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December 24, 2011 / Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Professionalization Checklist/Timeline

Standard caveat: talk this plan over with your adviser and committee — everyone has different ideas about progressing towards being a professional anthropologist. That being said, as a general timeline, I think this works for most people, as it helps to introduce you to the many facets of anthropology as a profession.

I’m basing this on the current average time to graduation in anthropology, which is about 8 years. This means 1-2 years of fieldwork followed by 2-3 years of writing. If you’re moving faster than that, the post-fieldwork phase will need to be condensed appropriately.

Years 1-3

It’s assumed that for your first 3 years you’re in the midst of coursework, passing your qualifying or preliminary exams, and grant writing to support your fieldwork. While you do all of that, try and do these things too:

1) Attend a national conference — the AAA would be the most likely candidate. It’s really helpful to see what the various roles people fill while they’re there, and to get a sense of what conference presentations look like.

2) Attend a subfield or area studies conference — these tend to be much smaller (5-10% of the size of the AAA), and you’re much more likely to run into people who’s work you’ve read. Presentations can often be longer, and sometimes follow different generic formats, all of which is useful to experience.

3) Attend a workshop or small conference — this can be hard to pull off, in part because workshops are often only for the people presenting work, but if there’s one nearby and it’s public, it can be useful to attend one. They tend to favor much longer presentations, and have much more intense and detailed discussions. Since they’re very often comprised of specialists, it can be really helpful to get a sense of what people are talking about in the present moment.

4) Get started on your CV — it can be difficult to reconstruct years of your education and service if you don’t start your CV early. Since it includes things like awards, teaching assistant positions, and departmental service, you will start accruing content early, and it’s best to stay on top of it.

5) Take a stab at your future job letter — yes, your dissertation will probably look entirely different by the time you’re writing your actual job letter, but having a draft to work from can be really helpful. This is especially the case when you go onto the job market in the throes of writing your dissertation — sometimes the most difficult period to talk about what your research is actually about.

6) Sign up for listservs in your area of interest — you can find these on sites like HNET, and they’re a great place to eavesdrop on discussions by more seasoned scholars. They can also be a great venue to find calls for papers for both conferences and publications.

While You’re in the Field (or Similar Situation)

…don’t worry about any of this stuff. It can be helpful to attend a conference if it happens locally, but don’t go out of your way to do anything.

Graduation -3 Years

7) Write a book review — journals often have books for review listed on their websites. Get in touch with the reviews editor and request a book or two — try and pick stuff that’s close to what you work on, but not too close. Often people return from the field and have a hard time getting back into academic production — this can be an easy way back in, or, at least a fairly straightforward way to start thinking academically again.

8) Develop syllabuses for general and topical courses — any academic job you apply for in the U.S. is going to have teaching expectations. Most institutions ask you to teach anywhere from 3-6 classes per year, and if it’s on the higher end of the scale, that generally means there is a lot of duplication, i.e. 3 sections of Intro to Cultural Anthropology each year. I cover this in more depth elsewhere, but for the time being, plan on 3-4 syllabuses, 2 of general interest and 2 in your area. Some good general topics are things like: Intro to Cultural/4-Field Anthro, Ethnographic Methods, and Anthropological Theory; good area syllabuses are things like: Intro to your Subfield, Intro to your Geographic Area, Intro to your Theoretical Concerns — so, in my case, Intro to Medical Anthropology, Intro to American Studies, and a course called The Biology of Everyday Life.

Graduation -2 Years

9) Write another book review — as above. You might stay with the same journal or look elsewhere. You can also choose your own book to review (i.e. not something that the journal has), and see if the reviews editor is interested in a review of it.

10) Prepare a short article manuscript for a subfield or area studies journal — I cover publishing strategies elsewhere, so I’ll keep it short here: identify a subfield or area studies journal that you like, and prepare a manuscript for them. Often, these are in the 6,000 word range, which is substantially shorter than the flagship journals. There’s no need to aim your sights too high, either in terms of journal or intervention. Prepare an article that adds a little nuance to already established subfield or area studies interests, and let people know what you do.

11) Present at a national & subfield or area studies conference — since you’ve already attended one of each, you should have a sense of what you’re getting yourself into. If you signed up for some listservs way back in years 1-3, you can find calls for papers there. For your first time out, send an abstract to someone who is organizing a panel — it’s less work than organizing one yourself, and has a better chance of making it into the conference than just submitting a solo paper. But if nothing seems to match your interests, you an always try a solo paper submission…

12) Revise your job letter — as you close in on going onto the market, take another stab at your job letter. If you’ve done all of the above, you should have some fresher material to update the letter, and if you take the time to look at some jobs ads, you’ll have a good sense of what market interests are in the present.

13) Get involved with a Special Interest section at the AAA (or similar) — many of the sections have graduate student essay awards, which can be a great place to send your first article manuscript. It might be nice to win an award, but just getting on the radar of people in your subfield or who share interests with you can be helpful in the long run.

Graduation -1 Year

14) Prepare a longer article manuscript for a general anthropology journal (but not necessarily a flagship journal) — again, I cover this in more depth elsewhere, but in short: prepare an 8,000 word article manuscript for a general audience — that is, if your first article is about something really subfield-focused, try out something more generally interesting to anthropologists . It’s probably going to take longer to develop, and once written, longer to get published, so it’s important to get this into your queue early.

15) Organize panels for a national & subfield or area studies conference — now that you’ve done at least a couple presentations, and have the start of a social network interested in your area, put together a panel for the AAA and a subfield or area studies meeting. You might present on it as well, or present on another panel, choosing to chair the ones your organize (or provide introductions to them). And try and get at least one discussant on your panel — someone in your area who you’ve had limited or no interaction with so far.

16) Present at a national & subfield or area studies conference — as above, although you may be presenting on your own panels. I make a goal of doing two panels at the AAA each year, one with people I know and have worked with before, and one of people who I know of, but have never presented with. It’s a good way to constantly be expanding your network, and many times people enjoy the opportunity to present on panels of strangers.

17) Apply for inclusion in a topical workshop — you’ll see calls for papers for topical workshops on listservs, and it’s worth applying to one in your area. The odds of getting accepted are usually pretty low — there are limited slots and lots of applicants. But if you do get in, it can be a great networking opportunity.

18) Get involved with a special interest group or subfield organization through the AAA — sometimes there’s room for a graduate student representative or other graduate student positions with special interest groups, which can be a great way to interact with senior people in your areas of interest.

19) Finalize your job letter, and start applying for jobs — I talk about this in depth elsewhere, but in your final year of writing it’s finally time to commit to applying for jobs (and postdocs).

At Graduation:

If you follow these guidelines, at the time of your graduation you should have:

An up-to-date CV, a job letter, 1 book review published and 1 in press, 1 article published and 1 in press (or under revision), a few conference presentations under your belt, and 2-3 syllabuses ready to teach. You should be well on your way to establishing a diverse social network, which will help you in publishing, teaching, and presenting in the future — and might lead to job prospects. And this all means that you should be ready for the next phase… Graduation +1.

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