Life, Work, Anthropology

FullSizeRenderLast Thursday night Martha Higgins, the library staff at Swem, and the Cohen Career Center tempted graduate and undergraduate students alike with pizza, cookies, and the chance to hear from alumni working outside academia. Here’s the lineup.

ROBERT NELSON (American Studies Ph.D.) is director of the Digital Scholarship Lab and affiliated faculty in the American Studies Program at the University of Richmond.

ANTONY OPPERMAN (Anthropology Ph.D.) is the Preservation Program manager at the Virginia Department of Transportation.

BUCK WOODARD (Anthropology Ph.D.) is manager of the American Indian Initiative at Colonial Williamsburg.

DAVID BROWN (History Ph.D.) is co-director of the Fairfield Foundation in Gloucester, Virginia.

SARA BON-HARPER (Anthropology Ph.D., UNC-Chapel Hill) is Executive Director of Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe in Albemarle County, Virginia.


Undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D. students interested in jobs outside the university classroom listened to how these alums got to where they are, what they do on a daily basis, and how to prepare for alternative intellectual careers. It was raw, engaging, inspiring, and terrifying. As a first year graduate student I sometimes question my sanity and my tentative career path. This panel discussion allowed us a rare opportunity to peer inside the real lives of those who have successfully made their careers outside mainstream academia.

In their respective positions of power, they reach a wide public audience on a daily basis through social media, collaborative projects, interpretive programming, and environmental reports. They engage with the intellectual community in varying degrees, but utilize the skills developed and honed within academia to approach challenges with critical and creative solutions. Each panelist detailed their own serendipitous journey through school and the real world. The most poignant take away from the night was to follow your passion, which will give you the motivation to be the best at what you do. Not completely reassuring to one who is still in the thick of academia, yet an uplifting message.

IMG_3292I appreciate the candid conversation and the panelists’ willingness to approach each question with good humor and the sum of their experience. I, boldly speaking for the mass of current students, look forward to future opportunities and collaborations with Sarah, David, Buck, Robert, Antony, in addition to the other amazing William and Mary alumni who have passed through the Wren.

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