Fact or Fiction? The PhD Bust, Redux: Sex Pistols Edition
Last spring I wrote a post about the relatively positive outlook for PhDs in anthropology and its sub-fields. It garnered a lot of attention at a time when every few weeks it seemed a new tome ringing the death knell for Ph.D.s – in particular in the humanities and social sciences – was being published in the media. My post broke down some numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the labor market and numbers from the National Science Foundation on the quantity of PhDs being produced in anthropology. I concluded that, at least in anthropology, the prospects of finding a job are good. There was a lot of discussion on if this is really true, and if so, what might it look like? Then I left for Brazil for the better part of the year to undertake my Fulbright research project and let my domain hosting lapse and lost the blog post entirely. It generated a lot of discussion and some interesting critiques so I wanted to create part two of the blog post here on the new site post and continue the discussion.
Part of my original blog post (copied from a quote posted by Wofford College’s Sociology Department):
“”The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in June of 2012 that of all, yes all occupations tracked by the BLS, jobs for anthropologists (to include sub-fields, especially archaeology) are expected to grow more that all other occupations combined, a staggering 21% over the next 8 years, with all other social science related fields projected to grow 18%….The job market for anthropologists has never been better, more diversified, or more lucrative (no matter flavor of filthy lucre you favor – cash money, benefits, tenure of one shade or another, world travel, adoring students, stacks of papers to grade, etc. and then some and so on).”
I would add that well trained anthropologists are increasingly relevant and able to cross the academic with the private sector in new and compelling ways. I see it in my own training, research, and employment history, as well in the projects and partnerships of my colleagues in the US and around the world.
Some of the critique of my original post was loosely framed on the following ideas. First, it is not necessarily a positive thing that the number of PhDs in anthropology is growing each year because there is nowhere for them to become gainfully employed in academia and second, that the projected job growth for anthropology graduates appears to be strongest in the areas of heritage management and compliance with federal archaeology laws and would ostensibly leave all other sub-fields without the same type of projected job growth.
I maintain the numbers and stats add up to good news for those wishing to pursue a career in anthropology. My conviction is based on a few key factors. First, development and research projects in the government and private sector do require the skills of four field anthropologists, and not just archaeologists, as some have concluded. The level of growth that is driving development of new projects will create more frequent needs for applied solutions based on theory found among, not entirely within the sub-fields. Rather than hearing a death knell I hear a call for anthropologists to more closely align around the single concept that holds them in gravity together: humanity. The role of anthropology in government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations is increasingly critical and it will be the ability to cross sub-fields and combine tools to answer pressing global questions about ethics, food, security, climate, identity, natural and heritage resources, health and safety, and more pressing and urgent questions that will challenge anthropologists of the 21st century. No other professional is better equipped to gather, analyze, and apply solutions to society’s most pressing challenges than the anthropologist.
It is clear that the tenure track career of teaching and research anthropologists is quickly becoming an artifact but as long as anthropologists are needed, we will need anthropologists to train them. Indeed it seems anathema to me for a Ph.D. in anthropology to consider only a career in academia as a suitable application of such critical and specialized skills and training. An anthropology of the 21st century must be an applied anthropology. We no longer have the luxury of considering the implications of anthropology from armchairs in insulated offices. I have often considered anthropology to be the punk rock of academia – well practiced it should be on the street and getting in people’s heads and offering up its tools and knowledge to solve human problems. I’ll say again, the future of a career in anthropology is bright. Emerging careers in anthropology will require a blended approach to academic, private, governmental, and non-profit opportunities and I argue our anthropology programs can and should lead the way with a focus on career training and outreach to assist graduate students in anthropology in preparation for a changing job market and continued emphasis on turning theories and methods into applied anthropologies.