Jennifer, 32, is currently a graduate student completing her PhD in anthropology. She completed a B.Sc. in biology and anthropology and her master's in anthropology at the University of Toronto.
Stephanie: What made you decide to become an anthropologist?
Jennifer: I have always been interested in the biology and health of humans. As a result, I worked in several medical and physiotherapy clinics, thinking that this environment would be where I would eventually find a career. Throughout high school I took as many biology-related courses as I could, and I began my first year of university intent on a degree in biology. However, I remember thinking as ideas and concepts were discussed that something was missing from the examples and explanations given. On the suggestion of a girlfriend, I enrolled in introductory anthropology and within a few months I realized I had found the holistic perspective I was looking for.
Stephanie: How did you become an anthropologist?
Jennifer: For my undergraduate degree, I did a double major in anthropology and biology. During this degree I encountered a number of professors whose work I admired. Under their supervision, I participated in two independent research courses and found research to be interesting, challenging and fun. As a result of this experience, I decided to go to graduate school. I completed my master's and I am currently completing my PhD. I first felt like an anthropologist when I gave my first paper on my PhD research at a large international conference.
Stephanie: What are the different areas of anthropology that one can specialize in? What is your area of specialization and what kind of work do you do in the field?
Jennifer: There are four main areas of anthropology: archaeology, biological or physical, linguistic, and social/cultural. Each of these four fields can then be further subdivided into subdiscipline specializations. My dissertation work would be categorized as a biological or physical anthropology as it examines the demography and health of a historical Canadian population.
Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Jennifer: I like the fact that every day is different. Some days I work in a team atmosphere and other days I work independently. This flexibility and diversity is important to me. When I am working on my research, I am trying to solve a puzzle and that intrigues me.
The other aspect that I enjoy immensely is teaching anthropology. For me, there is nothing better than watching the "light" come on for a student as I discuss an issue or concept with them. Through the teaching of anthropology, I am able to interact and discuss ideas and concepts with my students. We learn together and I have a great deal of fun.
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Jennifer: In order to do research, a great deal of data collection is necessary. At times, this work can be tedious. However, once the data is collected and analysis begins, the effort becomes worth it.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming an anthropologist?
Jennifer: Become an anthropologist because you love the subject and the holistic perspective and approach that anthropologists take. To figure out if anthropology is for you, take a few anthropology courses. If you like what you are learning, contact an anthropologist and ask if you can participate in some aspect of their research or work. Several universities offer field schools that are great opportunities for students to get involved and really experience the excitement of anthropology.
Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be an anthropologist? What kind of education did you get?
Jennifer: My education has consisted of an undergrad degree, a master's and soon a PhD, all from the University of Toronto. However, it is not necessary to earn a PhD to call yourself an anthropologist or to work on anthropological projects. The type of education you need depends on the type of anthropology you are going to be involved with. Some people are able to get work with an undergraduate degree, while others have found employment that requires the skills of a PhD.
Stephanie: What are you studying now, and where could you go doing studies in this field?
Jennifer: Currently I am working on two main research projects. The first involves the examination of the marriage patterns of a small religious community in Canada. I am assessing the factors that influence mate choice and the influence those choices have on who contributes to the gene pool of the next generation. The second research project explores the teaching of anthropology in elementary and secondary schools in Ontario. I think that making anthropology accessible to a wider audience is important.
Studying anthropology has provided me with many skills that are applicable in today’s work place. Anthropologists currently work in many different sectors including various government positions, development agencies, and consulting firms. In fact, in November 2002 there was an article in the Globe and Mail about anthropologists and their work and value to the business community.
Stephanie: If you could travel through time, where would you go?
Jennifer: The first place I would visit would be Europe during the bubonic plague. I think it would be interesting to witness the various treatments that were administered and examine first-hand the impact of social and cultural factors on the spread of the epidemic.
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