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NAPA Mentoring FAQs


Next Steps After Your Graduate Degree


1. I hear the job market for anthropologists is tough.  Will the graduates of the most well-known universities have the edge?

The job market can be tough for anthropologists; organizations and agencies do not often advertise for those with anthropological training, and there are few university positions relative to the number of graduates from anthropology programs.  Whether in the academic or the non-academic sectors, most applicants will find that success rests on being highly competent, creative, articulate about your qualifications, ready to be a team player, having well-prepared supporting documents, and being quick to grasp and convey how your own capabilities address what the employer wants done.  Doing this well can outweigh the luster of well-known university names.

 2. Once I have my graduate degree, I want to work for a humanitarian non-profit.  Are those jobs scarce or abundant?

There do not seem to be any data on applied positions within non-profits.  Our hunch is that non-profit positions are not abundant, but not rare either.  Like other employment sectors, non-profit employers range from the large, well-known and well-supported organizations to myriad small, localized organizations that, despite doing valuable work, have small staffs and tight, variable budgets.  The small non-profits may depend heavily on volunteers rather than paid employees with the number of the latter ebbing and flowing depending on when grant applications are successful.  Fringe benefits, particularly at the smaller organizations, may be very thin. 

Competition for staff positions in the large, well-supported, national non-profit organizations will be fierce, but applicants should expect to find competition for positions arising among the small groups as well.  Networking and prior service as a volunteer or intern are often important both in learning about available job openings and being competitive for them.  Bear in mind, too, that employers are not likely to define the employee they are seeking as an “applied anthropologist.”  They will be seeking people who are capable of doing the work they have; it is up to the applicant to show how she/he can do it.  It’s what you can do, not what you call yourself, that counts.

3.  Where can I learn more about career opportunities for someone with an MA or PhD in anthropology?

Take a look at the growing Career Development/Career Resources section of the NAPA website.  In it you will find links, videos, and books related to careers in anthropology.  You can also look at a column in Anthropology News called AnthroWorks, which includes practitioner profiles.

4.  What if I really enjoy research and want to continue along that path in the near term?

Several possible options come to mind and are worth exploring, particularly if you have a PhD.  These organizations hire anthropologists as either full-time employees or consultants and include:

  • Hospital systems
  • Consumer marketing and product design firms
  • Industrial labs (e.g. HRL, IBM)
  • U.S. government national labs (e.g., Sandia, Los Alamos)
  • Institutes, think tanks, and other scholarly institutions (e.g., Urban Institute, RAND Corporation)

A temporary alternative is seeking a post-doctoral appointment at a university or other research institution. 

5. What about Post-Docs after the PhD?

It is increasingly common for newly minted PhDs to “take a post-doc” lasting two or more years.  The motive is generally to study with a prominent, funded faculty member in order to develop additional research experience integral to the future career the graduate has in mind, and to increase one’s publications record.  Post-doc positions pay better than they used to, but the income is still pretty modest.  Nonetheless, this is the solution for those who need to acquire methods and research experience that lies beyond the resources within their prior PhD program.  Post-doc appointments can vary depending on:  where the opportunity is sponsored (public or private sector), expected responsibilities (from quite independent and flexible to working on specific projects of the sponsor), and grant-writing or publication expectations.  Post-docs may be in any branch of anthropology, but are more common in those parts of anthropology that work with quantitative and laboratory methods in addition to traditional qualitative research.  This link is from Arizona State University:  http://www.public.asu.edu/~acstone/postdoc/post-doc.htm.

Some guidelines for a post-doc search include:

  • Seek advice from recent graduates (including graduates from fields other than anthropology).
  • Post-doc opportunities are frequently discovered through word of mouth,  so consider networking at national conferences both before and after graduation.
  • Consider doing some informational interviews with anthropologists with jobs in either academia or industry in the research or professional areas you are interested in.
  • Alert your colleagues and mentors in your professional network about completing your degree and invite them to send you post-doc announcements.  Visit on-line communities for practicing anthropologists, such as VersatilePhD.com and the LinkedIn Ethnography Forum: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Ethnography-Forum-81417.

Some challenges you may encounter while searching for a post-doc opportunity include:

  • Many post-doc opportunities are not publicly advertised, and are quickly filled before actually reaching a public announcement.
  • There are few anthropology-related resources for finding post-doc opportunities.
  • There are no clear models for pursuing or acquiring anthropology-related post-doc opportunities.
  • You may need to “cold call” universities and departments of interest to inquire about post-doc opportunities, because this information is not always posted on department websites.
  • Pursuing a post-doc opportunity is not as prevalent within anthropology as it used to be, and is less common compared with other social sciences, so you may have difficulty finding other anthropology graduates who can be resources to guide you in your search.

If you successfully pursue and then accept a post-doc appointment, consider becoming a member of the National Postdoctoral Association (http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/home) and/or your sponsoring organization’s own post-doc association, if it has one, for information on what you should expect with your appointment and to maximize your post-doc experience.

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