Why I chose to study Anthropology

Up until a few months after sending my UCAS application (necessary to get into UK universities), my mind had been set on becoming a doctor. I had taken the UKCAT, BMAT, done the necessary work experience, had the grades etc and thought that nothing would stop me. Then with the heat of the NHS reforms and the White Paper, I found that I was more interested in the holistic effects that this would have on society in the long term rather than how it would affect me as a future doctor. I didn’t know any Anthropology students or graduates and thought that Anthropology was a sister to Archaeology and all about fossils, bones and digging up our Neanderthal relatives. It wasn’t until reading about groups of people being found who showed slight immunity to HIV that I saw Anthropology crop up in a scientific field that I was least expecting it to. It was naive for me to think of Anthropology as purely concerning boring human history with no exciting scientific rigour, and after a few searches on Google I realised that I had found the perfect broadest field for me that was completely different to anything I had expected of it.

Biology, Sociology, Geography, Demography, Economics, Psychology, Statistics, Politics, Linguistics… the number of different disciplines it encompasses astounded me. How on earth had we never been told of this course at school before? And why were so few people doing it? I know that I am not alone in having done a diverse range of GCSEs and A levels and having interests in both the Humanities and the Arts and their overlap.

I read around the subject more and more, and my gut was telling me that here was a field that would let me explore all the interests that I have in one way or another, whilst seeing their interrelationships which seemed much more enjoyable and exciting than 6 years of rote learning. That’s not me being dismissive of the medical course at all, I’m very much considering doing graduate medicine and have a lot of respect for medical students but I found that at the age of 18, why do I want to settle down and commit myself to Medicine when I can really investigate for example why there are health differences between the different classes and areas in Britain? Surely, after 3 years of learning all aspects of humans and humanity, it would be great, with that grounding and foundation to then learn about our present human bodies and keeping them alive. I’m a bit of a geek and I think that doing a course like Medicine, when I have the option of doing such a broad and contempory course like Anthropology for a few years scared me.

So a few months down the line, and some clinching visits to the American Museum of Natural History and episodes of Human Planet, I decided that Anthropology was the course for me for now and closed that medical student 2011 chapter. I luckily got my offer (and a scholarship!) from Durham just before the fees hike, and once I had seen the preliminary reading list and realised that I had pretty much read all of them before even knowing about Anthropology, I knew that I had made the right decision. First year now over with, it was definitely the best decision that I ever made.

It did have its challenges – essay writing being probably the biggest (I was a science and further maths geek, and hadn’t written an essay for 4 years) and the fact that it was such an independent course (so different from school) but it has given me such a good relevant anthropological grounding and allowed me to explore my interests.

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6 thoughts on “Why I chose to study Anthropology

  1. Kert says:

    Hello,

    I am an Anthropology graduate from the Philippines. I can very much relate to what you have written and I also wonder why kids aren’t exposed to Anthropology before college. When I went to college, I didn’t know what Anthropology is and what it’s all about. I was a Physics major. Like you, I was also more inclined in Mathematics (but a bit forcibly because my mother is a mathematics professor and my father is an engineer).

    It was rather funny how I ended up taking an Anthropology subject. I was set out to take up Philosophy as an elective and there was no slots left. The girl from the registrar told me that Anthropology 10 (Anthropology of the Body) was still open. I didn’t know what it was, she just told me it was interesting and we are going to learn about people and different cultures — something which is of interest to me, as I aspire to be a writer and wanted to write about people.

    It was one of the best courses I’ve ever taken in my life. I had one of the best professors, as well, who inspired me and is still inspiring me to continue in this field. He said he had been observing me since I became his student (1st year) until I graduated 6 years later (I got delayed because of too many field works, which I rather enjoyed). A year after, I took another Anthropology subject (Applied Anthropology) and with my mother’s blessings, I worked out shifting from Physics to Anthropology after that.

    Many of my friends were baffled with my decision. There is a mentality in my country that Anthropology (along with other humanities and social sciences) are considered lower than natural sciences. They also said that I wouldn’t be able to get a job when I graduate (a reasoning which is very funny in my opinion). Some commented that I took it up as a passion, much like taking Fine Arts as a passion. Not many of them understand that Anthropology is a rigorous science and it has helped our world in so many ways.

    Now I am teaching Anthropology and Sociology in the university and going to join some researches about the peoples of Mindanao (usually, this is the place that gets televised in international news because of the wars). I am planning to take up my Master’s soon (though I haven’t figured out whether I should further Anthropology or take up Southeast Asian studies). We lack Anthropology majors in the country so it was easy for me to spot a teaching position as other courses are required to take up basic Anthropology courses.

    Anyway, I am sorry for the long “essay”. My point here is you’re not alone in feeling that way. And I am so glad to have also found someone with the same sentiments. I am glad that you have found the course that you really want and that you are very much enjoying it. I am sure that when you take up Medicine, Anthropology will help you in more ways than one to be a better doctor and a better person. Much like Paul Farmer, his background as an anthropologist has enabled him to do his work better as a doctor and helping out more people in terms of medicine because he is able to understand them more than any other doctor can.

    I wish you all the best in your endeavors and good luck with Anthropology. A big hurray for all Anthropologists in the world and I am wishing that there would be more people like us who will be given a chance to discover Anthropology one day and find that they are well suited for it. And hopefully, after that, people don’t need to discover Anthropology because it would be well known among the schoolchildren.

    Cheers!

    Kert

    • Kert says:

      PS.. I forgot to write the significance of my professor’s observation. He said he was observing me and told me how he noticed how my happiness progressed as I took up Anthropology.

  2. […] interesting article about how she ended up in Anthropology instead of Medicine (you should read it here). She also asks why Anthropology is not introduced before university. Indeed, why? A lot of school […]

  3. Michaela Mia says:

    I want to study anthropology but I’m worried that its the wrong choice. The thing is that I found it fascinating and full of learning possibilities but people keep trying to convince me that the job opportunities are not too positively looking. The closer the date to decide approaches the more I fear that they might be right. So I started thinking about majoring in something that I’m certain is much more difficult, physics, but with a lot of working possibilities. I love it and I’m fairly good at it but I don’t think ‘fairly good’ is college quality. On the other hand I think anthropology would be something I would be able to comprehend more easily than some areas of physics (i.e. circuitry – I always had a problem with it). I’m just having such a difficult time trying to decide. Right now I’m just going through blogs analyzing what other people in a similar situation did.

    If anyone had any helpful advice I would be super happy and grateful. Please let me know at mia.dewinterr@gmail.com

  4. Josie says:

    Hi there,
    I just stumbled across your blog while researching Anthropology as a university course and couldn’t help but be glad that I had found someone who was originally planning to do medicine.
    I have never considered medicine as an option for me, but I always thought I would end up doing something much deeper in the biology/chemistry field than Anthropology.
    I’ve not applied for university yet and I’m still having trouble deciding.
    I also have not written an essay for years so I am a bit worried about the writing side of things. I got an A in English lit and lang at GCSE so I’m not bad, but certainly not amazing.
    How did you cope with the essays?
    And as for exams, are they all in long essay format?
    Any info would help!
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi there, really sorry for the late reply!

      In terms of the essays – I used to really think that I was terrible in them (with my mainly scientific background), but really anyone can write an essay so long as they stick to the basic ‘introduction, content (that leads to an argument), conclusion’ structure succinctly.. what makes an essay an interesting read is when the argument is original and flowing, and in anthropology’s case (I’ve found), just making sure that you are using relevant, recent research, encompassing different viewpoints. Essay writing at uni is so different to essay writing at school. If you have great tutors/lecturers at the uni you choose (and I had some brilliant ones), the feedback you initially get is so useful and really does help… I think half the reason for why first year doesn’t count at so many uni’s is to allow students a year to settle in to (not just the social life but) the university methods of teaching and assessment. Essays in no way are scary, especially if a topic interests you!

      In terms of exams, for my uni (Durham), I’d say about half of the exams were of the essay format and the other half short answer style, very similar to the science papers you get at GCSE/A-Level. I have had a range of other methods of assessment too such as two multiple choice exams on the computer to a “steeplechase” speed dating style practical experiment where you had to go from table to table every 5 minutes and answer a different question based on the bones there! (…..surprisingly fun). Then you are also assessed via presentations etc.

      Sorry that is such a rushed reply, I just didn’t see your comment till now so apologise profusely for such a delay as I’m sure you are wanting to make a decision as soon as possible.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

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