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Anthropologist Job Description, Career as an Anthropologist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Doctoral degree

Salary: Median—$43,890 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Anthropologists are social scientists who study the origin and physical, cultural, and social development of human beings. Anthropologists study the language, traditions, beliefs, possessions, and values of people in various parts of the world and formulate hypotheses to explain their research and findings. They generally specialize in physical anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, or cultural anthropology.

Physical anthropologists attempt to understand the physical or biological development of the human species. Some study fossils to trace the evolution of human beings. Physical anthropologists also study how humans have been influenced by their heredity and environment. They are interested in the geographical distribution of human physical characteristics. They study measurements, blood types, and other information about large groups of people. Physical anthropologists need to have some knowledge of genetics, human anatomy, evolution, and other fields of biology. In fact, many physical anthropologists work in medical schools or in biology departments in colleges or universities.

Some anthropologists are archaeologists. They examine physical objects, such as tools, clothing, homes, and art left from past human cultures. They use these objects to determine the history, customs, and living habits of earlier civilizations. Most often archaeologists dig up objects that have become buried in the ground over the years. Archaeologists have made important contributions to the field of anthropology concerning the cultures of Native Americans, European cave dwellers, and early American settlers.

Anthropologists known as linguistic anthropologists study the evolution of languages and their relation to one another. They sometimes visit communities with no written languages and study and record the spoken languages. Linguistic anthropologists also try to explain how the language is related to the ways in which the people in the community think and act.

Cultural anthropologists, who study the customs and cultures of living peoples, form the largest group of anthropologists. They study populations such as native tribes of Africa or America, people on remote islands of the Pacific, or segments of the populations of modern cities. Cultural anthropologists interview persons in the populations they study and observe their behavior. They often concentrate on one area of life, such as their religious beliefs, their music, or how they care for the aged. They keep careful records and try to draw conclusions about their ways of life.

Most anthropologists work in colleges and universities, where they teach and do research. Others work for museums. Government agencies employ a few anthropologists, usually in museums, national parks, and technical aid programs. Anthropologists also work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Physical anthropologists measure a human bone in an ongoing attempt to understand the physical or biological development of the human species. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) Army Corps of Engineers. Some anthropologists serve as consultants to government or industry. For example, they may write reports estimating the impact that the construction of a new dam would have on the people living in a valley upstream from the dam. They may prepare an estimate of the value of the archaeological sites that would be flooded by the resulting reservoir.

Education and Training Requirements

A doctoral degree in anthropology is needed for most positions in this field. Individuals with a bachelor's or master's degree sometimes qualify for research or administrative positions in government or private firms.

If you want to be an anthropologist, you should major in anthropology in college. As early as possible, you should begin training in the use of statistics, in one or more foreign languages, and in a field related to the area of anthropology that especially interests you. For example, if you want to go into archaeology, you will need knowledge of geology and geography. For physical anthropology, you should be trained in genetics and human anatomy. It usually takes at least eight years of full-time study beyond high school to get a doctoral degree in anthropology. Part of this time is often spent doing fieldwork. In addition, anthropologists are expected to continue reading and studying throughout their careers so that they can keep up with new findings in the field.

Getting the Job

Your professors and the placement office at your university can give you information about getting a job in anthropology. Students often have an opportunity to work as research assistants while in graduate school. Openings are sometimes listed in professional publications. You can also apply directly to colleges and universities, government agencies, and private firms that hire anthropologists.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Anthropologists are highly trained specialists who usually advance by improving their skills and becoming experts in their fields. They often write books and articles about their findings. Many feel that the best form of advancement is winning the recognition of other anthropologists and of scholars in other fields. Anthropologists can also supervise teams doing research at archaeological sites. They can advance to the rank of full professor in a college or university, or they can become administrators.

Employment of anthropologists is expected to be average when compared with all occupations through 2014. The growth of environmental legislation has led to a corresponding rise in the need for qualified people to write impact statements. With many more qualified applicants than available openings, however, competition is expected to be keen. Most new jobs for anthropologists are likely to be in private industry or in government agencies. Very few jobs, with only limited advancement opportunities, will be available to those who have only a bachelor's or master's degree.

Working Conditions

Anthropologists who are employed by colleges and universities usually spend much of their time in offices, classrooms, and libraries. Their working hours are flexible but often total more than forty hours a week. Most anthropologists also do some field work. This work may take them to study sites as diverse as the Arctic to study the Inuit or Eskimos, to Africa to dig at an archaeological site or observe monkeys in their natural habitat, or into a modern city to record the behavior and attitudes of members of a particular ethnic group. Anthropologists engaged in field work require good physical stamina. Most anthropologists find that the challenge of making new discoveries more than compensates for any lack of physical comfort on field trips. Anthropologists who work for museums or for businesses or government agencies face a wide variety of working conditions.

All anthropologists must be able to communicate their ideas to other people, whether these people are visitors to a museum, other scholars, or a management group in business or industry. They must be careful workers who have the patience to sift through bushels of earth looking for fossils and artifacts or to sort information looking for details about one area of human culture. Although much of their work is done independently, anthropologists should be able to work as part of a research team when necessary. They need to be adaptable people who can get along with people from cultures that are very different from their own.

Where to Go for More Information

American Anthropological Association
2200 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 600
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 528-1902

Earnings and Benefits

The earnings of anthropologists vary depending on the experience and skill of the anthropologist and the type of job. In 2004 anthropologists had median annual earnings of $43,890. Many anthropologists employed at colleges and universities add to their salaries by writing books or giving lectures. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pensions.

Additional topics

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