Loyola University Chicago

Department of Anthropology


Alex Keena ('11)

Alex Keena (

Alex Keena ('11) is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. https://politicalscience.vcu.edu/people/faculty/keena.html

Alex's reflections on his career path and the value of Anthropology as an undergraduate major:

Majoring in Anthropology helped me navigate grad school, complete my PhD in political science, and ultimately become a university professor.

After graduating from Loyola as a double-major in anthropology and political science, I went on to grad school at the University of California, Irvine to study political science. Those who have experienced the shift from undergraduate to graduate student know that it can be very confusing. Finding your own unique place within the academic community is particularly challenging as a new grad student. 

Fortunately, the lessons I learned as an anthropology student were incredibly useful in helping me to adapt to life as a scholar and gave me an advantage compared to many of my peers did not have this training. I found the concepts and methods taught in the anthropology courses I took particularly relevant for understanding how to navigate a large bureaucracy (the University of California system), to learn the “language” of a new scientific discipline, and to negotiate the complex social hierarchy of a new profession.

As a new PhD student learning a new field, I likened my experience to an “observing-participant” learning a new culture, and I drew heavily upon the anthropological method to make sense of my surroundings.  Concepts such as a “reflexivity”, which I learned in Professor Adams’ class, were particularly helpful in gaining perspective about my own position relative to others within a broader institutional context. And my understanding of and appreciation for “cultural relativism” has provided an invaluable perspective as a job applicant interviewing in campuses across the country and engaging with colleagues who have backgrounds very different from my own.

I would recommend anthropology as a major for anyone — the value is not limited to those who want to go on to grad school, or those who plan to study humans. Anthropology offers real world lessons that make us better citizens, allow us to connect with and relate to others with whom we seemingly have little in common, and identify the institutional structures that profoundly impact human behavior and social interactions.