A degree in anthropology opens graduates to a variety of career paths.
A few months ago I read an article in Fortune magazine that featured this caption: “Hormel developed Rev, a new line of on-the-go-meals with input from its house anthropologist, who noticed that today’s students don’t put down their phones during meals.” The phrase “house anthropologist” jumped out at me.
This wasn’t the first time I’d read about anthropologists working for major corporations. Several years back, while on a beach vacation, I shared an article from the New York Times Magazine with my two teenagers about how cell phone companies were using anthropologists to help them design accessible devices for people in Third World countries. Ever since, I’ve found this college major fascinating for the knowledge it imparts, the skills it develops and the possibilities it avails in terms of career options.
What is anthropology? From the American Anthropological Association: “Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. Anthropologists take a broad approach to understanding the many different aspects of the human experience….”
Through its four main subfields, anthropology looks at our past, our biology, our social interactions, and the different ways we meet our human needs, communicate and even dress. Anthropology explores cultures and societies past and present.
What skill sets and interests do you need to major in anthropology and work as an anthropologist? It helps if a student enjoys research, writing and observing, core requirements in anthropology coursework, and is open-minded and shows a curiosity about people, places and cultures other than their own.
What should you study in high school to prepare for a major in anthropology? Classes in world history, geography, sociology, foreign language and biology will prove the most useful.
What are the main subfields of anthropology? There are four: archaeology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology and biological anthropology.
By uncovering the objects of past societies and their cultures, archaeologists act as detectives, examining such objects as pottery and tools as well as human bones to understand the daily lives of people, figuring out how and what they ate, the diseases they contracted and use this research as a key to connect how humans lived and have changed over our long history.
Focusing on the cultural aspects of various human societies, learning how people around the globe live and react to the world around them, cultural anthropologists explore the differences and similarities between various societies. Anthropologists often travel to and live among different societies to conduct their research.
The key focus of linguistic anthropologists is human communication, studying how language influences the way people function and view the world, which explains how humans interact with and react to each other. They also investigate nonverbal communication, the evolution of language and the differences among languages.
In examining how humans and other primates have evolved and adapted to different environments in our history and throughout the world, biological anthropologists can provide answers to how we fight disease, human diversity and how we got here. This subfield is also known as physical anthropology.
What other subfields are there in anthropology? Forensic anthropology uses archaeological and biological anthropology skills to identify victims and find the cause of death in criminal cases and disasters. Medical anthropology focuses on the health and well being of people by studying the causes of illness and perceptions about acceptable forms of treatment in different cultures. Business anthropology uses anthropological theories to solve business problems. Visual anthropology studies various forms of imagery to understand human behavior. Environmental anthropology looks at human interaction with the environment. Museum anthropology studies the role of museums in society, their history and how that role has evolved.
What career options are open to anthropologists? Research and academia are the traditional career paths for anthropologists, usually requiring an advanced degree. But outside of those areas, there are plenty of jobs in what is referred to applied anthropology. Graduates in anthropology possess the skills to work in journalism and communications, user experience, marketing, sales, business, child services, human resources, social work, government, public health, market research and more. To find out about all the career options in anthropology, visit job sites like careerbuilder.com and monster.com then search “anthropology” and see what comes up. You may be surprised.
Where to learn more about studying anthropology Go to the College Board’s Big Future site and click on the Explore Careers tab for information on colleges that offer anthropology degrees as well as some of the career options in this field. The American Anthropological Association lists colleges that award degrees in anthropology. Check out the anthropology pages on college websites to find more about the major, career options and review the course list.
Visit the sites below for more information on anthropology.
American Anthropological Society: this site covers everything you want to know about anthropology, including where to study it, the jobs available, information on fieldwork and research, and more.
Occupational Outlook Handbook: this government site provides info on median salary, job prospects, career requirements and more.
Share your thoughts and experiences about anthropology as a major and/or career in the comments section below.