Anthropology: Education for the 21st Century

There are many reasons why studying anthropology should be considered by undergraduate and master’s students. Anthropology prepares students for excellent jobs and opens doors to various career paths: the course of study provides global information and thinking skills critical to succeeding in business, research, teaching, advocacy, and public service in the 21st century.

What Does Anthropology Teach That Is Useful Outside the College Setting?

Careful record-keeping, attention to details, analytical reading, and clear thinking are just a few of the skills anthropological courses can provide. Social ease in strange situations, critical thinking, and strong skills in oral and written expression are cultivated by anthropological training. Using a range of social, behavioral, biological and other scientific research methods, anthropology majors learn to supplement statistical findings with descriptive data gathered through participant observation, interviewing, and ethnographic study. An anthropologist is a trained observer who knows the importance of collecting data, in listening and watching what others are doing, in reflecting on what has actually as well as apparently occurred, in researching the context, in applying various explanatory models, and in adopting a broad perspective for framing an understanding. Whatever the topic of research, anthropologists share a particular holistic vision that requires using a repertoire of methods in order to forge a deeper understanding of situations. This holism characterizes the best anthropology and imparts the perspective for which the profession is valued.

While the job market for academic anthropologists is relatively steady, demand for anthropologists is increasing in other areas, stimulated by a growing need for analysts and researchers with sharp thinking skills who can manage, evaluate, and interpret the large volume of data on human behavior. The extent of occupational flexibility reflects the emphasis on breadth, diversity, and independence of thought. What we know about the future marketplace indicates the type of global, holistic knowledge which an anthropological perspective brings.

Anthropology as a Major: Its Fascinating Subject Matter and Utility for Careers and Subsequent Education

What Options Does an Undergraduate Anthropology Major Have after the Bachelor’s Degree?

There are many career and educational options for anthropology majors. Further anthropological study leads to both traditional anthropological careers of teaching and research as well as in applied anthropology. Academic anthropologists find careers in anthropology departments, social science departments, and a variety of other departments or programs, such as medicine, epidemiology, public health, ethnic, community or area studies, linguistics, cognitive psychology, and neural science.

Applying anthropology offers many opportunities to use anthropological perspectives and skills. Jobs filled by anthropology majors include researchers, evaluators, and administrators. Cultural anthropologists have the range of careers filled by other social scientists; biological and medical anthropologists have other skills which are useful in the growing sector of health related occupations. Many archaeologists are employed in American cultural resource management projects which are required by federal and state laws before major building ventures.

Further study in graduate or professional school are common paths for anthropology undergraduate majors. Anthropology provides a strong basis for subsequent graduate level education and training in international law, public health, and other areas as well as the social sciences.

What Job Opportunities Will Anthropology Afford the New Graduate?

Job opportunities are generally forged by the individual, not by the program which one follows in college. The best college program encourages the performance skills which anthropology excels in molding in its students. The prudent undergraduate will take a well-rounded course of study, with a few practical career-skill courses interwoven in her or his overall program. Anthropology provides a good counterpoint to business courses, foreign language study, technical training, fine arts, and so forth. In addition to imparting invaluable core knowledge about the human animal and its cultural and biological history, anthropology lends itself flexibly as a tool to refine whatever other interests one brings to the higher-educational process.

Anthropological study provides training particularly well suited to the 21st century. The economy will be increasingly international; workforces and markets, increasingly diverse; participatory management and decision making, increasingly important; communication skills, increasingly in demand. Anthropology is the only contemporary discipline that approaches human questions from historical, biological, linguistic, and cultural perspectives. The intellectual excitement and relevance of the wide range of information presented in anthropology assures that students are engaged and challenged. Moreover, it complements other scientific and liberal arts courses by helping students understand the interconnectivity of knowledge about people and their cultures. Increasingly, undergraduate and master’s students are coming to understand that the issues affecting their futures and the information they will need to prosper cannot be found in narrow programs of study.

The undergraduate anthropology major will be exposed to archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. They learn how to study people and how communities and organizations work. The master’s degree candidate receives additional training in how to combine these perspectives and skills to solve problems. Many undergraduates have difficulty selecting their major, changing their minds several times as they search for a course of study which interests them and can lead to postcollege employment. That search sometimes results in costly extra years of study. The undergraduates choosing to major in anthropology can be comfortable that their choice is both exciting and practical.

Educational Program

Anthropology is not a large discipline. There are about 15,000 anthropologists actively engaged in the profession. About 6,000 bachelor’s degrees were awarded in anthropology in 1995 and many of those degree holders use their anthropological training in their postcollegiate experiences, both in further education and in the world of work. Approximately 1,000 master’s degrees and 400 doctorates were awarded through American universities that year.

The average postbaccalaureate time needed to obtain the master’s degree is two years and the PhD, about eight years. The lengthy time required for an anthropology master’s and doctorate is due in part to the custom of completing a field project for the thesis or dissertation and mastering several bodies of knowledge about the area, including comprehensive language training, before departing for the field site. The field research is generally several months for the master’s student and 12 to 30 months for the doctoral student.

High school students interested in a career in anthropology should develop a firm background in social studies and history, math, science, biology and languages, both English and foreign. The computer has become an important research tool and computer skills are useful.

Anthropology’s Career Advantages

Diversity. Anthropology is a career that embraces people of all kinds. It is a discipline that thrives with heterogeneity–in people, ideas and research methods. Anthropologists know the wisdom of listening to multiple voices and linking the work coming from researchers who bring different backgrounds and apply various approaches to their endeavors. The American Anthropological Association is committed to increasing the diversity of the profession.

For further information on Careers in Anthropology, contact Careers.