An anthropological internship can serve as a significant launching point for a practitioner career. Minimally, an internship can provide practical experience, network development, and career strategy insights. In optimal situations, an internship can lead, directly or indirectly, to a job offer. Major U.S. cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York see thousands of interns arrive each year, mostly in the summer. But internships can be found, or created, anyplace at anytime.
Faculty, alumni, working peers, and veteran anthropologists can all provide thoughts on how to seek and obtain internships. Start early, at least six months before you wish to begin. Narrow and prioritize your organizations of interest, reach out to the right individuals, and make a specific pitch as to how your internship will benefit their organization. Highlight all of your skills and experiences. The first phase of the effort is time intensive, as you query, submit materials, follow up, and track correspondence. Learn from any missteps, adjust your approach, and persevere. Even if they might not recognize it yet, someone somewhere needs you. Toward the bottom of this page are websites you can search for internship listings.
General Tips and Advice to Get the Most from Your Internship
Once you secure an internship, clarify the positions, tasks, and expectations about the internship, from the employer’s perspective and yours. Try to get everything in writing, including the position description, chains of command, responsibilities, work hours, etc.
Make a good first impression as the new colleague, and set the stage for your work. Can colleagues count on you, and trust you to follow through? Be professional, reach out, be proactive, speak and write appropriately, follow the institutional dress code, show confidence but ask if needed.
You will not be expected to know everything right off the bat, so ask lots of questions and be clear on activities. Get to know as many of your colleagues as possible.
If it is not scheduled otherwise, try to meet regularly with your supervisor. This should be at least weekly. Use the time to ensure that both of your expectations are being met, and that there are no uncertainties or brewing issues. Get feedback on your work, and be sure that your assignments are going as planned. Do not assume that all is well if there is no communication.
Use your anthropological skills to be observant and understand work place dynamics. Different organizations have different expectations regarding employee behavior, so discover the corporate culture as quickly as possible. It is up to you to decide how closely you want to adapt to and follow the culture.
Try to use your full skill set. If you are an anthropologist in an organization that may be unfamiliar with the discipline, try to enlighten colleagues and let them know what you can do, and how you can contribute.
Focus on and try to develop your communication skills, both written and verbal. Anthropologists report that communication skills are among the most important skill sets used on the job. Proofread your written work carefully, ask colleagues to review it, and make sure your words say what you mean, in concise fashion. Remember any lessons from oral presentations that you might have made as part of classes or annual professional meetings.
Although you are low in the hierarchy, do not take the internship for granted. Show up to work on time, call if you are going to be sick or late, and plan off days carefully. Plan ahead for important days on the organization’s calendar.
Talk with your coworkers and get to know them; they can be great advocates later on. Unfortunately, office politics are ever present, and newcomers can be targets. Be wary of others trying to take advantage of you.
Accept and clarify assignments, ask for more work when assignments are completed, and turn in quality work. Listen carefully to instructions, be a team player, be respectful of input from others, and compromise if necessary. Volunteer for other tasks if you have time. You are there to learn but also to make a good impression. If you are the organization’s first anthropologist, you may be key in whether they use anthropology interns in the future.
Be a part of the workplace community. Some anthropologists are naturally shy, but getting involved is important as part of the learning experience. Join in on happy hours, birthday lunches, and similar social activities. Getting out of your comfort zone is an important part of the experience and branching out can help with learning and networking.
Absorb and learn as much as you can during the experience. If your ideal role and organization for your career is not firmly set in your head, meet people from different parts of the internship organization; learn about their roles and what they produce. Do they like their job? Who are their clients? Is there room for professional growth and advancement? What skills and experiences are needed for advancement?
Before you leave, be sure to ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation. Keep in touch later on so that you can call upon her/him if you are in need of a reference contact. Keeping in touch will also help your supervisor to think of you if opportunities arise.
List of Quick Tips
- Set your own goals, both professional and personal, for the internship
- Do your research on an organization before agreeing to an internship
- Get your duties and role expectation in writing
- Meet your coworkers, get to know them, ask about their jobs and satisfaction
- Be professional, meet deadlines, be on time, keep organized
- Be prepared to do some mindless, unappealing work
- Watch and learn from colleagues
- Ask questions. Show interest in learning more.
- Find a mentor, someone who can help you in many facets of work
- Leave on a good note if possible. Get letters of recommendation prior to departure. Collect email addresses and phone numbers.
- Reflect on your experience as you are going through it, and at its conclusion
Paid or Unpaid?
Internships can be both paid and unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor has created criteria that unpaid internships should meet. Propublica has set up a valuable page with relevant information: https://www.propublica.org/article/when-interns-should-be-paid-explained. In the end you will need to weigh the benefits and options related to accepting a paid or unpaid internship.
Where to Find Internships
AAA guide to internships and field schools
AAA listing of fellowships and grants
It is also worth doing a general search engine search, or trying a job listing site, such as Indeed.com
Or idealist.org: https://www.idealist.org/en/?type=INTERNSHIP
You can also use search terms for specific fields of anthropology: biological anthropology, forensic anthropology, archeology, etc.
Finally, look specifically at organizations and entities where you might want to intern: museums, government offices, corporations, nonprofits, etc. Each year, many students create their own opportunities by contacting organizations directly and setting up their own internships.
A few specific links can be found on our fellowships and volunteering page.
See additional links on the Position Listings page.