Mentoring FAQ

This NAPA Mentoring FAQ section offers nearly 60 Frequently Asked Questions–and answers–about the study of applied anthropology and careers in applied anthropology, divided into several primary categories below.

The information presented is necessarily extensive, and there is some overlap between categories. Plan on spending enough time needed to fully absorb the answers, especially in the categories related to graduate school. You will also find four undergraduate scenarios, taken from actual situations presented to NAPA mentors.

These FAQs were compiled and developed by NAPA Mentor Committee members Tom Greaves, the past NAPA mentor coordinator, and Elizabeth Briody, past NAPA president and long-time mentor.  The NAPA Mentor Program Committee (along with Tom and Elizabeth this includes Niel Tashima [Chair], Sara Cote, Tara Eaton, Bill Roberts, and Terry Redding [Communications Chair]) and the NAPA Governing Council subsequently reviewed and approved them.

The topics and responses provided in the seven categories below derive mainly from the queries most frequently received from those using NAPA’s Mentor Match program.  We share them here in hopes that you will find them useful.  If you believe you would benefit from a long-term, personal correspondence with a NAPA mentor, go to the Mentor Match form tab in the Mentor Program page after completing the relevant FAQ section. A NAPA Mentor can work with you going forward to address your specific issues and needs.

The FAQs may be followed sequentially through the navigation links provided at the bottom of each page. Or, you may choose to follow just those questions that meet your immediate need.  You will find a link back to this page centered below all the other links on each page.

At the bottom of each page, you may pose follow-up questions for the content posted on that page. These questions may lead to discussion threads that assist others, so do not hesitate to post you queries!

When exploring options for coursework, majors, and careers, it is prudent to consult as many sources of advice as you can.  This applies to all mentoring, information, and counsel you may obtain, including what you find elsewhere on this site.  Any resource has blind spots, implicit biases, and other limitations that arbitrarily narrow what is advised. Consult widely, sort through what you hear, and choose what seems best for you.

You can make an investment in your career by attending an annual AAA meeting.  At the Employer Expo, you will be able to meet with representatives from companies and organizations that hire anthropologists. NAPA workshops held throughout the meetings provide important training on specific topics, and are presented by experienced practitioners. NAPA networking events help introduce you to both peers and practitioners to address your queries. Instant Mentoring at the NAPA booth in the exhibition hall puts you in immediate touch with mentors offering advice and suggestions.

Undergraduate and graduate students usually have some very good sources of counsel available to them, especially from faculty advisors who can offer personalized advice based on knowledge of you and your past academic work.   Those students who have internship experiences often obtained them from advice offered by their internship supervisors or preceptors. Also, virtually every campus has a career center with staff whose career expertise is tailored to your geographic region.  Lay out your situation candidly to them and see what they say.  Remember that access to your career center services does not necessarily end when you graduate; obtain their help as long as it is useful to you.

How one prepares to be an applied anthropologist and how one practices anthropology as a profession vary profoundly from one country to another.   Our advice here is situated within the context of the United States.  While visitors from other countries are most welcome, remember that what is written here may differ from how things are done in your country.

Two individuals may answer the same question quite differently, and one answer might be better than another for your particular situation. So, along with the information presented here, you may also consider posing questions to the NAPA LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and the NAPA listserv (links below).  Also query any local groups or sources of information, individual professors and academic advisors, and career counselors.

Note: Alternative solutions will strengthen the usefulness of this online resource; additional advice from practicing and applied anthropology professionals, particularly that which differs from the advice given here, is welcome.  Please submit any advisory paragraphs (of about the same length as responses currently listed) to Tom Greaves, FAQ editor for NAPA Mentoring (greaves -at- bucknell -dot- edu).

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Welcome To NAPA

NAPA promotes human-centered work applied to practical problems by linking a network of professional anthropologists working across employment sectors.  We support all anthropologists in bringing real solutions to communities, organizations, and policymakers, by offering advocacy, information, networks, mentoring, and continuing education.


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AnthroJobs of the Week, 18 January 2021

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is anthropology?  How does it relate to applied anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of people, past and present.  It consists of four subfields.  Cultural anthropology focuses on similarities and differences across the world’s contemporary cultures.  Linguistic anthropology directs attention to language in relation to the cultural context.  Archaeology works to reconstruct cultures of the past – often without the benefit of written records.  Physical or biological anthropology specializes in human biology, particularly with respect to human variation and evolution.

Applied anthropology is the application of anthropological theory, method, and knowledge to the solution of societal, organizational, and community issues.  Applied anthropology pertains to all four subfields.

2. What distinguishes anthropologists from applied anthropologists?

All anthropologists share an understanding of the role of culture in people’s lives.  They seek to understand and explain perceptions and behavior, as well as the relationship of material items to the culture.

Applied anthropologists are primarily engaged in problem solving.  They try to develop workable solutions to problems that organizations and communities experience.  They may be researchers, consultants, project managers, cross-cultural trainers, administrators, and professors, among others.  They tend to work in interdisciplinary environments and teams and often have to translate their anthropological skills and value for their partners.  They may work for private firms, non-profit organizations, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, or educational institutions.  They also may be self-employed as independent consultants.

Academically based anthropologists teach and mentor students, seek funding for their research, and carry out and publish their research results.

3.  I see information about applied anthropologists, practicing anthropologists, professional anthropologists… are they all the same thing?  How do they relate to NAPA?

These terms have different shades of meaning within anthropology, but for our purposes here, they refer to anthropologists who work to address various kinds of problems in society.  This may be as a full time university professor, or as a professional outside of the academy altogether. NAPA, the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology, is an association of anthropologists involved in this kind of problem solving.  These anthropologists may work full or part time and/or train students to be problem solvers. Most NAPA members work outside of colleges and universities.

Being an Applied Anthropologist

4.  My undergraduate department teaches applied anthropology only as a couple of lectures in the introductory course.  How do I learn more about it?

There are probably more opportunities on your campus than you realize.   For example:

  • In the course you are presently taking, is there a research project that would allow you to study the nature of applied anthropology?
  • Approach your instructor about doing a semester-long independent tutorial with her/him next semester on applied anthropology.
  • Your instructor may know of other campus faculty who are trained in anthropology who may be willing to guide you in an exploration of the applied sector of anthropology.
  • Check with the library’s professional librarian regarding print and video sources to consult, including those obtained through inter-library loan.

Web resources abound.  Start with the websites for the American Anthropological Association (, the Society for Applied Anthropology ( and the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs  (

5.  How do I know if I’m suited to be an applied anthropologist?

Ultimately you yourself are probably the best judge, but here are some personal characteristics that are usually important:

  • You need to be strong academically in anthropology and other contributing fields.
  • You need to have intense curiosity about human behavior, be good at problem-solving, and have an enduring commitment to bettering human lives.
  • You need to have good people skills, and not just enjoy observing human behavior from a distance.
  • Finally, you need to know enough about anthropology and applied anthropology to know that it is the career for you.  See the questions in the next section for further guidance on this.   Recognize that being and anthropologist is not what you do, it is who you are.

If you are an undergraduate student, consider doing internships, volunteer work, or other off-campus activities that will allow you to gauge whether applied anthropology is the life career for you. See question 5 in the next section for further guidance on this.

6.  Are there non-academic jobs in applied anthropology?

Most applied anthropologists work outside university settings, in, for instance, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and corporations, and as private consultants and contractors.  At the same time, university professors of applied anthropology also commonly engage in applied anthropology projects in addition to their academic duties.

Cultural and linguistic applied anthropologists may find jobs with private firms and state and federal government. Multinational corporations, for example, may want assistance in figuring out new international markets, in doing consumer research, or in understanding how to change their corporate culture.  Archaeologists and physical anthropologists often find jobs with private cultural resource management firms as well as state and federal government agencies. Museums hire anthropologists with various specializations to fill a wide array of positions.

Specialized training at the master’s or PhD level is required to become a professional applied anthropologist.  Through that training and associated off-campus experiences you will encounter various avenues for seeking career openings.  The faculty where you receive training will be one source of guidance, as will anthropology’s professional organizations.  Too, you may use your own networks or those of your classmates and other academic colleagues to locate potential opportunities.

7.  How abundant are the jobs in applied anthropology with an MA?  With a PhD?

In a weak economy no jobs are abundant.  While there are thousands of applied anthropologists at work in the U.S., beginning a career in applied anthropology can be a challenge.  Remember that most employers will not be seeking an “applied anthropologist” specifically.  They will have issues they want addressed and are, thus, seeking to hire or contract someone to do that.  It is up to the applied anthropologist to show that she/he is equipped to address those problems.

Start building your own network by developing relationships with people working on issues and in the types of organizations of interest to you.  Those contacts can be enormously helpful in connecting you with others, in mentoring you, and in helping you with your eventual job search.  You might also ask yourself whether there are particular types of organizations (e.g. corporations, government agencies, research firms, private consulting, non-profit groups) within which you would like to apply your professional skills.  Remember, network-building is not just strategic; you learn from the people in your network, broadening and deepening your knowledge and professional competence.

For more information on anthropology careers with a master’s degree, turn to the AAA CoPAPIA survey report (published 2010), which describes the realities of those working with an anthropology MA, MAA, or MS.

Getting a PhD in anthropology may not necessarily open up more jobs than having an MA.  Rather, each degree opens up different kinds of jobs. (See also questions in the PhD section, category six)  Positions for PhDs commonly entail significant research involvement and require substantial research experience. While the abundance of job opportunities for applied anthropologists with either degree varies from year to year, it is prudent to expect that finding a solid, long-term position (or developing your own consulting business) will require diligence, excellence, strong social and professional networks, and luck.

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:

 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.

This section consists of 16  separate questions, and is divided into two sub-sections. Below, the first subsection considers graduate programs in anthropology. The second sub-section specifically explores applied anthropology Masters Programs.

1.  Should I seek an MA or a PhD?  What are the differences in career consequences?

This is a key question to think through carefully for the long term. Generally speaking, the PhD is a research degree.  If you have a passion for research and anticipate that your future career will involve research, then a PhD program is likely to be your goal.

Students who complete an MA degree in anthropology – particularly applied anthropology – find work in many different settings performing many different job functions.  Job titles of recent MA graduates with a specialization in archaeology include forensic archaeologist, osteologist and archaeologist, and environmental specialist.  Job titles of those specializing in cultural, physical, and applied anthropology tend to be less anthropology-specific than those in archaeology.  Typical job titles include analyst, consultant, project coordinator, program manager, curator, and evaluator.

2.  I am interested in graduate school in anthropology.  Where do I begin?

There are essentially two routes with respect to graduate anthropology that will most readily lead to viable employment:  the professional master’s program in applied anthropology, and the PhD.

  • The professional master’s degree is offered by various universities around the country.  It is typically a two-year program with a strong internship and/or thesis component.  You will find a list of such programs through the website of the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs,  Through this site you can explore and get an idea of what these programs are like.  You may find one that has a particular anthropological specialty or emphasis that suits your interests (e.g., medical, archaeology, business, education).  Look for those with faculty members who have applied interests and whose areas of specialty match your own.  The program should have a strong job placement record, and evidence that the master’s program is not simply a minor component of a department emphasizing a doctoral program.  When you graduate with a master’s degree, you will be equipped to take positions in an organization or agency such as program manager, evaluator, trainer, planner, research analyst, and needs or impact assessor.
  • The second route is the PhD program, which takes a minimum of five years of graduate study (and typically longer) after you complete your BA.  There are many such programs in the U.S. and internationally.   Your faculty advisors and/or Governing Council members of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology will be good sources of advice.  Seeking a PhD is a much larger undertaking than completing a master’s program because it typically entails foreign language acquisition, successful grant writing, and extended fieldwork.  Anthropology PhD programs are generally designed to equip you with robust research skills, though you will achieve some level of competency in areas such as teaching, proposal writing, and project management. And although masters students may also do this, PhD students regularly attend and present at academic meetings and produce published work.

Perhaps half of all cultural anthropology PhDs work in academia; the remainder work in business, consulting firms, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.  Find more information by scrutinizing the websites of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology, along with this NAPA website. You can also join NAPA’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages or the listserv, and pose questions to other members through these social media.

There have been a number of books published in recent years that explore anthropology as a career, including some NAPA “Bulletins” (now called the Annals of Anthropological Practice) on anthropology careers.  There are also anthropology videos on a wide range of careers; two career DVDs can be purchased through the AAA website or obtained through interlibrary loan. A number of the resources mentioned can be found in the Career Development/Career Resources section of this website.  Always seek advice from multiple sources – individuals, websites, publications, videos, listservs – and then decide for yourself what fits your particular situation, competencies, and goals.

3.   What internships should I take when anticipating applying to graduate school in anthropology?

The point is not to engage in resume-building, but to acquire important knowledge and skills.  Among other things, your undergraduate years are a time to equip yourself for your career ahead.  As a graduate student you will not have much opportunity to build basic knowledge and skills of other disciplines that are important to an applied anthropologist, so chart your undergraduate years, including internships and other out-of-the-classroom experience, to construct a broad and useful base upon which to build your graduate training.  Volunteer work and affiliations with select organizations – particularly in leadership positions – are important sources of experience.

When you apply to graduate school, be ready to make the case that you have an impressive foundation of knowledge, skills and experiences that will allow you to maximize the value of what you will learn as a graduate student and then put to work as a career professional.

4.  What is graduate study like?  Is it just like undergraduate coursework, only more intensive?

Each person experiences graduate school differently based on her/his academic preparation, prior jobs, volunteer and internship experiences, and many other factors.  Most students find that graduate school requires an enormous investment of time and energy.  The expectations are much greater than what you encountered in your undergraduate years – with more reading, meticulous understanding of the work of anthropologist authors, more responsibility for field work and analysis, more substantive papers, insightful and original interpretations, and perhaps expectations for teaching and proposal writing.

5.  How important is it to go to a “top” graduate program? 

In general, seek the school that can train you superbly and that will hold you to exacting standards.  However, in many situations, other factors intervene (e.g., family needs, a spouse who cannot leave a present job, cost factors), so the calculus of what program is the best for you personally will balance a particular department’s reputation with several other considerations.

Why is a department’s reputation, and the reputation of the university of which it is a part, as important a factor as it is?  A top school is usually at the top because it is very good at training high-quality graduates, and because the faculty, in their various specialties, are influential in shaping anthropology.   Keep in mind that the top anthropology programs are not necessarily the same as the top applied anthropology programs.  Graduate training in applied anthropology did not typically develop in public flagship or private universities, but rather in smaller state-funded universities.  Robust applied anthropology programs often emerged in locations such as Flagstaff, AZ, Corvallis, OR, San Jose, CA, or San Antonio, TX.

Be aware that graduate anthropology is not like a medical school or a law school wherein students are educated as groups or classes.  Anthropology remains fundamentally an apprentice process where students above the MA level are individually associated with senior professors and usually consider themselves, after obtaining the PhD, to be a “student” of so-and-so.  That professor may well use her or his reputation to help “place” the student in an internship or first job, or at least serve as an important reference.

A top program means that your fellow graduate students are likely to be knowledgeable, creative, and, in a word, colleagues, from whom you can learn a great deal.  It is usually the case that, in the course of graduate studies, you may often learn as much from your fellow grad students as you do from professors, so the quality of the mix is important.

At the same time, you may have a specific focus or goal that only a few established anthropologists share.  Say you want to go into the anthropology of fisheries, or the study of the ideas of Marvin Harris, or explore the archaeology of the Arctic, or delve into the applied linguistics within vaccination programs.  The professor you will need to study with may be at an otherwise unexceptional institution.  Go there anyway.

Another asset of highly selective PhD programs is that they are more likely to have graduate stipends (e.g., teaching and research assistantships) to support their students, especially after the first year.  Getting one of these provides a modest income and, crucially, allows a graduate student to attend full time and devote all waking hours to absorbing and exploring anthropology.

6.  I have a specialized anthropological interest.  Where should I turn?

If your direction of study is tightly focused, you need to find faculty and other university-based researchers who are working on your specific topic.  Ask anthropologists you know who are working on your topic of interest.  Reach out to those who were suggested to you via email or LinkedIn, or by contacting their departments directly; department staff can be quite helpful in fielding questions and directing you to any appropriate faculty.  Use this opportunity to start building your network and establishing connections within anthropology.

Another idea is to conduct a search for anthropologist authors on your topic through Google Scholar.  For more in-depth search, you can consult professional journals and newsletters (e.g., Practicing AnthropologyHuman Organization, NAPA’s Annals of Anthropological Practice, the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology News, or the Society for Applied Anthropology’s News), or review annual meeting programs from anthropology associations (e.g., AAA, SfAA) to see who has presented on topics of interest to you.

At the same time, graduate study commonly leads to discovering an ardent interest that you did not know you had.  Be cautious about foreclosing this possibility by being overly committed to an interest you have now.

7.  My local university does not meet my exact needs, but I can’t afford to move away.  What should I do?

If your mobility is limited, enroll locally and work with a professor who is flexible and who can help you chart an academic course that meets your desires.  Consider taking coursework outside the department or getting a dual degree, if available.  Anthropologists embrace a multidisciplinary approach; for many, a second specialty has proved instrumental in building a career.

If you live in a place with little or no access to higher education, you have an option. The University of North Texas launched the first online master’s program in applied anthropology.  Students in the three-year MA or MS online program need to present themselves on campus in Denton just twice, at the start and finish of their studies.  The online program is one year longer than the on-campus program; it is designed to accommodate students who are unable to attend a traditional program. There are now additional online masters programs offered; evaluate them carefully for content and results.

8.  I want to take two or three years off after I get my BA.  Will that affect my viability for graduate admission?

It depends on why you want to take the years off and what you do with them.  If you want to get “real work experience” and build your skill set and expertise, your choice can be viewed positively by graduate admissions committees. If you must break away, say, to deal with an urgent family need or to pay off college loans, that too can be justified, but it is a good idea to stay connected to anthropology in the meantime (e.g., through a systematic reading program, courses, library research, writing).

If your hiatus is to do an anthropologically relevant activity that makes you still more attractive as an applicant for graduate studies (e.g., the Peace Corps), that also can work well.  The bottom line is that graduate faculty want to see that you are preparing yourself further, not simply taking a break.   And if you must take time off for other compelling reasons (say, for a family need) it would be wise to continue your connection and growth in the field and have evidence of having done so.

1.  How does an applied master’s program differ from a generalized master’s program in anthropology?

Applied master’s degrees are an area of growth in anthropology,(the first one goes back to 1974).  They differ from the traditional anthropology master’s degrees in that they are focused on applying anthropology to practical human problems.  They are end-point professional degrees and not designed as stepping stones toward a PhD degree, although some applied students will subsequently enter PhD programs.  Because the applied masters programs are focused on problem solving, degree holders should anticipate that few of the credits will offset required coursework in a PhD program.  Applied master’s programs are also called “training programs,” underscoring their strong problem-solving nature.

By contrast, general master’s programs will devote much of the first year to examining the discipline of anthropology, its history, theory, foundational questions, and distinctive methodologies.

Applied master’s programs generally last two to three years (or two years and a summer) going full time.  The last part of the program will often be devoted to an extended, supervised “practicum” in a workplace, and then a master’s thesis (or some sort of paper or presentation on the practicum experience in lieu of a thesis).  Applied programs generally require choosing among areas of application: health, gerontology, and education are common, but political policy, environment, business, cultural resource management, and other concentrations are found in specific programs.

New applied master’s program continue to appear, and there are some that now offer, or will soon offer, much of the instruction online, such as the online degree at UNT mentioned in the previous section.

2.  What are applied anthropology masters graduate programs like?

Applied programs emphasize two fundamental characteristics:  problem solving and collaboration.  The faculty and graduate students are typically working on community, organizational, or societal issues – that is, there is a problem or issue that they are hoping to understand and address through their projects.  Faculty and graduate students also tend to collaborate, that is, they work with each other as well as with clients or community members.  This collaborative model of work, combined with a focus on a problem needing a solution, distinguishes applied programs from their more academically oriented counterparts.

3.  Do applied anthropology masters programs include off-campus, “real world” experience?

The most common feature is the internship or practicum.  This experience, including any preparatory and post-internship/practicum phases, becomes a mechanism for connecting theory with practice, books and lectures with experiential learning, and the university with the broader community.  The internship is also an effective way to link students with the job market, since students in applied programs commonly use these experiences and the networks associated with them to identify post-graduation employment.

4.  How else are these applied anthropology masters programs similar?

Applied programs tend to integrate job skills into the core curriculum through such means as methods courses, applied courses, and grant and résumé writing.  Many programs encourage networking opportunities with alumni and practitioners as a strategy for understanding the job market, getting advice, setting up informational interviews, and following up on job placement leads.   They also encourage students to attend anthropology conferences and hold workshops or other kinds of exercises to help students translate anthropological skills to the job market.  If you are seeking an applied anthropology masters program, make sure it is robust in this area, among others, and has a strong record of placing its graduates.

5.  How do applied anthropology masters programs differ?

Applied programs differ in age, size, faculty interests, location, degrees offered, and many other factors.  In general, newer programs and those in which few faculty members consult for organizations and communities tend to have relatively fewer offerings compared with larger, more mature applied programs.   A large number of applied programs offer a master’s degree which is considered a professional degree; a few applied programs offer a dual-degree option (two masters), and/or a PhD degree. A dual anthropology/MPH degree is being found more frequently, and is an excellent foundation for moving quickly into the health-related workplace.

6.  Are there significant differences among applied anthropology masters programs? 

Yes, very definitely.   Here are just four contrasting examples.

•      One department actively cultivates and integrates community members – especially alumni – into all aspects of program functioning.  Alumni are viewed as the “lifeblood” of the program because they serve as part-time instructors, they help students network, and they hire interns and graduates of the program.  The program’s alumni often remain in the local job market, largely due to strong anthropology networks into many non-profit organizations.  It is the strength and durability of the alumni network that plays a key role in this applied program’s strong practice foundation.

•      Another department is distinctive by virtue of its adjunct faculty members.  Many anthropologists work for the federal government and various other organizations and institutions in and around Washington, D.C. – just 11 miles from campus.  These adjuncts perform the same kinds of functions as alumni at the university noted above:  giving lectures, supervising independent studies, offering career advice, and assisting with the job search.  Adjuncts help to facilitate internships – both through their networks and their ability to find placements for students.

•      A third department is built around neither alumni nor adjuncts, though both are important to how the program functions.  Instead, the centerpiece of the program is the “cohort philosophy.” Entering student cohorts are encouraged to build their own networks, taking advantage of those of their student peers, faculty, and others connected with the program.  These networks are a contributing element to an individually tailored curriculum and internship experience.  The cohort philosophy engenders strong, tight-knit connections among the students, playing a key role in their graduate education and in their ultimate career paths.

•      A fourth department is characterized by student involvement in multiple client interactions over the course of the program.  Class projects are a key mechanism for exposing students to issues facing organizations and communities, sharpening their research skills, and engaging them in problem solving and decision-making.  Another type of project experience is the practicum, or applied thesis, a type of internship in which the student designs and carries out a major client project.  The combination of the class projects and the practicum/internship experience prepares students for the job market and enables them to make an impact on both local and global community issues.

Each program has special emphases and strengths that will fit the needs of particular sets of students.  Using the COPAA list of applied anthropology programs (, investigate each program and see what its fit is for you.

7.  What are relevant questions to ask when searching for an appropriate applied anthropology masters program?

First, there is no way to rank degree programs on a scale from strongest to weakest.  This is because each student will have a unique combination of objectives, needs, and personal situations that will make some programs more relevant than others.  To identify the best program for you, start by clearly defining your own objectives, needs and constraints.

Here are some questions that you might ask when interacting with faculty, staff, and students affiliated with an applied anthropology program.  Incidentally, some of these questions can also be used when searching for generalized anthropology programs.

  • How long does it take to complete the program on average?
  • Does the program have several permanent faculty – not just adjunct faculty – who personally offer most of the formal courses, advise the graduate students, oversee the internship/practicum experience, and evaluate/critique student outcomes?
  • How involved is the faculty in supervising your internship or practicum?
  • What other opportunities exist for working on applied projects besides those associated with the internship?
  • If the program you are considering offers both an MA and a PhD, how equitable is the distribution of the faculty resources?
  • Is there an active graduate student organization, or a planned cohort philosophy, so that students can learn from and help each other?
  • How strong and vibrant is the program’s alumni association?  To what extent are alumni engaged in coursework, internship planning and execution, mentoring, and/or future strategy development?
  • To what extent are adjunct professors engaged in coursework, internship planning and execution, mentoring, or future strategy development?
  • Does the program keep and share data – not just anecdotes – on the success of their graduates?

Below are more detailed ways of exploring the above questions.  Only some of them will be relevant to any particular applicant.

  •  The program should require at least two years for a full time student, ending with an intensive, closely supervised, practicum (it may also be called an internship, externship, or field project).  The practicum needs to be closely supervised by the program faculty, comprise a full semester, and culminate in your written analysis of the experience.  Be skeptical of a program that cancels a substantial portion of its own requirements for applicants with “credit for prior work experience.”
  • Does the program have at least several permanent faculty (not just adjunct faculty) who personally offer most of the formal courses, personally advise the graduate students, and oversee the practicum experience and evaluate/critique the student outcomes?  Avoid a program where faculty are mainly teaching the undergraduate courses and doing the graduate program on the side.  One indicator of this sort of situation is that some portion of the graduate courses also includes undergraduates in the same classroom (who may be registered under an undergraduate course number).  Another identifier of such a program is that the graduate courses its students rely on are not offered often because the teaching faculty is spread too thin.  [Note that the presence of part time faculty is not a sign of program weakness.  Part time (adjunct) faculty can supply specialty courses based on their direct, workplace experience.  Particularly for specialized subject matter, adjunct faculty can be a major strength of the program.]
  • How many students does the program enroll each year?  Are the numbers appropriate to the number of supervising faculty, yielding a ratio that allows ample personal attention and mentoring for each student?
  • It is essential that the program faculty be strongly involved in the preparation of their graduates for employment.   Does the program keep and make available data – not just anecdotes – on the success of their graduates in being placed?
  • Does the program have mechanisms, such as a graduate student organization, that facilitate students helping each other?  Remember that although the faculty are centrally important, you will learn a great deal – perhaps more – from fellow students.
  • Does the department also offer a PhD program?  Be cautious about an MA program that also has a PhD program, taught by the same faculty who teach the master’s program. Such faculty can find that their principal attention to students will be to their PhD students, not the MA students. It is possible to have a well-regarded master’s program and a good PhD program in the same department, but you want to avoid a department where the master’s program is essentially a credit-hour generator to support the department’s true priority, its PhD program.
  • Is there a department-sponsored alumni association for the graduates of the program? There are many good things that come from having a strong alumni association, including this:  if the association supplies input to the curriculum, indicating what needs strengthening, what is superfluous, and what new has to be introduced, then the curriculum, though controlled by the faculty, can stay well linked to the evolving job market. And, an alumni association can be very helpful in networking for jobs, linking students to internships, serving as mentors, providing guest lectures, and offering courses.
  • Certain states, responding to declining tax revenues, have been forced to dramatically cut budgetary support to public institutions.  The loss of funds, faculty positions, and graduate support can impact the quality and esprit of the program, at least temporarily.

8.  What if I decide after I complete my applied MA that I want to go for a PhD?  How difficult is the transition if I have to change universities?  

Students from applied master’s programs tend to be quite entrepreneurial.  They will use the networking and problem-solving skills they acquired to investigate and ultimately settle on a PhD program that extends their interests.  New MA graduates have some advantage if their MA and PhD programs are part of the same department; more of their course credits will count toward their graduate studies, so it typically takes less time to complete their PhD requirements.  On the other hand, if these graduates identify a different PhD program that is a good fit with their interests, the additional time it takes to complete a PhD may be worth it. Be sure to be very clear with the new university as to just how many of your credits will transfer. As noted previously, applied program credits may not always transfer well to some universities.

1.  Should I go to Graduate School in Anthropology?

 Different advisors will have contrasting opinions on what is relevant to answer this question.  Here is just one view:  Anthropology, whether applied or academic, is not what you do, but what you are and how you do it.  It’s more like a calling than a job.   It involves a lot of creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving.  It may be hard, demanding work, and sometimes insecure if you are relying on grants, contracts, or consulting.  Further, the graduate training required to become an anthropologist is at once exhilarating and personally challenging.  One way to sum this up is: “don’t become an anthropologist unless you wouldn’t be caught dead doing anything else.”  But, if that is true of you, then nothing else really matters, does it?

2.  What do graduate admissions committees value in applications to their programs?

 While no two admissions committees operate in exactly the same way, the following may be a fairly good guide.  Ordinarily, there are four components in an application to graduate study in either anthropology or applied anthropology (presented here in descending order of importance).  First and most important will be letters of recommendation written by your professors that, hopefully, will discuss in enthusiastic detail why you should be admitted.   Second and next in importance will be your transcript and relevant experience and activities documenting your undergraduate years, including your grades, GPA, internships, course array, research projects and papers, and awards.  Your record should reflect an applicant who is competent, prepared, and promising as a future professional.  Third, your application essays should be articulate, concise, well composed, and focused.  Do not treat the essays hurriedly or casually.  Fourth, nearly all graduate schools will require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  If you score very highly, it will validate the rest of your credentials, indicating you have great promise.  If your score is good, but not outstanding, the specific GRE score may have little effect on your prospects. If your score is just OK or unimpressive, it may suggest that you are too.  If that is not true of you, then you’ll need to make a convincing case that you are better than your score suggests.

It is worth pointing out that in recent years, undergraduate applicants to the most competitive PhD programs may have a publication or two on their record, perhaps as a co-author with a faculty member but from other sources as well.  Because PhD anthropologists commonly do research and publish it, this early indication that an applicant is ready to do so can be a relevant consideration in choosing whom to admit.

3.  How important is the GRE?  When should I take it?

Your GRE score is generally not the key admissions credential, but it is a required part of most graduate school applications.  Very high scores will help you; average to low scores will likely hurt your chances.  

When to take it?  The GRE is typically taken in the fall of your senior year in college.   The test can be taken again to improve a disappointing score, although both scores will be sent to the schools you apply to.  If you take the GRE by early fall, you will have time to re-take it if you wish to do so before the schools make their decisions.

If you can, take the exam while you are still in school.  At this writing, scores are good for 3 years, and you are likely to do better while you are still in school rather than after you graduate and leave a formal learning environment.  Also, take the exam seriously.  The Educational Testing Service (ETS) website gives you a great deal of important information about the test – its rules and how to prepare for it.  Also, the rules can change, so be fully conversant with the information on the ETS website.  Schedule a serious amount of time across several weeks to prepare so that on test day you will be as sharp and quick as you can be.

4.  My undergraduate GPA is 3.00.  How can I get accepted to a good graduate program?

The first thing to ask yourself is, why am I not getting As?  If a B (3.00) basically describes your level of performance, then going into a career that is focused on original scholarship, creativity, intellectual exchange, and problem solving may not be the best fit.  To be an anthropologist you need to be very good at these activities. 

Sometimes an unexceptional GPA can be explained – illness, an extended family crisis, a language barrier, or special learning challenges, for instance.  If you can articulate convincingly why your GPA doesn’t reflect how skilled a student you are, and your other application components all depict a clearly outstanding student, then you may be able to offset the GPA’s effect.  Note that a GPA which has many As in strategic subjects, and low, explainable grades in a few others, may be a better situationfor you than a college record consisting of mainly Bs.

Be aware that strongly competitive graduate programs will probably have more applicants with GPAs close to 4.00 than they have slots to fill.

5.  I’m a senior and I’ve discovered that I really like anthropology, but I’ve only taken one course in it.  How do I get admitted into anthropology graduate work to become an anthropologist?

First, be sure that you know enough about anthropology to make a commitment to it and that it is not a passing infatuation.  Do as much as you can to be certain, including talking in depth with one or more faculty members who know you well.

Assuming your commitment is durable, look at what you have taken as an undergraduate.  If you have done very well in related fields (e.g.,  sociology, humanities, sciences), and have internships and other activities that reveal a very promising future professional, then the challenge of presenting yourself as a plausible candidate for anthropology graduate work is easier. 

It then remains for you to demonstrate that you know enough about anthropology to make a commitment to it, and that you will be highly successful in graduate-level anthropology courses.  One way to do this is to take some further anthropology courses as a post-graduate (5th year) student during the coming summer and fall, and to apply to graduate programs for admission one year after your BA degree.  

Also, if you are planning for a PhD, then taking a general anthropology master’s program first, where you can demonstrate your academic success, may be a good route.  In this case you probably should favor a generalized master’s degree rather than a specialized, professionalizing master’s program.

6.  Do undergraduate applicants have publications?

 See question 2 above.

 7.  What are the best strategies for choosing a graduate program?

In general, look for some degree of alignment between your interest areas and the courses and research specialties of the faculty.  Even more important is how well you “click” with those faculty members who share your interests.  

  • Check out the websites of those programs in which you are interested.  Anthropology department websites provide considerable insight into the people, scope, and requirements of applied programs.  The philosophy, areas of concentration, research interests, and courses are listed.  The work of departmental members, including students or recent graduates, may be featured and often enhanced through photos or video clips.  Departmental newsletters and current events may be posted. 
  • Conduct some informational interviews.  Interviews with faculty and students can be used to confirm what was learned from their website and to gather additional information.  Questions can be posed about such matters as program structure, expectations, work load, graduation rates, and post-graduation job placement.  These conversations can reveal how much energy and enthusiasm permeate the program, the likelihood that solid working relationships can be formed, and the extent to which departmental members share common interests. 
  • Visit your top choice department(s).  Finding a good “fit” between you and the program is the goal.  That can be done most effectively by traveling to a campus and meeting with faculty, staff, and graduate students face to face.  Such visits will give you a chance to see people in their context, chat with them informally, gauge your level of interest in them, their working styles, and their projects, experience the culture of the departments first hand, and confirm your impressions. However, not all departments are set up to receive visits from applicants; check the policies for the specific campuses that interest you.
  • Use mentors as a sounding board.  Talk to your mentors about your goals and about what you have learned from your graduate program search.  Get their reactions to your descriptions of the campus visits you have made.   Some guidance from mentors is likely to be helpful in sorting out your priorities.   
  • Understand alumni networks. As mentioned in previous comments, departments that are serious about maintaining strong connections with their alumni have active alumni networks. It demonstrates a faculty’s commitment to their students, even after students have left the program. Alumni are often important in linking new graduates to employment opportunities and to mentor their transition to professional work. These networks should also be able to enlighten you about their particular programs.

8.  Can I pursue anthropology graduate study part time?

Virtually all MA programs and some PhD programs accommodate different academic and financial models and incorporate both full time and part time students.

However, highly selective PhD programs are predicated on full time study.  The benefits of the students’ undivided intellectual exploration of the discipline, and the need to move through what is already a program lasting many years, preclude having some students progressing at part time speed.   Financial support for these programs’ students assumes full time study as the standard.

9.  Is there financial aid for anthropology graduate students?

For students in masters’ programs, practitioner or general, financial support, other than perhaps university loans or work study, is uncommon.

Highly selective PhD programs try to admit the number of students equal to the number of support sources at their disposal.  Assuming good performance, in these programs a student can expect (though it is not guaranteed) that there will be support (tuition plus modest living costs) in each fall and spring semester of the three years of pre-dissertation coursework.  Commonly, these will be teaching assistantships and research assistantships that entail work and time obligations.  After three years, the student is expected to secure external grant funding for her/his dissertation project and hopefully the write-up year that follows.  Alternatively, senior professors often have funded research grants that will support dissertation and write-up years for students studying under their supervision.

Some very selective PhD programs, however, do not provide financial support to their first year graduate students, restricting their support to students after they have “proven” themselves and are allowed to continue to the second year.

Other PhD programs have funding only for a fraction of their graduate students and expect the others to supply their own financial support. Be clear before you enroll in a program whether financial aid will be forthcoming; you might hear stories about over-promising by departments.

10.  How can I pay for graduate school?

Start your search within the department(s) you hope to attend.  Identify particular professors as your key contacts within those departments.  Tell them of your need for funding.  Graduate assistantships (GAs), research assistantships (RAs), and teaching assistantships (TAs) are available in some quantity through most departments, although the latter two are more often designed for PhD students than master’s students.  Ask how other students in the department are funded.  It ranges significantly across programs.  Find out about possible tuition waivers or stipends.  Ask whether any professors have received or expect to receive research grants that will allow them to hire graduate students.  Let the department know that your selection of a graduate program is at least partly contingent on getting some funding. 

Financial aid resources are available through the financial aid office on campus.  For example, the Federal College Work-Study Program subsidizes student employment on campus and can be attractive to professors (in anthropology or in other departments) looking for research assistants.  Again, be sure to clarify any assistance you are expecting from a program before you officially accept. If possible, get commitments in writing.

11.  Are there other resources that support graduate students?

Visit anthropology department websites and pay attention to any outside funding the department might be currently granted (e.g., National Institutes of Health [NIH], National Science Foundation [NSF]).

External grants or fellowships can be found on the web.

  • At the University of Washington (, there is an 11-page website called “Funding Sources on the Internet.”
  • The Council of Graduate Schools ( has information under the “Programs and Awards: Resources for Students” link.
  • The Foundation Center ( has a dizzying array of information, although it requires digging to find relevant links.
  • Search the University of California-Riverside for a list of grant-giving organizations (try:, including minority and subject-specific grants.
  • The well-known academic press, SAGE Publications, produced a series of five books in the late 1990s on Surviving Graduate School.  Some of the titles include Surviving Graduate School Part Time, The Women’s Guide to Surviving Graduate School, and The African American Student’s Guide to Surviving Graduate School.
  • The NIH website offers an indexed list of links titled “Surviving Graduate School” on their site (
  • Peterson’s ( provides a well-organized and valuable body of information, including an enlightening timeline and international student information.

12.  What about student loans?

Student loans are easier than grants and fellowship to obtain but the catch is that they have to be paid back someday.  Your program should be able to provide application information.  Visit the Sallie Mae website ( for additional planning and application information. Be conscious of the burden of having to pay back the loans after obtaining the degree; if professional employment is not secured promptly, or initial salaries are low, the burden may weigh very heavily.

1.  I want to get a PhD in anthropology.  Should I enroll in a masters in anthropology program first, and then apply to a PhD program after I have the MA?

Decades ago the standard pattern was to obtain a masters from one institution and then to go on to a PhD program in another.  It was said that this exposed the student to a more diverse range of faculty, and that the two-degree sequence was a way for students to have a degree (the MA) if, along the way, they found that they were not suited for the demands of PhD-level graduate study.  Those considerations remain valid today.

However, beginning in the 1950s, PhD programs, for a variety of reasons, began to admit students directly from the BA degree, going straight through to the PhD.  One important reason is that a straight-through BA-to-PhD course of study shortens the student’s years of study by a year or so.  This is not only attractive to many students, but also to the department which, in the more selective programs, seeks to provide financial support to its advanced students. 

Some years ago straight-through PhD programs did not award an MA to its students unless the department faculty decided that a student was unsuitable, in which case a “terminal masters” was awarded.  More recently, PhD programs began awarding an MA as a progress marker, commonly at the point when the student passes an admission-to-candidacy exam.

For today’s PhD-bound student, among the relevant factors in choosing between (1) a “straight-through” program or (2) a two-part sequence of a MA and then a PhD are: 
(a) Do you have strong enough credentials to be admitted to a straight-through PhD program?
(b) Are you certain enough of your goal and your talents that the risk of stopping short of a PhD would be negligible?
(c) Are your content goals achievable within one department, or will you need two to produce the right combination?
(d) Do you have the financial resources and personal circumstances to launch into a multi-year, largely full time program, or is it more prudent to do it in stages?

2.  I want a PhD to become an applied anthropologist.  Some graduate departments offer a PhD in Applied Anthropology while others offer a PhD in Anthropology that can include an emphasis in applied anthropology.  How do I decide between these two types of programs?

There is a debate about this.  The traditional and still most common approach is to get a degree in Anthropology and to emphasize applied anthropology in some of the coursework, in your choice of faculty mentors, and in the focus of your dissertation project.  Also of relevance is to be active in regional and national meetings, present panel papers and poster sessions, and publish in the applied area.  The argument for this route is that one is an anthropologist first, and an applied anthropologist as a more specialized identity.  Especially for those who want the option of an academic position, having the greater breadth of a PhD in Anthropology makes you more prepared to teach the wider array of courses that a department may want offered.  Courses in applied anthropology tend to be few enough that a department may find that a person who can offer a broader set of courses is a better fit for their faculty needs.

On the other hand, the PhD in Applied Anthropology is likely to have more abundant and specific knowledge of the tools and alternative methods of applying anthropology in a diverse set of social situations.  For some positions the PhD in Applied Anthropology may have the advantage.

Regardless of the wording of the degree, the subject of your dissertation project, the methods you are skilled at, and your field experience are likely to be major factors in whether you are an attractive candidate for a particular position, contract, or consulting arrangement.

A thorough knowledge of models of applied anthropology (i.e., theory), quantitative and qualitative methods of data-gathering and analysis, research ethics, and a readiness to work in multi-disciplinary teams will commonly be important as well.  In many cases, fluency in one or more non-English languages and the ability to write in a clear and well organized fashion are also big plusses.

3.  How long does it take to get a PhD?

A full time program of study generally requires about three years of regular coursework, plus at least two years to propose, conduct, and write up a dissertation project.  Five years from BA to PhD is essentially the minimum: if the fieldwork portion of the dissertation research lasts more than a year – say, two or three years – the total length of study lengthens accordingly.  Other factors, too, can lengthen the time. Start asking those you know who have PhDs, and that will give you a sense of the time needed.

4.  Do graduate students do more than classroom study prior to the dissertation research?

Absolutely.  Graduate study is in no way simply classroom learning, papers and exams.  Rather, courses are gateways to informed, personal study of important areas of anthropological research, argumentation, and theory.  The student is on a personal quest to explore, think out, and understand areas of the discipline.  Courses provide vehicles for that process, but they are not the central point of graduate study.  Throughout the years of graduate study, the student conducts her/his own personal learning program in addition to mastering course content.

Summers are not “time off” in graduate study.  They afford opportunities to gain direct experience in a social and ethnographic context, to work with a faculty member on field or laboratory research, to participate in an internship, or to work on a paper to be submitted for presentation at a professional meeting or to be published in a journal.  Those pursuing a career in archaeology, biological anthropology, or anthropological linguistics are likely to deepen their experience in those fields.  If you need to work to pay off student loans, try to find a paying job that also allows you to advance your anthropological acumen.

5. What about the “four field” approach?

The first university graduate training in anthropology in the U.S. got going at the end of the 19th Century.  Following Franz Boas’ appointment as a full time faculty member at Columbia University PhD training in Anthropology began, and Boas then largely populated the great departments of anthropology that emerged at the nation’s major universities with his students.  Boas, whose own PhD was in physics, believed that to understand another culture one had to understand it from archaeological, physical, linguistic, and ethnographic/folklore standpoints, and that no significant cultural trait can be fully understood without seeing it from such multiple perspectives.  Until well after World War II, graduate anthropology programs in the U.S. required that their students, although emphasizing one of the four fields, be quite conversant with the relevant theory and data from all four fields.

Since the 1960s, graduate programs have moved, to varying degrees, away from four-field expectations, probably because the rapid expansion of scholarship in each of the fields made a Boasian four-field standard impossible for a graduate student to attain in a reasonable period of time.

Certain PhD programs remain somewhat attached to a four-field approach.  However, it is more common today for programs to expect a student to master one field while having some awareness of contributions from the other fields pertaining to, and illuminating, a particular problem being investigated.

In the applied master’s programs one is unlikely to find any trace of the fully four-field approach, although, because problem-solving is inherently multi-disciplinary, drawing on research and theory from multiple disciplines is standard.

6.   What possibilities are there for getting a combined MD-PhD in Anthropology? Are there other combinations?

There are a number of universities that offer this combination of degrees.  A quick internet search will yield some options for you including University of Pennsylvania, Case Western Reserve University, University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard University.  Also of note, in some universities a PhD in anthropology may be combined with a masters in public health or even a masters in business administration, among others. Again, a search engine should produce programs across the country offering these combinations, although it might take additional digging.

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:

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 and the LinkedIn Ethnography Forum:

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 ( 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.

Section compiled by Robert J. Morais, Adjunct Professor, Columbia Business School

1.  What is Business Anthropology?

In recent years, business anthropology has gained traction as a career path for anthropology graduates at all levels and as a source of significant scholarship. Practicing business anthropologists contribute to economic development worldwide, provide direction for better run organizations, and help companies improve their understanding of consumers, leading to new product creation, design innovations, and brand communications that are responsive to consumer needs and wants. Business anthropologists typically work with or within public, private, and non-profit organizations. Business anthropology scholarship has expanded substantially over the past decade. The Journal of Business Anthropology and the International Journal of Business Anthropology were launched; EPIC Perspectives offers articles that merge practice and theory; and business anthropology is visible in Human Organization and American Anthropologist, among other leading journals. Books on business anthropology have flowed at an increasing rate.

Businesses are drawn to anthropology’s principal research method, ethnography, because it enables firms to understand their customers, partners, suppliers, and their own organizations better. Theory derived from anthropology has also been valuable to businesses. Major corporations such as Google, Intel, and IBM recognize the contributions of staff anthropologists; companies like Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup, Nissan, Mars, and Coca Cola, among others, hire anthropologists as consultants; numerous advertising agencies and design firms employ anthropologists; and many marketing research firms specialize in business anthropology. Business opportunities for recent anthropology graduates have never been better.

2. How can I find out more about business anthropology?

For a summary of the latest developments in business anthropology, see: Business is Booming for Business Anthropology. Visit and  Join one or more of the numerous LinkedIn groups that focus on business anthropology. Take a look at some of the resources listed below.

3. Are there additional resources?

Here are some excellent resources for learning about business anthropology:

Webinars from the American Anthropological Association


Videos from the American Anthropological Association

  • Altimare, Emily L. 2008. “Beyond Ethnography: Corporate and Design Anthropology,” DVD, 24 minutes, Careers in Anthropology No. 2, Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.
  • Briody, Elizabeth K. and Dawn Bodo. 1993. “Anthropologists at Work:  Careers Making a Difference,” DVD, 36 minutes, American Anthropological Association and EXPOSE: Communications Network.
  • Smiley Francis E.  2006.  “Anthropology:  Real People, Real Careers ,” DVD, 42 minutes, Careers in Anthropology No. 1, Arlington, VA:  American Anthropological Association.


  • Journal of Business Anthropology 
  • International Journal of Business Anthropology 


  • Ferraro, Gary P. and Elizabeth K. Briody. 2017. The Cultural Dimension of Global Business. 8th ed., Taylor & Francis. 
  • Jordan, Ann. 2013. Business Anthropology. 2nd ed., Waveland Press.
  • Tian, Robers, Michael Lillis, and Alfons Van Marrewijk. 2013. General Business Anthropology, 2nd ed., North American Business Press. 

Specialized Books

  • Alvesson, Mats and Stefan Sveningsson. 2016. Changing Organizational Culture: Cultural Change Work in Progress. 2nd Edition, Routledge.
  • Batteau, Allen W. 2009. Technology and Culture. Waveland.
  • Briody, Elizabeth K., Robert T. Trotter and Tracy L. Meerwarth. 2010, 2014, Transforming Culture: Creating and Sustaining Effective Organizations. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Chipchase, Chip. The Field Study Handbook. 2017. Field Institute.
  • Griffiths, Michael B. 2013. Consumers and Individuals in China: Standing Out, Fitting In. Routledge.
  • Hasbrouck, Jay. 2017. Ethnographic Thinking: From Method to Mindset. Routledge.
  • Ho, Karen. Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Duke.
  • Kozinets, Robert V. 2016. Netnography: Redefined Online. 2nd ed., Sage.
  • Ladner, Sam. 2014. Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector. Left Coast Press.
  • Lerman, Dawn, Robert J. Morais, and David Luna. The Language of Branding: Theory, Strategies, and Tactics. 2018. Routledge.
  • Madsbjerg, Christian. Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm. 2016. Hachette Books.
  • Madsbjerg, Christian and Mikkel B. Rasmussen.  2014. The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems. Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Malefyt, Timothy de Waal and Robert J. Morais. 2012. Advertising and Anthropology: Ethnographic Practice and Cultural Perspectives. Berg/Bloomsbury.
  • Mariampolski, Hy. 2006. Ethnography for Marketers. Sage.
  • McCracken, Grant. Chief Culture Officer. 2009. Basic Books.
  • McCracken, Grant. Dark Value. 2016. (Only available as e-book on Amazon.) 
  • Miller, Christine. 2018. Design + Anthropology: Converging Pathways in Anthropology and Design. Taylor & Francis.
  • Moeran, Brian and Timothy de Waal Malefyt. 2018. Magical Capitalism: Enchantment, Spells and Occult Practices in Contemporary Economies (Amazon)
  • Moeran, Brian. 2014. The Business of Creativity. Left Coast Press.
  • Moeran, Brian. 1996. A Japanese Advertising Agency: An Anthropology of Media and Markets. University of Hawaii Press.
  • Moeran, Brian. 2015. The Magic of Fashion. Routledge.
  • Morais, Robert J. Refocusing Focus Groups. 2010.  Paramount Market Press.
  • Nolan, Riall. 2017. Anthropology in the World: A Guide to Becoming an Anthropologist Practitioner. Routledge.
  • Simon, Andrea. On the Brink. 2016. Greenleaf Book Group Press
  • Stewart, Alex. 1989. Team Entrepreneurship. Sage.
  • Suchman, Lucy A. 2007. Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions. 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press.
  • Sunderland, Patrician L. and Rita M. Denny. 2007. Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research. Left Coast Press.
  • Tett, Gillian. 2009. Fool’s Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe. Free Press.
  • Tett, Gillian. 2015. The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers. Simon and Schuster.
  • Walle, Alf H. 2013. Rethinking Business Anthropology: Cultural Strategies in Marketing and Management. Greenleaf Publishing Ltd.

Edited Volumes

  • Caulkins, D. Douglas and Ann T. Jordan, Eds. 2013. A Companion to Organizational Anthropology. Blackwell Publishing, Ltd.
  • Cefkin, Melissa Ed. 2009. Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in and of Corporations. Berghahn.
  • Denny, Rita M. and Patricia L. Sunderland, Eds. 2014. Handbook of Business Anthropology. Left Coast Press.
  • Garsten, Christina and Anette Nyqvist, Eds. 2013. Organisational Anthropology: Doing Ethnography in and among Complex Organisations. Pluto Press.
  • Gun, Wendy, Ton Otto, and Rachel Charlotte Smith, Eds. 2013. Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice. Bloomsbury.
  • Jordan, Brigitte, Ed. 2013. Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities. Left Coast Press.
  • Malefyt, Timothy de Waal and Brian Moeran, Eds. 2003. Advertising Cultures. Berg.
  • Malefyt, Timothy de Waal and Robert J. Morais, Eds. 2017. Ethics in the Anthropology of Business: Explorations in Theory, Practice, and Pedagogy. Taylor & Francis.
  • McCabe, Maryann, Ed. 2016. Collaborative Ethnography in Business Environments. Taylor & Francis.
  • McCabe, Maryann, and Elizabeth K. Briody, Eds., 2018. Cultural Change from a Business Anthropology Perspective. Taylor & Francis.
  • Nolan, Riall, Ed. 2013. A Handbook of Practicing Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Sherry, John F., Jr., Ed. 1995. Contemporary Marketing and Consumer Behavior: An Anthropological Sourcebook. Sage.
  • Squires, Susan and Bryan Byrne, Eds. 2002. Creating Breakthrough Ideas: The Collaboration of Anthropologists and Designers in the Product Development Industry. Bergin and Garvey.
  • Tian, Robert Guang, Daming Zhou, and Alfons van Marrewijk, Eds., 2012. Advanced Readings in Business Anthropology, 2nd Ed., North American Business Press. 
  • Wasson, Christina, Mary Odell Butler and Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, Eds., 2012. Applying Anthropology in the Global Village. Routledge.
  • Wright, Susan, Ed. 1994. Anthropology of Organizations. Routledge.
  • Zwick, Detiev and Julien Cayla, Eds. 2011. Inside Marketing: Practices, Ideologies, Devices. Oxford University Press.

Once you have completed reviewing the FAQs and exploring the other resources listed, you may find you still have questions. Post your immediate or clarifying questions to the relevant discussion list at the bottom of each section. As noted above, you should check in with the various listservs and websites, including the NAPA online resources (LinkedInlistservblogFacebook, or other Career Section resources such as resource links, career shifting, consulting information, and position openings, and also the career podcasts). You can also look for local resources; along with area universities, in a few cities such as Washington DC, there are local practitioner organizations to turn to.  Attending professional meetings is an excellent way to meet with those who can best advise you. While at the annual AAA meetings, you can take advantage of NAPA’s Instant Mentoring.  If you are looking for long-term guidance, submit your profile to the Mentor Match program.