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Anthropologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an anthropologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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Anthropologists study every aspect of humanity, from human anatomy and evolution to ancient artifacts and living cultures. The education necessary can be lengthy and can be very diverse depending on what subfield of anthropology is studied.

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Essential Information

Anthropologists are scientists who study the development and behaviors of human beings throughout the world, present and past, to help better understand humanity as a whole. They examine biological, archaeological, linguistic or sociocultural traditions, depending on their area of expertise. Many prospective anthropology students plan careers as researchers and educators with colleges, universities or museums. Anthropologists with bachelor's degrees may be qualified for entry-level positions; however, most academic careers in research and teaching demand graduate degrees.

Required Education Master's or doctoral degree usually required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% for all anthropologists and archeologists*
Median Salary (2015) $61,220 annually for all anthropologists and archeologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Anthropology Professor Job Description

Those interested in an academic career face strong competition for a small pool of jobs. Most universities and colleges look for candidates trained in a specific anthropology specialty, to compliment the school's current faculty and to ensure the program offers a wide range of core anthropology courses to its students. Those considering academic careers may want to select a specialty early in their undergraduate training, if possible. The four areas of research in American anthropology are:

  • Archaeology, which examines objects and features left by past communities
  • Linguistic anthropology, which analyzes the impact of language in society
  • Physical anthropology, which studies biological and genetic variation in populations
  • Sociocultural anthropology, which researches customs and behavioral aspects of a given group

According to the American Anthropological Association, while anthropologists traditionally train primarily in one of these four disciplines, they may use aspects of all of them in their work (www.aaanet.org). Universities prefer applicants with the ability to gather research effectively and publish analyses and comparisons.

Anthropology Professor Job Duties

Depending on the school's structure and needs, faculty may teach a combination of undergraduate and graduate courses. Some introductory courses may have dozens or even hundreds of undergraduate students enrolled, while upper division classes and graduate courses may only have ten or fewer students. Faculty may have teaching assistants who assist the professor in grading course assignments. Some schools require 4-course teaching loads per semester, which might limit the scholar's time for research.

It's helpful for professors to be organized, self-motivated multitaskers in order to successfully manage the teaching and research requirements of their appointments. Those with a passion for one of the four fields of anthropology and an interest in sharing it with others fare best in an academic setting.

Anthropology Professor Requirements

Regardless of specialty, most schools want faculty who are committed to excellence in teaching and may prefer applicants who offer research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students. To successfully compete for a university professorship, candidates must either have their doctoral degrees in-hand or soon be defending their dissertations, and they should have demonstrated teaching experience and research abilities. Community colleges may hire instructors who have master's degrees.

Non-Academic Anthropology Careers

Anthropologists are needed throughout the world in a wide range of environments, from studying land use in remote, sparsely populated areas to urban dialects in major cities. They may research human interactions for government agencies, corporations and nonprofits, using their skills to study trends in poverty, disease and overpopulation. Applied anthropologists may apply theory to solve current problems, such as urban planning and healthcare access.

Most practicing anthropologists supervising research for government agencies or non-profits are required to have at least a master's degree in anthropology. Those with bachelor's degrees may find jobs as research assistants, foreign service officers or public relations officers. Physical anthropologists may apply their training to help law enforcement agents with forensic investigations. Archaeologists often conduct site assessments for cultural resource management firms, or curate artifacts for research museums.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2015, postsecondary anthropology and archaeology teachers, or professors, earned an annual median salary of $77,650, while anthropologists and archaeologists in general earned $61,220. In 2014, the BLS predicted that employment for postsecondary archaeology and anthropology teachers would increase 9% through 2024, which is faster than average. During the same period, employment for anthropologists and archaeologists should increase by 4%, which is slower than average.

Anthropologists usually must complete a doctorate and in doing so, complete extensive field work. Depending on the subfield of anthropology, educational backgrounds vary, with sociology, anatomy, and linguistics all being useful for different areas of anthropology. Strong research skills and a good understanding of statistics are crucial in the anthropology field.

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