greater contribution to this area had I taken a more practical approach. However, since I didn't figure out what that was until a couple of years ago I'm trying to make it happen through this anthropology degree.

I know this sounds like a negative perspective on anthropology, but I want to encourage you to start thinking in terms of skills rather than disciplines. Truthfully, you don't need to be enrolled in university to learn these (though the credential is almost required these days). Use this opportunity to get involved in jobs, internships and/or other activities where you'll get the chance to learn concrete (I won't say "marketable," but it wouldn't hurt to think about it that way) skills. Think not in abstract terms about your future, but rather in terms of the mundane and everyday. What would you be happy doing? What kind of environment would you be satisfied to work in? What do you want to avoid having to do?

At your age, I heard people say these things, but I tended to dismiss them as the thoughts of people who were focused more on making money than on making a difference in the world. Looking back, I don't entirely regret following my passion, but I do wish I had researched the heck out of jobs, gotten more experiences to find out what I would/wouldn't like doing for a living, etc. Years later, here I am, trying to make the PhD thing work - and I'm still not entirely sure what I'll do once I've graduated (but the PhD thing is another issue entirely).

I recommend working through the book Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design, by Laurence G. Boldt.

Don't be afraid to do what you want to do, but make sure you know exactly what that means before you commit to doing it! (Yes, things change, but it's much better to have a concrete-ish plan that you can modify along the way.)
posted by splendid animal at 10:06 PM on July 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

You are either going to buy a bookstore, work in one, go to grad school, or not use your degree, unless of course you become an anthropological author. Frankly, I think this whole using your undergraduate degree to make money thing is highly over rated. Find your own path in life, and don't worry too much about what came before. Worry more about what will come in the future.
posted by caddis at 10:18 PM on July 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

If you are considering pursuing journalism, a double major will help simply by giving you another set of knowledge and another way of understanding things. It's definitely a good idea to have a second major.

But definitely do take into account that if you go into print journalism it will be very hard for you to earn a living unless you are interested in or at least knowledgeable about business, technology and/or medicine.

If you're seriously considering newspaper reporting as a career, I'd advise you to take statistics and a few economics classes in addition to as many humanities as possible. You should also learn digital photography, InDesign and Photoshop so that you can consider moving into editing later in your career.

Keep in mind that getting hired as a journalist is about two things: experience and networking. If you're planning to go for a newspaper or magazine writing job, get as many internships under your belt as you can and do as much freelance writing as possible while you're still in school. The college paper is great -- especially at UNC -- but it doesn't go far to get you a job. You need practical experience outside of school, and you need to meet editors who can give you recommendations and job tips.

The current average salary for people starting work at weekly newpapers is between $23,000 and $25,000, making print reporters the lowest paid professionals in today's job market. My friends and I often joke that if we wanted, we could take higher paying jobs as administrative assistants.

There are also many more reporters than there are jobs, especially with companies downsizing and so forth.

I'm not trying to discourage you, but you should be aware of the challenges before you get a pretty picture in your head of Woodward and Bernstein.
posted by brina at 10:24 PM on July 12, 2007

The answer is "anything you want." My husband and I were both English majors - he ended up as a financial analyst and I ended up in marketing. We had a very comfortable, 6-digit income. We are currently both taking the summer off to travel. (We are both 32 and have a 2-year old daughter).

Just because you get your degree in a particular field doesn't mean that you are limited to that particular field. Be creative - find ways to apply it to something practical. Make some money, take a break or sabbatical, then try something new.

Don't try to base your identity on your job. Pursue what interests you ... we have had investment property, a candle-manufacturing business, and other endeavors. We've both worked extremely hard, sometimes putting in 70 hours a week, but at the same time we've never lost focus of what is really important in life.

When you are on your deathbed, are you going to be saying to yourself "Damn, I wish I had spent more time at the office!" Or are you going to wish that you had pursued what you truly felt passionate about?
posted by Ostara at 10:33 PM on July 12, 2007

Journalism is a really tough place to build a career, unless you're passionate about journalism, not just writing.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:35 PM on July 12, 2007

Response by poster: Brina- I'm not very interested in newspaper reporting. I'm not sure that, at this point, I could articulate exactly what I AM interested in, though- I sat here trying to do so and realized I couldn't. All I really know is that I love to write, learn, and analyze and interpret information.

Also, I am taking some graphic design classes and plan to keep practiced in Photoshop, at least, if only for my own personal amusement.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:38 PM on July 12, 2007

As you think about your future, you could attack these questions I got from the career development folks from my college:

1) Describe the physical location of where you want to work. This could range from geographical location, to the kind of workplace you want to be in, to a specific city, or perhaps just urban vs. rural.

2) What do you want to think about all day?

3) Describe the kind of people you want to work with. Who are your co-workers? What is their background?

4) What skills do you want to use on this job? What skills do you want to gain on this job?

5) Who will benefit from your work?

Once you have these questions answered, then you can put together a 15-20 second description of the kind of job you're looking for. Then you start to network, which just means using your social web. You talk to alums, to family friends, to your friends who are already in the workplace, people you know from home -- anyone who likes you and who knows other people. You tell them what you're looking for. Then you ask, "Who do you know who has a job that's something like that?" Then you go talk to that person about their job, how they got there, and what the first steps that you need to take are (grad school? an entry-level job?). At the end of that conversation, you say, "Thanks. This has been very helpful. Can you tell me 2-3 other people who do something similar to you?" Then you call those people, drop the name of the person you just spoke with...rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually, a) you realize what it is you're looking for, and b) you find someone who says, "And you know, we have an opening right now..."
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:47 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Frankly, the days when your degree dictated what you did in life are rapidly passing - I used to work for one of the consulting biggies, and I have an English degree. One of the girls I worked with had a music degree, but was doing management consulting. These days I'm a writer in corporate communications work, and pretty well paid for it.

What matters is how well you do at university - a high-scoring degree is simply worth more. The simplest way to ensure that you do well at university is to pick a subject you will enjoy studying. I did that with English Lit, loved my course, did really well and have had a succession of really interesting and diverse jobs.

Emphasise that by doing this major you're going to come out with a great degree, and I'm sure your Dad will relax.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:25 AM on July 13, 2007

Jennifer Hasty did her undergrad in journalism and anthropology. She's a prof of anthropology, and did her PhD research on journalism in Ghana. You might find her book interesting.

Writing and anthropology go very well together. Many people who did their studies in anthropology end up as (really good) writers. Someone you might want to check out is Amitav Gosh, particularly In An Antique Land, which juxtaposes accounts of his PhD fieldwork with a story he later researched from archival accounts. And its much less dry than I just made it sound.
posted by carmen at 5:46 AM on July 13, 2007

If writing and science are both of interest to you, there are some science writing/science jounalism master's degrees out there that you might want to consider. I have a friend who did the one at Boston University and is doing very well with it (i.e. he makes okay money and he likes his job). MIT has one, too. I'm sure they'll be popping up everywhere soon.
posted by wheat at 6:11 AM on July 13, 2007

Sigh. Your dad, as an English major, should know better. What, he's not using anything he learned in college? Liberal arts degrees are not really designed to be some sort of magical vocational certificate -- it's an education. /rant

That said, journalism does, ideally, provide you with incredibly useful and marketable training -- clear, concise writing skills and a meticulous approach to accurate sourcing. This will serve you well in damn near any profession. Studying anthropology will provide you with a deeper context for understanding human interaction.

Journalism can be very hard to break into if your sole means of income. Ultimately, your degree will only get you as far as your ability to pitch good ideas and get them written very well and without delay. But on preview, you're not looking for newspaper work anyway. But if you want, you can start building clips writing for online or local magazines in any area in which you may have an interest, which can give you the option of having little freelance work on the side.

You'd be highly valued in any kind of progressive organization working for change. You can look into working in marketing or communications for any sort of non-profit. You can look into working in educational programs for museums. You can do grantwriting.

Check out Opportunity NOCs, and Idealist for ideas of types of jobs. Even better -- look for a local alliance for cultural organizations that has a job search feature.
posted by desuetude at 6:28 AM on July 13, 2007

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