Moving from the Academy to Practice
By Mary Odell Butler
NAPA Past President

Over the 35 years of my life as an anthropologist, I have held jobs in both the academy and in practice (in companies doing program evaluations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  For 25 years or so, I ran evaluation projects with multidisciplinary teams.  I also taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

At this point in my life, I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that have come my way.  It wasn’t always easy, and I had many moments of uncertainty about what I was doing–and why.  Particularly traumatic was a denial of tenure in the early years of my academic career.  Actually, it turned out pretty well, but of course I could not foresee that at the time.

I have come to understand that career building is a life-long process.  Few of us outside of the academy have a single employer for our entire careers.  Thus, we need to be up to date on what is happening in all aspects of our fields not only at the beginning but throughout our professional lives. And remember that ethnography is an important tool, not only as a product we deliver but as a guide to negotiating the job market.  I use it every day. 

Specific actions for career planning include, among many important points:
[ ] Develop a plan for starting or changing a career.
[ ] Use your ethnographic tools to understand the workplace and how to approach it.
[ ] Build, maintain, use a network of contacts.
[ ] Clear jargon out of ordinary conversations.
[ ] Avoid strong ideological positions in the job hunt.

Once placed in a job, we need to learn to:
[ ] Accommodate a different work rhythm.
[ ] Develop the capacity to function in interdisciplinary teams.
[ ] Cultivate agility in selling ourselves and in selling anthropology. 

I strongly urge new practitioners not to de-identify as anthropologists.  Rather, those of us in practice should disseminate to employers, potential employers, funders, and colleagues just what anthropology is, what we can do, and why anthropology is valuable to their respective missions.  By doing this, we smooth the way for the anthropologists who come after us, and we strengthen the field as a whole.

Are you pondering a career shift? Perhaps you should consider joining the NAPA Mentoring Program. Review the information and decide if a NAPA mentor is for you!