Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures, examining how humans interact with each other and their environments. With its holistic, human-centered perspective, an anthropology degree provides a unique skill set and worldview that opens up diverse career paths beyond just academia.
Whether your interests lie in studying ancient civilizations, solving crimes, designing user-friendly products, or helping communities, an anthropology background can provide relevant knowledge and transferable skills.
Read on for an overview of some of the most common careers pursued by anthropology graduates, as well as emerging fields where an anthropological lens is proving valuable.
Common Anthropology Careers
Archaeologists study past human cultures and civilizations by excavating, analyzing, and preserving physical artifacts. Their work involves painstaking fieldwork, from surveying dig sites to carefully unearthing buried materials.
Back in the lab, they clean, identify, classify, record, and interpret their finds, building an understanding of how people lived centuries or millennia ago. Archaeology intersects anthropology, history, and the natural sciences.
Cultural anthropologists aim to understand the diverse ways humans live around the world—our beliefs, behaviors, art, and social organization. Their research involves observing and participating in a community’s daily life, often living abroad for months or years.
Studies might examine topics like coming-of-age rituals, gender roles, political systems, religious practices, folklore, or communication styles.
Forensic anthropology applies skeletal analysis to legal investigations, such as identifying unknown remains or determining the cause and manner of death. This fascinating career integrates osteology, archaeology, taphonomy, and crime scene evidence recovery.
Much of the job involves assessing age, sex, ancestry, stature, and unique features from bones to aid police investigations and disaster victim identification. High-profile cases attract public attention, but forensic anthropologists more commonly work on routine homicide, suicide, and accident cases involving advanced decomposition.
Ethnographers immerse themselves in communities to produce rich qualitative accounts of that group’s culture and social interactions.
Whereas cultural anthropologists generally focus on broad societal questions, ethnographers provide detailed descriptions of everyday life—language, rituals, values, economies, inequalities, and more.
Studies may involve years of local fieldwork and language learning. Ethnographic accounts, whether of remote indigenous tribes or hidden subcultures closer to home, provide valuable research data and preservation of cultural knowledge.
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Transferable Skills Gained from an Anthropology Degree
While anthropology graduates go on to diverse occupations, they share foundational abilities cultivated through their field. These transferable skills prove valuable across many industries and roles.
Anthropology revolves around investigation and evidence. You’ll become adept at framing research questions, synthesizing information from various sources, gathering qualitative and quantitative data, and deriving insights through critical analysis. These skills support careers in consulting, journalism, public policy, and beyond.
Anthropologists utilize mixed methods to analyze diverse types of information—field observations, surveys, interviews, statistical models, material artifacts, sensory data, and more. Strong analytical abilities, information literacy, and comfort working with complex datasets enable many career paths.
Effective writing is critical for ethnographies, archaeological site reports, journal publications, documenting findings, grant proposals, and public outreach. Anthropology develops concise, engaging writing skills to explain complex concepts to diverse audiences.
Anthropology fosters deeper cross-cultural understanding, examining how societies function and progress from a holistic, human-centered viewpoint. This global social insight aids careers involving diversity, inequality, international development, diplomacy, sustainability, and more.
Fieldwork and academic anthropology entail working closely with team members, local communities, and subject matter experts across academic disciplines. You’ll gain project management abilities, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and communication skills useful in any team-oriented role.
Anthropology students constantly question assumptions, examine issues from multiple perspectives, and think creatively about solutions to multilayered problems. Strong critical thinking abilities are valued across all industries.
Emerging Anthropology-Related Occupations
While traditional archaeology and ethnography positions remain common, the application of anthropological knowledge to contemporary issues is also creating new career paths. Here are some emerging roles where an anthropology background provides an advantage.
User Experience Researcher
Tech companies are realizing the value of anthropological methods like ethnography for understanding user behaviors, emotions, needs, and pain points while interacting with websites, apps, and devices.
User experience (UX) researchers gather qualitative insights through interviews, surveys, and observational field studies to guide design decisions and product improvements.
As artificial intelligence algorithms are used more extensively in finance, employment, criminal justice, and other sensitive domains, auditing these systems for fairness and bias is crucial.
Anthropology provides knowledge of culture and systemic inequality that is useful for firms needing to ensure their algorithms comply with ethical principles and social justice values.
Cultural Adaptation Specialist
Companies expanding into new global markets often need help with product-market fit, local preferences, regulations, and taboos. Cultural adaptation specialists use ethnographic techniques to identify customer insights, craft culturally sensitive branding and communications, adjust offerings to local tastes, and liaise with regional staff.
Genetic counselors work with patients to interpret complex genetic test results and explain disease risks for conditions like cancer or inherited disorders.
They specialize in explaining convoluted scientific information clearly and compassionately to assist patients in making deeply personal medical decisions. Strong counseling skills plus biological anthropology knowledge of human genetics aid this emotionally challenging but rewarding healthcare career.
Alternative Anthropology Career Paths
Beyond archetypal anthropology roles, an anthropology degree also provides relevant hard and soft skills for some less obvious but promising career paths.
A holistic perspective on the biological, social, cultural, and psychological dimensions of human health serves healthcare roles well.
Anthropology grads pursue careers as epidemiologists analyzing disease patterns, public health program managers designing interventions for diverse communities, clinical research coordinators, and patient advocates or navigators.
Sustainability & International Development
Understanding human societies, resource use patterns, and community relationships helps address global challenges like climate change, food insecurity, and access to clean water.
Anthropology degree holders work for nonprofits or government agencies as policy analysts, project managers, or researchers, improving sustainability and equitable international growth.
Marketing & Market Research
Consumer insights based on cultural values, behaviors, and preferences guide strategic marketing decisions for products and brands. Anthropologists’ expertise in qualitative observation and interview techniques brings valuable human context to quantitative marketing data.
Journalism & Communications
Reporting on world events, diverse communities, and social justice issues requires cultural awareness and a nuanced understanding of different perspectives.
An anthropology background brings thoughtfulness and narrative flair to journalism, corporate communications, book/film editing, scriptwriting, or speechwriting careers.
Government & Public Policy
Understanding sociocultural contexts and consequences of public policies leads to more effective governance.
Anthropology graduates bring valuable knowledge of human dynamics to roles in urban planning, community program administration, policy research, diplomatic corps, refugee services, legislative staff, or local government.
Blending business savvy with cultural insights helps tourism professionals design authentic experiences, sustainable practices, and mutually beneficial community partnerships.
Anthropology provides regional expertise useful for roles in ecotourism, cultural tourism, cruise lines, guided tour operations, hotel management, and more.
Getting Started in an Anthropology Career
If an anthropology career intrigues you, strategic planning while still in school can set you up for success. Here are some tips.
Get Relevant Experience
Internships, volunteering, clubs, and informational interviews allow you to explore interests before graduating—partner with professors on fieldwork or lab research.
Seek campus jobs involving data analysis or community programs. Visit museums and dig sites. Gain international exposure through study abroad.
Build Hard Skills
Develop technical abilities like GIS mapping software for archaeology, social survey methods, data analysis, photography/videography, geospatial statistics, social media strategy, or grant writing.
Most jobs come through personal connections, so start building relationships long before graduation. Talk to guest lecturers. Join fieldwork teams.
Attend professional association meetings and conferences like the American Anthropological Association annual conference. Follow organizations on social media and make connections.
From student newspapers to academic journals, begin contributing articles early to build a professional portfolio. Even book reviews or blog posts demonstrate my development as a writer.
Earn Advanced Degrees
While not required for all fields, a master’s degree, Ph.D., or professional certification opens additional job opportunities, including research and university teaching positions. Advanced education shows commitment to the field.
Showcase Transferable Skills
Don’t just default to “anthropologist” on your resume. Reframe experiences using the language hiring managers look for – communication, critical thinking, data analysis, project management, intercultural competence, empathy, problem-solving, and more.
Consider All Career Possibilities
Anthropology grads qualify for diverse roles. Don’t limit yourself to just traditional ethnography or archaeology. Research industries and tailor applications to each employer’s needs.
Given challenging job markets, maintaining flexibility with work roles, locations, and options outside your dream job allows more ways to gain experience and get a foot in the door.
With its multifaceted understanding of the human experience, past and present, an anthropology degree opens doors to fulfilling careers addressing meaningful challenges worldwide.
Whether unraveling mysteries of ancient civilizations, helping police investigate crimes, designing intuitive technologies, informing business decisions, crafting public policies, or reporting on global issues, anthropology provides relevant hard skills combined with insight into social dynamics, human behavior, and cultural diversity.
Anthropology empowers graduates to apply their human-centered lens to bring positive change wherever their interests lie.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Anthropology Degree
What is anthropology the study of?
Anthropology is the study of human beings and societies across time and place. It examines the incredible diversity of cultures, social patterns, behaviors, beliefs, and adaptations that make us human.
What is the main focus of anthropology?
The main focus is understanding what it means to be human by taking a holistic, comparative, and socially/culturally aware perspective. Anthropologists analyze similarities and differences across societies to gain insight into fundamental human needs, motivations, and possibilities.
Is anthropology important today?
Absolutely! The world is more interconnected than ever before, so understanding different cultural values and perspectives is crucial. Anthropological research provides insight into topics like public health, international development, social justice, education, technology/AI ethics, environmental sustainability, and more.
What are the benefits of studying anthropology?
There are many benefits! You gain a global, human-centered perspective along with research, critical thinking, and communication skills. Anthropology pushes you to question assumptions, think creatively, and consider issues from multiple angles. The holistic approach provides a nuanced understanding of the biological, social, cultural, and psychological factors shaping human lives.
How does anthropology impact our society?
Anthropology positively impacts society by enhancing cultural understanding between groups, informing effective social programs and policies, furthering initiatives that support human rights/social justice, and bringing overlooked voices or viewpoints into decision-making processes. Anthropological research, activism, and advocacy empower positive change!