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A Day in the Life of an Anthropologist on World Anthropology Day (February 18, 2016)
July 18, 2016
In honor of World Anthropology Day (Feb. 18, 2016), I wanted to illustrate what a day of work is like when I’m employed as an anthropologist, so I took some fieldnotes on my experiences during the day. Sometimes, when I talk with prospective anthropologists, they want to know what an average day is like for me as an anthropologist. Taking World Anthropology Day as a sample, here is what a day in my life is like.
I was contracted to work on a user research project by my client, an information architecture consultancy of about 15 people. Occasionally, the employees at this organization gather for “brown bag” sessions over lunch, where someone would present something on a topic of general interest.
As a freelancer, I spend the majority of my time working from my home office, but I am happy to go to client sites or field sites as needed. For this project, the team was spread out: one team member commuted between Grand Rapids and Chicago, one team member was based in Ann Arbor and one was based in Indianapolis. Though I am close enough to Ann Arbor to be located in that office for the project, the team determined that we would all work remotely and collaborate using tools like Slack and Google Hangout, Docs and Sheets to get our work done. However, I was going to be in my client’s office on World Anthropology Day conducting remote user research sessions with the project team, so I volunteered to give a short presentation over lunch on the relationship of anthropology to information architecture.
The following notes are what I captured at various points throughout the day, documenting what I was doing and what I was thinking about, to be able to show people what a day in the life of anthropologist is like.
woke up abruptly, recalling I hadn’t prepared a spreadsheet to debrief our interview data for the remote user research sessions scheduled for the day
decided to get up, go to my computer and take care of it so that I could get it off my mind
found that I hadn’t prepared a place to store the screener information we had been gathering from our potential participants, so I set that up too
sent a notification via Slack to my colleague who is also recruiting where she could find the spreadsheet
wanted to look at one thing in my presentation for World Anthro Day - was I planning to talk about how I got to be an anthropologist? Maybe I shouldn’t spend time talking about that. Made a note in the PowerPoint file on my desktop computer, then realized I had already saved the file on my laptop, which I already packed in my bag for ease of getting out of the house in the morning, and I wasn’t going to get the laptop, turn it on, find and edit the file. I’ll just have to remember what I wanted to say
back to bed to try to sleep for a few hours
double check alarm to make sure it’s set right
I leave house a few minutes later than I wanted, but traffic is light. Take picture of the stuff I’m bringing with me for my day in the field to tweet later for #AnthroDay
stop at store to pick up treats for the brown bag session
arrive at client’s office and get set up for the remote interviews, eat the yogurt I brought with me for breakfast and help myself to coffee
tweet a few pics with the tag #AnthroDay and take a few notes so I can write it up later
start to get nervous that my colleague is not here yet for our 9am conference call with client to show the wireframes we’ll be testing with a real participant at 10am. I receive a text message from my colleague to start the meeting without him
starting to worry I won’t have a chance to go to the bathroom in between this current meeting and our 10am user research session
bathroom break achieved. Last minute edits to prototype happening and script needs to be adjusted accordingly.
interview/test ran very long and we didn’t get to everything we wanted to… now we’re debriefing but we have to take care of administrative/protocol issues. How can we improve our process?
eat my clementine in anticipation of not eating lunch until 1pm
didn’t fully debrief the session but have to prep for lunch presentation. Schedule is getting pushed back, which makes me nervous…
brown bag presentation – good group discussion about reaching potential clients with the right message about the value of research
out to lunch with colleagues – this is a nice treat to have a social event in person with the people I’m working with
back to work – try to catch up on a few emails/recruiting needs before the next work session at 2:30
reflecting for a moment: how is this anthropological? What we are doing with this research is advocating for users’ needs. Focusing on what is meaningful to people. I’m trying to help my client develop processes for getting research done well and how to choose the right method for the right problem
research sessions done for the day. I have to be out the door in 5 minutes to have a chance to make it to the gym at 5. It has proven to be good for me to take a break between 5-6 to work out. I really appreciate the break from sitting at a desk. Without carving a space for working out, I am likely to put it off. If I take an hour or a couple of hours off at 5, I can always come back to my computer for a couple of hours of work in the evening
I remind myself not to forget to track my billable time for today in my own spreadsheet I use for accounting and in my client’s timesheet
stop at market next to gym to grab a few things we need at home
Cook dinner at home with husband
catch up on email, recruiting, fieldnotes for today, tweet the few pictures I captured – all in a #AnthroDay‘s work!
reflecting back on the day: Live tweeting was fun! Being able to present on anthropology was fun! Glad I was in the middle of a project to be able to show what a good day looks like
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I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!