Anthropologists examine, analyze, report on, and compare different cultures and how they
grow, develop, and interact. How people live offers insights into modern life and how significantly (or, more often, how little) we have changed and how similar we are in our basic systems
of interaction. Anthropologists can travel to exotic lands and spend time in primitive conditions or work in developed countries, such as the United States, comparing regional concerns.
Cultural anthropologists may compare the culture of the medical world to that of the financial
world, or the culture of professional athletes to that of legal professionals. Some anthropologists
take a cross-disciplinary approach to the field,
studying linguistics, chemistry, nutrition, or behavioral science, and apply the methodologies of those disciplines to their study of culture. Qualities that encourage success in this field include a nonjudgmental, inquisitive mind; patience; and the ability to make inferences from incomplete
information. Unlike in other sciences in which significant funding and sizable research teams
are usually necessary, an individual can make discoveries while working alone.
Most anthropologists are employed by universities; they teach and review others’ work to earn their daily bread. It is rare for an anthropologist to spend more than 15 percent of his or her career outside the university setting. An anthropologist spends a lot of time writing, editing, doing fieldwork, teaching, consulting with other professionals, and producing papers for
Anthropological research relies on the funding decisions of the federal government, universities,
and foundations, the three major and nearly exclusive employers in the field. “Don’t
go into this profession unless you’ve got the stomach to play politics,” warned one professor.
“It never gets any easier, and it never gets any better.” The immediate return on an investment
in anthropology is impossible to quantify, and therefore, hard to justify as a spending item.
Anthropology is a competitive field, and those who wish to succeed in it must find creative
ways of having their skills recognized. Successful anthropologists quickly learn successful grant-writing skills, find areas of unexplored anthropological concern, and publish articles, essays, and books as early and as often as they can.
Many aspiring anthropologists work as assistants who conduct ground-level research and
write surveys before they have earned advanced degrees. College coursework should include
anthropology, sociolinguistics, sociology, biology, and language (for those considering anthropology
in foreign locations). Specialization takes place very early on. Anthropologists typically
must have PhDs. Graduate students choose to study linguistics, sociocultural anthropology,
biological-physical anthropology, or archaeological anthropology. Many graduate students
associate themselves with an undergraduate or graduate professor for their first field job, while
others work with museums, research groups, or government programs to launch their careers.
Candidates must have an open mind and strong communication skills to succeed in the field.
Anthropology is associated with archaeology, writing, sociology, history, and even geology.
Many former anthropologists choose to specialize in one of these other scientific fields.
Linguistics and ethnology (reviewing methods of communication and cultural histories) are
major fields of choice for the anthropologist who finds physical anthropology less exciting. In
the end, few anthropologists leave the profession because of the amount of time, resources,
and intellectual energy invested in becoming an anthropologist—not to mention their passion
for the field. Usually, those dissatisfied with their choice of career leave during graduate
school, before their careers have truly started.