Why I'm pursuing a MS in Anthropology

August 14, 2015

Well, I finally did it - I got into graduate school!

Yep, last fall, in my mid 40s and years after getting my bachelors degree, I applied to the University of Utah's anthropology graduate program.  After many months of waiting, I was finally notified that I was accepted into the Master of Science program, with a focus on cultural anthropology.  Woo-hoo! 

I am really excited to get started with it.  Why?  Well, mostly because I am intensely fascinated by the subject and I find it very stimulating intellectually.

But you wouldn't believe how many times people have heard what I'm going into and ask (or exclaim) "Anthropology? Why would you pick that?"  I can usually tell by their tone of voice if they are truly interested in why I chose that subject, or are baffled that I didn't choose a sexier, more financially rewarding program.  My responses can range from "Because I make plenty of money in what I'm doing now" (I'm a computer programmer) to "Because it's what I want to do!"

Truth be told, though, there are several specific reasons why I chose cultural anthropology.  First, I really have been interested in the subject for the past 20 years.  After spending 2 years living in Micronesia, when I started university a friend of mine recommended that I take Anthropology 101.  I did, and I loved it!  That started my fascination with the subject, and ever since that class I have dabble in amateur scientific study of the subject - mostly by reading ethnographies.  I took a few other classes shortly after that one and found those to be just as interesting and cool.  I briefly considered changing my major to anthropology, but, I am ashamed to say, I was held back by the nagging feeling of "what would I do with that degree?"

After leaving university studies, I continued to read about and be interested in the subject.  Four years ago, when I got a full time job at the University of Utah, I decided to use my tuition benefits and take some more anthropology classes.  The first one I tried: Peoples of the Pacific.  That class was a blast as it reminded me how much I had loved living in Micronesia, and it also convinced me that it was what I wanted to study as a graduate student.

Second, it is about as far away from computer science as you can get.  Yeah, that is what I got my Bachelor's degree in.  Don't get me wrong, I loved CS and am very happy with my current career as a computer programmer, but I wanted to study something diametrically opposed to it - and anthropology fits the bill.  You see, I enjoy a wide variety in my life's activities, and I wanted to branch out some more.

Third, I wanted to choose a subject for a graduate degree which I truly loved, and not one which was motivated by how much money I could earn with the degree after graduating.  I don't know for sure, maybe a MS in anthropology will help me earn a lot of money... but I doubt it.  I am pretty sure that I can earn a lot more by staying in the computer programming profession.  But I didn't want the pursuit of money to dictate what I would study in graduate school - otherwise I would have pursued a more hi-tech related degree.

Fourth, I think anthropology studies a very important subject: mankind.  I really believe that the answers to questions like "Where did humans come from?" and "How is evolution important to humankind?" are truly important.  I also think that learning about other cultures can broaden our minds, and make us more tolerant and peaceful.  I like those outcomes, and felt strong enough about them to devote myself to their study.

Fifth, I wanted more experiences with the people and cultures in Micronesia.  I've already mentioned that lived there for 2 years - that was as a Mormon missionary back in 1990.  The experiences I had then were amazing and (mostly) wonderful, and I desperately want more experiences like that.  I figure that I'm not getting any younger, and if I don't make some sort of plan to do what I want in life then those things will probably never happen.

So, there you go.  Those are the main reasons I chose anthropology for my graduate studies.  It doesn't hurt that I get a hefty tuition break since I work for the U of U, or that I am on campus nearly every day anyway.  But those things just helped push me in that direction. 

I look foward to the experiences I'll get from this program, and sincerely hope that other people will choose to study things that they find fascinating - and not just the things that will make them a lot of money.

-Rusty