NAPA Mentoring FAQs
1. What undergraduate courses should I take to prepare myself for a career in applied anthropology?
Remember that applied anthropology consists of applying general anthropology, so build a broad foundation in general anthropology (best done through an undergraduate anthropology major). Don’t over-focus on applied anthropology at the undergraduate level; you have plenty of time.
Just as important, take plenty of classes in other, associated fields. Because applied anthropology can apply the knowledge of cultural anthropology, biological (physical) anthropology, archaeology or anthropological linguistics, the associated fields that are relevant depend on which type of applied anthropology you seek. For instance, cultural anthropology will find history, sociology, and languages among the relevant “associated fields,” while archaeology will find geology, taxonomy, and statistics especially important. Solid writing, editing, and presentation skills, and communication skills in general, will be of lifelong benefit to the anthropologist. However the list of potentially relevant courses and fields is essentially endless. Each student can assemble the grouping of supporting fields that makes the most sense personally.
Statistics and the handling of quantitative data will be useful in every applied anthropology specialty, and do not neglect excellent writing skills. A foreign language is likely to be an important skill in any branch of anthropology.
Methods of social research and of the analysis of social data, both qualitative and quantitative, are repeatedly found by anthropology graduates to be valuable assets. Build your anthropological tool kit, primarily with data collection and analysis methods, semester by semester, both within the classroom and through any extracurricular opportunities available. Do not neglect advanced statistics and other quantitative techniques for dealing with data.
2. What can I do to get more information before I declare a major in anthropology?
Talk with anthropology professors on your college campus about your interests and concerns. In addition to faculty, most campuses also have graduate research assistants, graduate teaching assistants, and post-doctoral staff who may be anthropologists. They can be fine sources of advice.
Ask students who are anthropology majors about their decisions to major in anthropology as well as their future plans. Identify, contact, and speak with anthropologists in your local area about their work. You can also look around for internships, volunteer roles, and summer programs. There are also field schools and international programs that will accept undergraduate students.
3. I attend a small college (or a community college) where only two anthropology courses are available. How do I become an anthropologist?
The initial objective is to be sure you can know enough about anthropology and applied anthropology to make an informed decision that this is the career for you. Normally a student majoring in anthropology will be able to do that after a few courses, but that route is not available to you. So what do you do?
First, you may have more resources on your campus than you realize. Look around, ask around, and pursue those resources aggressively.
Second, if you attend a 2-year community college, make personal contact with the 4-year institution you may eventually transfer to, so you can select the courses that will best transfer and that will prepare you to be fairly equal to what students at the 4-year institution will have had.
Third, remember that your undergraduate years are largely about building a broad base of knowledge and experience that will provide the foundation for the specialized anthropology training you will obtain as a graduate student. Thus, if you will be completing your undergraduate education at the small college with few anthropology courses available, concentrate on that broader foundation.
Fourth, you may still have to complete enough anthropology courses to convince a graduate admissions committee (and yourself) that you are well acquainted with anthropology and that you are very successful in anthropology courses. Start with what is available on your campus, and then see if you can find summer courses offered elsewhere. There are also on-line anthropology courses, but check first with potential graduate schools to see which ones they would recommend.
4. I’m a sophomore. How do I go about finding an internship in anthropology for this coming summer?
You are wise to include off-campus experience as part of your undergraduate preparation. Internships are often a very good choice (but not the only option). They need not specifically focus on anthropology to be relevant. For instance, working with an ethnic outreach program, or on a municipal research project, could be very germane. For archaeology, consider a university summer field school, or perhaps beavering away at organizing the artifact collection a supervising faculty member may have transported back to campus after the excavation season. Evaluate internship possibilities not in terms of the disciplinary label, but by what relevant experience they can provide you.
If possible, do a study abroad program as a junior, carefully selecting a program to give you deep exposure to another cultural setting. Also, consider getting field-relevant experience during the fall and spring academic terms, not just in the summer, including assisting in faculty research. Whether it is an internship or study abroad, be sure the program will involve the anthropology-relevant experience you need. Many internships and even some study abroad experiences will deliver little value relative to that need, so be selective and discerning.
5. I find that I like what I am learning in my anthropology courses. What else could I explore on my own?
- Talk with anthropology professors on your college campus about your interests and concerns.
- Ask anthropology majors about their plans.
- Identify, contact, and speak with anthropologists in your local area about their work; there may also be a local practitioner organization in your area with which you could be in touch.
- Join anthropology listservs or groups, such as those on LinkedIn (e.g., see the NAPA LinkedIn page). Listservs such as NAPA, Consumer Anthropology – Anthropology Applied to Business, The Anthropology Network, Ethnography Forum, American Anthropological Association, or QRCA Qualitative Research Discussion allow you to pose and get answers to questions you may have. Use a search engine to find the most current and relevant lists for your needs.
Here are some websites you can check for more information:
- Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference: www.epiconference.com
- Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs: www.copaa.info
- National Association for Student Anthropologists: www.studentanthropologists.org/
- Society for Applied Anthropology: www.sfaa.net/sfaaorgs.html
6. I am thinking about majoring in anthropology. Can I get a job in that?
If you want to work as an anthropologist, you will likely need a master’s degree at a minimum. The master’s degree is considered the professional degree and will enable you to apply your training and skills in many different work environments.
If you major in anthropology, get your BA degree, and then enter the work force, your identity is as a college graduate who happened to spend a portion of your college work studying social and cultural behavior. That is not a bad credential, by the way. Being a college graduate is a significant achievement and opens up career paths and opportunities that are mostly out of reach for those who are not college graduates.
A major or minor in anthropology, when combined with a major in some other field, can give you an advantage in the job market. Virtually any other specialty will be enhanced by your knowledge of the complex ways in which people and cultures interact. In fact, research has shown that up to 50 percent of working anthropologists or anthropology graduate students plan to combine their degree with some other specialty in pursuit of a career. This can range from medicine and law to business to other arts and social sciences. Some sectors and roles that go well with anthropology include the following:
- Mass Communications (advertising, public relations, media/journalism, filmmaking)
- Business (marketing, consumer research, human resources, IT, cultural change)
- Research (private business, nonprofit, academic settings)
- Law/Law Enforcement (police/intelligence agencies, legal research, forensics)
- Health (health care, research, program implementation, service delivery)
- Social and Human Services (program administration and management, research, service delivery)
7. I am graduating with a BA in anthropology. How do I find a job that draws on my interest in anthropology?
Your first stop should be the career center at your university. They are the pros at building job-seeking and interviewing skills, resume-writing, providing leads to job openings, and assessing your career-relevant strengths and weaknesses. Smart students develop a relationship with their career center well before senior year, but if you have not done this, go now, go regularly, and develop a personal relationship with the staff people there. Your tuition paid for access to their services; don’t short-change yourself by forfeiting the assistance you paid for.
Incidentally, few students seem to know that they can continue to use their campus career center after they graduate, for as many years as they find it useful to do so. But do not wait until after you leave campus, because it is much more convenient, timely and productive when the career center is just a short walk across campus for you.