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Career: Anthropologist

 
A Day in the life of a Anthropologist

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 professional journals. 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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Associated Careers

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.


 
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