How a major can shape a career instead of defining it


A professor, a journalist and a Ph.D. All students explore how anthropology played a role in getting them where they are today

It is a rite of passage for any college student to reach the point where reciting the classical introduction – name, year, major, and what they want to do with graduation – becomes second nature. Some majors, created to guide students on a particular career path, make the final question easier, while others focus on broader interests. However, the skills and perspectives imparted in each subject cannot only be applied to the life path most frequently associated with it.

This is especially true for the anthropology major, with UC Davis’s anthropology graduates working in law, marketing, UX design, journalism, and more.

“To me, the holistic nature of anthropology is one of the things that is so appealing about the discipline,” said Jeffrey Kahn, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Davis, via email. “It is true that anthropologists, like all academics, emphasize certain phenomena over others. It is inevitable. But anthropology has a remarkable freedom in what to explore. ”

Kahn went on to give an example from his own experience as a legal anthropologist in both the United States and Haiti.

“That allows me […] To examine legal disputes in a US immigration court, but also religious practices in Haiti, ”said Kahn. “It gets really exciting when you see how the two are connected.”

Kahn explained how anthropology is linked to law, pointing to the way in which “language works to generate legal authority” and the way in which “legal frameworks reinforce inequalities”.

Another essential aspect of legal anthropology, according to Kahn, is self-skepticism.

“The critical attitude of anthropology is so important here,” said Kahn. “Legal anthropologists are deeply skeptical of the justification of the law’s own authority in universal reason. We historicize legal claims and investigate in our ethnographic field research how book law works in practice. If you approach a topic with this critical empirical evidence, it is easier to think in terms of alternatives to the status quo. “

Grace-Lynn Bridges, a young UC Davis graduate majoring in psychology who will return to UC Davis to do her PhD in anthropology, mentioned a similar respect for the lack of objective truth in the field.

“I love psychology. I grew up with psychology, ”said Bridges. “But psychology in science presents itself as truth. Anthropology admits when it was wrong. I can stand behind something that has the humility to admit the times when it was wrong. ”

Bridges went on to give an example of a time when she saw this concept come to life for other students.

“I work on examples,” said Bridges. “I took a medical anthropology course. We have all of these natural sciences on the way. They’re all medical students, they know all about biology. Because that is their focus, they have not focused on their human perspective and themselves, but on books and facts, and they have learned to see what they are given as truth. At the end of the class they questioned this truth. ”

Manasa Gogineni, a UC Davis graduate minor with anthropology and experience in marketing and journalism, described how this atmosphere of constant willingness to learn and change helped her develop a more empathetic perspective.

“More than any other discipline, anthropology is not black and white,” said Gogineni. “If you try to think that way, you just won’t understand. You move away from thinking that this is right and that is wrong – you don’t necessarily agree with them, but you make an effort to understand their perspective. You develop your own understanding of the world. ”

Bridges stated that, in their opinion, anthropology is doing away with “binaries”.

“You question the normal,” said Bridges. “And when you decenter normal and abnormal, you have room for empathy.”

Gogineni experienced the same tendency towards empathy. She also believed that the subject would improve her communication skills – both very valuable tools in marketing and journalism, and in life.

Kahn discovered the broad applicability of anthropology because he was originally unsure what he would do with his degree.

“It was useful when I was working in public health after graduation and also in legal work,” said Kahn. “I ultimately chose an academic anthropology profession, but this combination of critical empiricism and humanistic awareness is valuable in everything you do.”

Meanwhile, Bridges, who made them Bachelor honors thesis on “Issues of Slavery, Race and the Black Body Tales” explained why she was excited to pursue this research method after graduating from ethnography.

“I’m black and I love being black and I’m a woman and I love being a woman, but that’s not all I am,” said Bridges. “I’m an artist. So you mix all the colors and you get black, but you need to remember all of the colors that are in it. Equating someone with a number doesn’t represent life. There’s more voice in a story than we can learn more from a story, and that is exactly what ethnography makes possible. “

Bridges offered some final reflections on anthropology and how individual aspirations and broad, global science are intertwined.

“It’s a constant state of learning,” said Bridges, “about myself, about the world. And when you learn something about the world, you also learn about yourself. Maybe that’s the psychology in me, but I can’t separate it. “

Written by: Sonora Slater – [email protected]

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