Anthropology: Taking the Fear Out of the Post-Grad Career Search

News Date: 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021


By Paola Espinosa 


The year 2021 has been called the year of “The Great Resignation.”According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record of 4.4 million workers in America quit their jobs in September alone.
This is why UC Santa Barbara anthropology professor  and Integrative Subsistence Laboratory director, Amber VanDerwarker, believes it is crucial for students to find direction before graduating.
Last spring, VanDerwarker started a new course, limited to juniors and seniors: “Preparing for Graduate School and the Job Market.” 
In spring 2021, she re-designed a new four-unit class that is now open to all majors in the Social Science division and completely optional. It combines elements of two formerly mandatory classes for anthropology students, in job and graduate school preparation.
Within this course students work on their resumes, statements of purpose, job letters and more. They also get the opportunity to receive constructive feedback from both their peers and professor VanDerwarker.  
In a recent interview, VanderWarker discussed why she believes this is an important class that students should consider taking. 
Q: What do you hope students gain from a course specifically focused on preparing for the next step after graduation? 
A: I want my students to feel confident that they can move forward and be successful. I believe that confidence is the key to success, if students are not confident they are not motivated and if they are not motivated, they are not going to get the best job or into the best graduate school that they can. 
Q: What are some important elements of this class? 
A: I send out a questionnaire about current majors, double majors, minors, possible job sectors, possible fields of study, and ask students how they rate themselves as writers, editors, public speakers, etc. Then, I group students together who are going into similar fields and whether they are focusing on grad school or job searches. 
These peer groups are not just about making your work better. Students are about to go out into the world and will have to interact with a lot of different people. Post grad, students will be writing, editing and will need to take feedback both in their schooling and job careers.
The goal is to convert this course into a hybrid class where I meet with the students once a week. Then students work in their peer groups remotely.
Q: What type of assignments are given in this course? 
A: I had to scale back this year due to lack of teaching assistants. At the beginning of the course students write a short statement of intent. This will vary depending on where they are in their undergrad career and their knowledge of what they want to do for their future. 
I assign statements of purpose, job letters, resumes and curriculum vitae. 
Additionally, everyone has to interview an expert in the field that they are interested in, ranging from law, business, hospitality or history. Because I have a fairly broad network of connections, I help students with finding an expert to interview. 
Q: What keeps you motivated to teach this course, even without the help of TAs? 
A: The motivation is the students. There are always a few students who know exactly what they want to do when they come to class. But by and large, a lot of the students are terrified as they come into class, students who are worried that they do not know enough to even take the class. But, you do not need to know anything to take the class. That is the point. I am going to help you find your direction you do not have to have it already. 
It is motivating because I am never upsetting students. They are always so grateful that they have someone to guide them in this process. I get positive feedback and that is very highly motivating.
Paola Espinosa is a third-year UC Santa Barbara pre-communication major. She wrote this story for her Writing Program class, Digital Journalism.