anthropology major jobs

Anthropology Major Jobs: Advice for Undergraduate Majors

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A recent high school graduate who desperately wants to be an anthropology major but worries about the anthropology major jobs after graduation:

Hi Jason,
I’ve recently graduated high school and I know for a fact what I want to study in college is anthropology. I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures, origins, languages, ways of thinking in different societies. However, my only problem is that when people ask me what I’m going to do with my degree, I don’t even know myself. I’ve spent countless nights worrying over this and searching for careers. While I am aware that anthropology is a major that you can either do “everything and nothing” with, I’m struggling to find careers that actually involve anthropology. For example, I know of people who major in anthropology and go on to medical school, law school, or other graduate programs. In the end though, these people do not actually end up with a career that largely deals with anthropology, but an entirely different field. So my question is, realistically (outside of academia and archaeology) are there any careers for a desperate young adult that are largely anthropology focused?

I believe I get this question because one of the most popular posts ever on this blog is Anthropology Major: Worst Major for Corporate Tool, Best Major to Change Your Life. That August 2012 post has had over 100,000 page-views and still gets over 1000 hits per month. I hope that’s because the post succinctly reacts to the “anthropology is the worst major” rhetoric, staking out an optimistic position based on a vision for transformational anthropology. The post also outlines some of anthropology’s practical applications. Indeed, anthropology is preparation for “anything.” Finally, I also hope the post is realistic about anthropology’s internal issues as well as prospects in a world marked by such extreme inequalities.

Nevertheless, the reader question remains pertinent. The American Anthropological Association has a valuable page on What You Can Do With a Degree in Anthropology, and some of the specific anthropology major jobs listed at the bottom of that page will involve quite a lot of anthropological skills. And there’s the book by Veronica Strang, What Anthropologists Do (2009).

Please share advice for anthropology major jobs!


Update: See the Disqus comment stream below and the Living Anthropologically Facebook page for some ideas. Also note the blog-posts:




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  • Jason

    Social Development Specialist with any of the multilateral or bilateral financial institutions like World Bank, USAID, etc. Extractives industries companies are increasingly hiring comunity relations officers and the likes to negotiate access to resources and benefit sharing.

  • Myeashea

    I would say focus on the skill set. I’ve kept a job through undergrad and now in grad school. I’ve used my skills and have worked for some of the largest tech companies in the world, taught a variety of workshops, helped to develop culturally contextual curriculum and workshops for a variety of organizations, I learned graphic design and so I also use the skills for branding, marketing and logo development freelance work. Companies like Intel hire anthropologists to help develop tech. The futurist department is headed by a cultural anthropologist, not an engineer. The world and businesses are trending toward human centered design for every day life. This includes everything from understanding the spread of disease to help combat future epidemics to developing social robots to help children with autism learn. UX design often requires a degree in behavioral sciences and anthropology. What about being a filmmaker or producing programming? Education development? Medical research? Urban planning? The list continues.

    How many people actually get a job in ANY degree that they earn, with maybe the exception being medical doctors or something that has a clear path of development and requires a certain type of training? Perhaps the better or more productive question is “what do I WANT to do, and how can I use my degree skill set to help me get there?” At least with anthropology you really can do anything.

    • Hi Myeashea, many thanks for this reply. This seems to be a theme in the replies on the Living Anthropologically Facebook page as well: get technical skills, through and along with anthropology. Some great ideas here, thank you!

  • David Reed

    Make sure to add an analytical component to your training and strongly consider incorporating second language studies. It will open considerably more vistas.

    • Hi David, many thanks. There seems to be an emerging consensus (is that possible?!) that an anthropology major can be valuable, but be sure to get skills in and through and in addition to that major.

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  • I think it’s good to think of anthropology PLUS something else–law, journalism, public health, GIS, criminology, planning, environmental science, etc. Anthropology has a lot to offer, but many people still don’t know this. Having another specialty can help bridge the gap and open up some more possibilities when it comes time to find a job. But I guess the question here is whether or not combining anthro with law, or public health, is actually doing anthropology:

    “In the end though, these people do not actually end up with a career that largely deals with anthropology, but an entirely different field. So my question is, realistically (outside of academia and archaeology) are there any careers for a desperate young adult that are largely anthropology focused?”

    And my answer to this is that we have to broaden what we think of as doing anthropology. If you’re trained in anthropology and working in health care, why shouldn’t we think of this as doing anthropology (or applying anthropology)? The same goes for if you end up working in law, or journalism. I think sometimes we have a very strict, limited view of what it means to be doing anthropology and we need to rethink this. Lately I’ve been thinking that we need another surge of conversations about applied anthropology and what that could mean.

    • Brooke Suraba

      Hmm I’m glad you said that. I’m a junior right now and not sure where to throw my lot in but I know we need to rebuild this planet. Thanks for sharing. Happy Holidays.

  • Katrena

    I went to law school (I take the Bar in one week in Louisiana) and was able to find one other Anthropology major there. He introduced me to an area where we, as Anthropology majors and attorneys, could make ourselves useful and continue to learn the types of things that I found intriguing in Anthropology. I worked with him at a local city/parish (counties outside of Louisiana) government office where another anthropologist (but non-attorney) worked. Both skill sets (law school and anthropology) were of vast use there; city-planning allows for both.

    My future job (which happens to be my dream job) involves working for a neighborhood civic association/non-profit housing group. It allows for understanding people in very different and unique situations, which allow for an examination of a number of things such as neighborhood dynamics, poverty levels, social interaction…the list goes on. For us, understanding the history of neighborhood dynamics helps us identify problems that the legal field contains, especially in areas where poverty and lack of education (by no one’s fault) play a major role. Knowing that, in turn, leads to the opportunity to correct legal processes through amendments in the law which further allow for more participation and representation by all members of society, particularly in the areas of housing, property, and successions.

    As an Anthropology major, I automatically gravitated towards the areas of law that I remained interested in as an undergraduate. Networking and hard work as a volunteer and intern filled in the rest of the blanks for me. Essentially, the law and anthropology are both areas that allow for the study and understanding of ANY subject you find interesting. You just have to make it yours!

    Sidenote: I went into my anthropology degree without any plan for after college. That let me enjoy my major and really become engrossed in it. I didn’t think of law school until my last semester of school when I took a policy class on cultural resource management. My professor showed me how the law is ambiguous (which I loved) and how important the law is to anthropology, as well.

  • When I went into anthropology as an undergrad, I had no idea what job I was going to get, and didn’t give it much thought because I was focused on being a college student and being a young adult. Going in, I really didn’t fully realize what anthropology is and all of its possibilities – the myriad areas of focus of the thousands of anthropologists out in the world. All I knew is, like you, I really enjoyed the subject, cultures, traveling and understanding the world around me. I wasn’t thinking about “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” but it doesn’t surprise me that you and other up-and-coming college students are with all the changes that have occurred in the economy and job market. It seems to be more at the forefront of people’s thoughts and decisions these days.

    During this time, I came across a particular approach to anthropology that resonated with me – applied anthropology – so in grad school, this is what I pursued. At the University of Memphis, I had multiple opportunities to do projects of various kinds in health care, community development and poverty, projects that had real-world implications and directly tied to anthropological skills. I also took classes on really interesting topics that continue to influence my thinking today. I came to understand that “doing anthropology” essentially means applying anthropological perspectives, theories and methods to solving any kind of problem that relates to humans. It means doing whatever job it is you want to do, with an anthropological mindset. It means exploring what problems are most important to you, and finding organizations who are interested in your skill set. Rarely will you find a job title with the word “anthropologist” in it, so you have to be creative. Trust me, there are plenty of jobs out there!

    This idea of problem solving has become solidified in my perspective through the jobs I’ve held since graduation in business, design research and user experience. Jobs are for solving problems – a company or other organization has a problem, and they hire you to solve it. Anthropology can happen anywhere and everywhere. My best advice is to explore as much about it as you can as a student, and to pinpoint as early on the areas that are most interesting to you, and go from there.

    If you are interested, check out an interview series over at my blog, Anthropologizing, where I’ve profiled over 20 anthropologists who work in a wide range of fields, from consulting, business, technology and design to natural resource management, health care, urban development, film and others: http://anthropologizing.com/anthropologists-in-practice-series/.

    Best of luck to you!
    Amy

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  • Ttrinity Anderson

    This is great! Thank you!
    The complete guide on how to find a job https://goo.gl/eVQypF this was really helpful as a starting point for my search.

  • Frobie

    I recently obtained my undergraduate degree in anthropology (with a 4.0gpa). I am a mature student with ample work experience (in my 30s) and I can’t find a job to save my life. I don’t want to return to the industry I was in before I received my degree (non-profit food service) and as such I have no other qualifications that employers are looking for. Simply having a BA is not enough anymore. You must have specific certifications plus specific experiences Eg: 4 years experience AND a 2 yr diploma in library sciences in order to be a librarian assistant. Not my goal of a job, but something that I could enjoy while I keep looking. I am so frustrated and stuck in my job hunt.

    Any other mature students with a recent degree looking to change career paths in the same rut I am in?

  • Agnes Gita Cahyandari

    I hold a B.A degree in Cultural Anthropology. I graduated in February 2016 and got a job within 2 weyeks.
    I am currently working in a startup company as a User Experience Researcher — which is quite using my anthropological skill and thinking!! Previously I’ve been involved in several research project (mostly development) but now working on a company, anthropology is still relevant. Especially when it comes to understanding people’s behaviour.

    Well, for what I’ve learned, studied anthropology definitely broadened your mind and knowledge. Just figure out what kind of job or areas of work you would like to do; whether it is in a corporate, consumer research, education, development, there’s always a room for someone with Anthropological background.

    Good luck & cheers to anthropology!