Job opportunties and careers: what do you do with a degree in anthropology…
I got an Ask about job opportunities from a student in Puerto Rico.
The quick answer is that you can do anything you want with a degree in anthropology. It sounds facetious, but if you want to do it and you have a background in anthropology, I am positive that the case could be made for how the two relate. Anthropologists work in business, government, media, development - and not because they couldn’t find jobs in anthropology.
The most obvious answer (the path I’m trying to head down - and the one that your family probably pictures when you say anthropology) is ….. Academia!
If you want to research and do fieldwork… it’s the simplest (although not always the easiest) way. Most archaeological excavations are done by academics, who are employed by universities, and go out into the field during the summer - and same for anthropology. It means that you stay at university your entire life - after graduation, work your way up through post-doc and fellowships, lecturing positions - and, one day, full-time professorship Teaching and writing and researching and publishing and (hopefully) doing fieldwork. It would be a good thing if you actually have a desire to teach (rather than just waiting around for field season) - but the issue of how universities have transitioned from being educational institutions into being primarily research institutions, while at the same time dramatically increasing the student body, is another conversation…
Most fieldwork and research is funded by by outside bodies (ie, not the university that employs you), and you don’t have to be affiliated with a university to get funding and start a study - but it does help, when it comes to grant applications.
Out in the “real world”:
Anthropology gives you a good background with which to make cross-cultural comparisons, to understand other cultures, to understand people’s reactions to other cultures, to analyze how different types of information relate to each other, and to help people with different backgrounds/ideas/languages/value systems/goals communicate with each other.
There’s a lot of good resources on the internet describing what jobs outside of universities exist for anthropologists so I won’t try to list things exhaustively (really, you could probably answer this question with a couple of hours on Google, much better than I can).
But, quickly, as just a starting point, a few that come to mind include:
For Anthropology, in general: Journalist.Loads of roles in the film industry (like, location scout - going ahead to a place before the film crew - or production assistant, or writer), any sort of work in Development and International Charity (from fund-raising to advertising to administrative to whatever hands-on work, be it teaching or medical intervention, that the charity runs). Social worker. Various roles in government, helping policy-makers understand scientific recommendations (about, for example, nutrition!)
For biological anthropology & archaeology: Science writer (ok, another type of journalist), even more government roles helping translate expert/scientific recommendations to policy makers or the general public. Museum work is always an option (but there are more and more universities offering programs tailored specifically to “museum studies” and curating, so it’s getting harder to compete for them straight after graduating). Archaeologist
If you’re willing to get a second degree or re-train slightly, having an anthropological background is really good when it comes to law (especially international law or human rights law), forensics (helping police identify dead skeletons/bodies),
Also, there’s a lot of archaeology that is done (nearly) independent of academia: Contract archaeologists work for private companies that are constructing new buildings - they go in quickly, survey the land, and make sure that nothing of historical significance will be destroyed in the process. I’d imagine that, as law changes to require this sort of survey, and as development throughout the developing world continues, there’s going to be no shortage of jobs in it.
DiscoverAnthropology.co.uk has a great collection of links and information, broken down by category: Business, Cultural Organisations, Development/International Aid, Government, Health, Media, Teaching, Tourism.
These are broad areas - but, depending on what you’re interested in, and what you picture yourself doing on a daily basis, there are a lot of specific careers that are a degree in anthropology (or archaeology - or biological anthropology, or nutrition and anthropology, or, or, or).
It helps to keep in mind that you need to build up experience.
“What sort of job can I get within a month of graduating with a degree in anthropology?" is a very different question from "What can I aim for in five years, and is anthropology the right degree to set me on that path?”.
Internships internships internships. Stepping-stone jobs. Internships. Fieldwork. Volunteer. Internships.
A lot of employers put about equal importance on your education and you experience (and some weigh the experience more heavily). This is true for any field - someone graduating with a degree in journalism is going to have a hard time getting jobs without showing a list of internships and experience on their resume.
And even once you have that body of experience - unpaid internships you did while at school, or for the first few years after graduating - it can still be tough to get “the job” you want - so you might have to enter the field, get a stepping-stone job (some entry-level and easy, but at least in the right general category), and then prove yourself. (And people with degrees in mathematics and engineering have to do the same thing, too, to get where they want to be.)
EDIT - Realized I ignored Business & Industry and the whole wealth of jobs there - jobs not only that anthropological training would help prepare you for (marketing, strategic planning, consulting) but jobs specifcally tailored to anthropologists. My ignoring it probably has a lot to do with my being biased and having little interest in helping the cause of capitalism and in being somewhat horrified to think that anthropologists are using their powers for evil and helping the man. That said… google it. Lots of jobs.
Where’s the line between Archaeology and Anthropology?
Hey! I was just turned onto your blog by another blog that had you as recommended reading. Getting back into college after a few years hiatus I was wondering if you could give me a brief summation of what to expect from a degree in Anthropology/Archaeology and the types of classes associated with this degree path (undergrad). I know a lot of the classes cross over into both divisions but where (if any) is the line drawn between anthropology/archaeology. I am leaning towards Paleoanthropology
If you want to be technical about, Archaeology is generally considered a sub-field of Anthropology.
(Of course, when we say Anthropology, we usually mean Socio-cultural Anthropology.)
Some people think of Archaeology as “anthropology of the past” because, really, they have the same goal: insight into the lifestyle of a people. (And then there’s the whole “archaeology is just a handmaid to history” thing.)
Archaeologists would disagree, and point out (rightfully) that there’s a lot of theory and perceptual work that has developed within archaeology that goes beyond finding things for historians to interpret or just looking at things instead of spending time with the people because the people are dead.
I had a professor who said that Archaeology was a discipline completely obsessed with its methodology at the expense of its point. (But for that matter, Social anthropology is as tightly wrapped around ethnography as archaeology is about excavating, so…)
The same professor - a Social anthropologist - did admit that Archaeology has, historically and currently, been far more open to incorporating anthropology than the other way around.) Archaeology is a lot more interdisciplinary, in general - and has had to be: geology, chemistry, physics, geography… I’d even say that most archaeologists don’t particularly care about disciplinary boundaries (they’re happy to incorporate whatever they need to get the job done).
Anthropology, in my opinion, has had to become a bit defensive about claiming disciplinary territory because it’s own keeps shrinking. Each time a new development is made, each time new ground is broken, specialists go off and divorce themselves from Anthropology (both the Socio-cultural branch and Anthropology as a whole). There’s a long list of “disciplines” that are, both in theory and method, essentially anthropological: sociology, women’s studies, ethnic studies, peace and conflict studies, global issues, post-colonialism. But they don’t publish in anthropology, they don’t bring in money to anthropological departments. (This is just my opinion. I’m sure researchers in any of those fields will be happy to tell me that I’m generalizing and misrepresenting their work. I’ve tried this argument out loud before and been told that, by the same logic, everything should be considered Philosophy - if not Physics. Anyway, I’m off topic.)
On a practical level: Archaeologists dig things up. (Socio-Cultural) Anthropologists don’t. Archaeologists deal with past civilizations - be it several thousand years past, or two weeks ago - by looking at what they have left behind. (Socio-Cultural) Anthropologists spend time with living people.
(And Anthropology - with a big A, Anthropology as a whole - puts the pieces together and finds the common ground. But not very many people are bothering to do Anthropology - with a big A - any more, and when they do it, as documentary makers or as social commentary or as thinkers, they sometimes forget to call it Anthropology.)
But, if you really get down to what’s being done in the field, any firm line (methodological or theoretical) sort of disappears. (Probably somewhere between Historical Archaeology and Material Culture Studies and Ethno-archaeology, if you want to be specific. And don’t even get me started on Evolutionary Psychology and where it should sit.)
The relationship between Archaeology and Anthropology is a bit tense, politically.
Basically: Anthropology is busy defending its disciplinary limits while Archaeology (and Biological Anthropology) are busy pushing those limits. (And there’s only so much money to go around.)
There’s less of a conflict between American (Cultural) anthropology and Archaeology than there is between British (Social) anthropology and Archaeology. Mainly, the difference is down to the history of who’s studied what: “Native American” (indigenous peoples) were always studied by both branches and it seemed pretty obvious that they should be. Europeans, though, used to have a clear line between what the Archaeologists dug up (bronze age things) and who the anthropologists studied (exotic foreigners somewhere far away).
The conflict in the UK has (pretty much) gotten better. (A number of universities are re-organizing their departmental structure and bringing the branches together. Here at Cambridge, the Biological Anthropology “department” is now part of a super Archaeology and Anthropology department. Not that this seems to have changed anything in the day to day - but its the thought that counts…)
And then if you bring in the other branches: (American) Physical anthropology, or (British) Biological anthropology…
In the US, there’s a new “battle” between Physical anthropology and Cultural anthropology, and it’s all about whether or not Anthropology (in general) is a science - and how much it matters if it is.
Socio-cultural Anthropology has gotten more and more post-modern and reflexive and shied away from statements of objectivity and empiricism. This is, in my opinion (and I’d wager to say, most Social or Cultural Anthropologists working today), a good thing - but it’s left Physical Anthropologists out in the cold, unable to identify as Anthropologists and Scientists at the same time.
(Best example of the problem: the American Anthropological Association actually removed the word “science” from its mission statement. Regardless of the fact that alienating Physical anthropologists probably wasn’t the intention in the change in phrasing, it was certainly interpreted that way. The response by Physical anthropologists - who, let’s face it, studying human evolution in the US are probably a little on edge at all times - may be part of a bigger thing in Anthropology, or a bigger thing in American. Disciplinary gerrymandering or side-effect of anti-intellectualism - either way, it’s a “thing”.)
Kind of like the Archaeologists, Physical anthropologists are interdisciplinary, and don’t care. They do what they want to do to get the job done - and many of them work out of whatever department wants to sponsor the thing that they’re currently doing. And this has become increasingly codified in the departmental structure. (Harvard, for example, has moved its paleoanth people out of Anthropology and into a new department of Evolutionary Biology.)
And what about paleoanthropology?
You can kind of think of paleoanthropology as a bridge between Archaeology and Physical-Biological Anthropology. We need the methods and insights of both.
Historically, “we” came out of Anthropology - pure, big A, Anthropology. It was all about the big picture, studying and understanding humanity. (Leakey was responsible for sending Goodall, Fosey, and Galdikas out to do their work, after all.)
A few decades ago, paleoanthropologists were specialized archaeologists: they dug up fossils. Today, you have to know more than the bones - even if you want to work with the bones.
I’d even go so far as to say that paleoanthropology has always been at the cutting edge of archaeology, doing the most “scientific” and interdisciplinary work - that in turn changed the discipline of archaeology. (Of course, I’m a bit biased.)
I’ve heard people argue about the merits of keeping paleoanth in anthropology - on one level, it’s a semantic battle that makes little difference to the work being done. (However, when that battles affects office space, funding, and the number of students who can be admitted - semantics start to seem a lot more serious)
Personally, I see myself as an Anthropologist - more importantly, I see the sort of work that I would like to pursue, research into human origins, as Anthropological.
Not just because I love reading about Social Anthropology and was trained in the 4-field system (well, sort of; we don’t call it that here in England) - but, because I think that the history of the discipline, and the theoretical under-pinnings of it, are necessary to paleoanthropology. I don’t want to be an applied biologist; I want to be a Biological Anthropologist.
Paleoanthropology is about digging up fossils, about looking at the mechanics, the biology, and the structure, about formulating comparisons and considering implications - but it’s also about the nature of humanity.
I need (and I believe the discipline needs) to remember the context, the bigger picture, and the non-empirical, entirely subjective, interpretative theories that have come from Anthropology.
I’m following my own rules of capitalization when it comes to disciplinary sub-fields in order to distinguish between them. Sorry. And I’ve already edited this twice to fix Biological/Physical/Social/Cultural confusion. Hopefully it now makes sense.
kylemillerrocks-deactivated2013 asked: Hey! I was just turned onto your blog by another blog that had you as recommended reading. Getting back into college after a few years hiatus I was wondering if you could give me a brief summation of what to expect from a degree in Anthropology/Archaeology and the types of classes associated with this degree path (undergrad). I know a lot of the classes cross over into both divisions but where (if any) is the line drawn between anthropology/archaeology. I am leaning towards Paleoanthropology
I’ve had a few similar asks in the past: studying archaeology as a background to paleoanthropology and how to find PhD programs in paleoanthropology. (Although, glancing through the first link, I’ve just repeated a lot of the same stuff…)
What to expect from a degree in Anthropology/Archaeology
I did my undergrad in the UK, so I can’t really speak about American programs (I’m guessing that’s where you’re planning on studying?) except to make assumptions and repeat things I’ve heard.
(I went to high school in California, applied to American colleges, and most of my classmates went to college in the US - but no one I know personally studied Arch & Anth. Actually, not true, there are a number of people in my master’s program currently who did their undergrad in the US. As far as I know, most of them have a background in biology, biological anthropology rather than Arch & Anth.)
I know that the day-to-day experience will depend on the school and the department - what their gen ed requirements are like, how much focus they have on lab and fieldwork.
The good news about that is that most universities make that sort of stuff very clear on their website. It might take a bit of digging - the department’s page or buried somewhere in degree requirements or FAQ for potential students - but you should be able to get a clear picture of what classes you can take, how many you’ll be taking each semester, what fieldwork will be available (and how much you’ll have to pay for it, on top of your tuition).
Course catalogs are beautiful things. (Although they’re usually out of date. So it’s more an idea of what you might get than a promise of what will be there.) Looking over the staff profiles - to see who is full time and what their specialities are - is often a good indication of what will be regularly offered.
Speaking (very) generally, I think that the structure of American undergrad programs gives you the ability to pick and chose classes between departments quite flexibly. So even if you’re a declared geology major, you can take anthropology classes, and vice versa, and you can structure your four years to be get what you want out of it. (That said, it depends on the school.)
Most American colleges focus on cultural/social anthropology. And a lot of archaeology departments are focused on Native America, Latin American, and Historical archaeology - at least, that’s the impression I got. Physical/biological anthropology is a broad field (primates, genetics, disease burden, development issues, network theory, etc) - so if you want to make sure you’re going to be taking classes and learning about paleo, read the fine print.
Pure paleoanthropological programs, at least when I was applying (five years ago) were rare. And then tend to go by a variety of names - at some colleges, human evolution and paleo is tied into Evolutionary Biology (whereas, at other colleges, Evo Bio is molecular and ecological).
A classical Arch & Anth program - or a 4-field Anthropology program (Cultural/Social, Physical/Biological, Archaeology, and Linguistics) should broadly prepare you for all four fields (obviously) but it’s get a focus and find a way to make sure you take the right classes.
I think the weakness of the classic Arch & Anth programs is that, if you are sure that you want to go on to work and research in paleo, there’s a lack of anatomy and geology components. While I’m happy that I did study Arch & Anth, there’s a lot that I learned that doesn’t necessarily apply to my future work (Malinowski, feminist anthropology, African witchcraft believes, etc) but has broadened my theoretical understanding of the larger issues. I’m a bit jealous of some of my peers who studied biology as an undergrad, because they have a competent and solid grasp of things I’m still struggling with (I could have done with a forensics or osteology lab, for example). Of course, they might say the same about me, and there are things that they’ve learned that don’t apply to paleo.
Even paleoanthropology itself is a broad field. Depending on what sort of work you see yourself doing in the future (and what you learn may lead you to change your mind), you might want to consider minoring in chemistry, physics, anatomy, geology, genetics, or art history.
At the end of the day, chosing a speciality is a compromise between what you find the most exciting, and what you can see yourself enjoying doing on a daily basis.
As interesting as I find the papers on genomics and sequencing of the Neandertal genome - or isotope studies that reveal dietary and migration information - I know that I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the sort of lab-work that it entails. As far as geology goes, I’m an very glad that there are people who love it, and I am happy to turn to them. Personally, I love fieldwork. I’m in it for the excavations and fossils and human origins. But maybe also artefacts and the origins of cognitive systems. Or maybe primate divergence. (See my problem?) If I already had a definitive focus - much less if I’d had one as an undergrad - I could have saved time and geared up. But, I really am glad to have the “big picture” background knowledge from Arch & Anth, because while I will have to specialize for a PhD - and what I do as a PhD will direct the first five to ten years of my career - I have a framework to understand, to continue reading and learning about, work in other areas of paleo - and archaeology.
More online Arch & Anth textbooks
From SpringerLink, (presumably) free to students.
Including several other paleoanth titles (which I’ll be downloading as soon as I have the time to name and file them properly)
- The First Humans – Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo R. Leakey, I. Tattersall, and F. Fleagle, Eds. (Contributions from the Third Stony Brook Human Evolution Symposium and Workshop October 3 2006) *
- Handbook of Paleoanthropology I. Tattersall and W. Henke, Eds.
- Sourcebook of Paleolithic Transitions: Methods, Theories, and Interpretations M. Camps and P. Chauhan, Eds.
- Human Ecology: Contemporary Research and Practice D. Bates and J. Tucker, Eds.
- An Introduction to Archaeological Chemistry T. Price and J. Burton, Eds.
- Statistics for Archaeologists: A Common Sense Approach R. Drennan **
- Integrating Zooarchaeology and Paleoethnobotany: A Consideration of Issues, Methods, and Cases A. Van Derwarker and P. Peres, Eds.
*I’d already downloaded most of these chapters without realizing it was a book…
**Until I can find a “Statistics and SPSS for Palaeoanthropologists”… this will have to do. Quite timely, actually.
Book Reccomendation (and download link)
The 2007 “Handbook of Paleoanthropology” (by Henke, Hardt, & Tattersall) is absolutely amazing.
It’s at that perfect better-than-your-intro-textbook but not-so-narrowly-specific-as-journal-articles level (less patronizing and more specific - with a broader focus and explaining in the gaps).
It’s on SpringerLink - I can download the chapters individually as pdfs, but I’m guessing that the access is one of the perks of being a student. Those of you who can, I highly recommend downloading it. (And those of you not at universities - well, I’m sure you know someone that you can privately ask…)
By the way - the numbering of the chapters is crazy. Took me a while to sort out that it’s actually three volumes, a bit mixed up.
- Vol 1 is background, evolution, taxonomy, paleo methodology, etc.
- Vol 2 is primate evolution through the Miocene.
- Vol 3 is hominid evolution, Australopithecines through H. sapiens, up to the Neolithic, including cognitive issues.
(PS. Amazon.co.uk wants to sell it to for £600. How crazy is that? Seriously?)