my own idiosyncratic job trajectory (fwd (fwd)

Noel Chrisman (noelj@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Thu, 9 Jun 1994 07:33:51 -0700

You may remember I posted David Beer's job trajectory to ANTHAP after
seeing it as part of a discussion of non-academic job opportunities that
was part of an ANTHRO-L thread. I received this response from Carol
Colfer (who is evidently in Borneo right now). ANTHRO-L people might
enjoy another example of what successful alternatives. If this kind of
work is interesting to you, you should join the Society for Applied
Anthropology and/or the National Association of Practicing
Anthropologists for more information.

Noel Chrisman, University of Washington

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: 07 Jun 94 17:08:54 EDT
From: Carol J. P. Colfer <73142.741@CompuServe.COM>
To: Noel Chrisman <>
Subject: my own idiosyncratic job trajectory (fwd

I haven't been getting this overall discussion of non-academic employment,
but I was interested in Beer's description of his career to date. One
theme, which I've run into again and again and which I find peculiar, is
the assumption that we are all trying to get academic positions. I have not
been particularly interested in academic positions, though I have held
several, along the way---and don't object to them if I can also do the other
things I want to do.

I went directly to work, before I finished my Ph.D., for Abt Associates (a
consulting firm), like Beer, doing evaluation---the project was called
Project Rural, and my ex-husband and I lived for three years "monitoring and
evaluating" a rural school project in Washington (finishing our Ph.D.'s
while there; we job-shared). The work was fascinating, challenging,
inter-disciplinary, applied.

But I had originally gone into anthropology because of my interest in Third
World development and my perception that the development world was in
desparate need of anthropological input---if "development" was ever to be
anything benign and positive. In grad school that was drummed out of me,
and I only rediscovered it after I'd been out a while.

Went to the East-West Center for a training program on family planning, got
all excited about development work, looked for a job, and got lots of nice
letters saying essentially that anthropology was fluff, and I should get a
real degree in ag. econ. or public health. I went back to school and got an
MPH, but I've really not had to use it much. Anthropology's gotten more
popular in the intervening years (and I've gotten a lot more experience).

I've worked on a UN, human ecology project on "People and Forests in East
Kalimantan;" as a farming systems researcher on a soil management project in
rural Sumatra with aggies; as a women in development specialist, setting up
a WID program and training faculty in women and agricultural issues; as a
fieldwork coordinator for medical students wanting to work in rural areas of
Oman; as a natural resource management specialist in West Kalimantan on a
conservation project; as a consultant in a variety of short term projects;
and as an ass't and later assoc professor in a couple of universities
(Sultan Qaboos University's College of Medicine, College of AGriculture and
Fishers; and at the University of Hawaii's College of Agriculture and Human
REsources). I'm now about to return to Indonesia where I'll be working first
on a biodiversity project in Ruteng, Flores (3 months), and later on a
coastal zone management project (2 months).

I agree with much of what Beer had to say. Being willing to learn and
trying to make anthropological insights understandable and acceptable to
people in other disciplines are really important. Being willing to try to
learn about how another discipline sees the world--just as we try to see how
any other group of people sees the world--has really been critical for
interdisciplinary project success. I've really enjoyed most of the things
I've done. I've always managed to work on problems I consider important,
significant, useful. And I've managed a reasonable degree of financial

The downside is the lack of *any* security of position. I'm pretty used to
it now, but I've never known that I would have a job to return to. I've
always had to live with uncertainty, and that can be pretty hard on families
(I have two kids of my own, and two more of my second husband's). We've
moved a lot!

There are at least a few of us out here who work outside academia because we
like what we do and feel it's useful. Just in case there's anyone else out
there who does not feel like the puppy dog panting longingly outside the
windows of academe....I LOVE what I do!