Ethnopharmacology is a broad discipline that studies how people use natural resources (like plants and mushrooms) for medical treatment. Researchers in the field often focus on how one particular culture uses these resources for what is commonly referred to as 'folk medicine' or 'traditional medicine.' Graduate students can approach this field from different angles. An anthropological focus documents history and use of these medicines as part of a cultural study, while a pharmaceutical focus looks to derive modern medicines from traditional treatments that have shown to be effective.
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Graduate degree programs in ethnopharmacology are relatively rare, and mostly available outside of the United States. Ethnopharmacology researchers often move into it laterally from other fields that have overlapping material such as ecological anthropology, forest science and ethnobiology.
Students interested in moving into ethnopharmacological research at a graduate level might consider the following related types of degrees.
Master's in Ecological / Environmental Anthropology
Environmental and ecological anthropologists study how cultures interact with the environment around them and make use of natural resources. These programs will take a broader view than just plants and fungi, but students can opt to direct their personal research and elective classes in this direction.
Coursework in these programs can cover a broad range of material from the origins of humanity, to the archaeology and ecology of particular regions. Students may also take courses covering diseases and their ecology, evolutionary medicine and agriculture.
Master's in Forest Science
Forest science is a broad field that incorporates technology and business concerns into a traditional ecological perspective. This discipline generally examines how all living things (including plants and animals) interact with and contribute to the ecology of all types of woodlands. Among other things, forest science graduate students conduct in-depth studies of trees, wood and plants down to the genetic level. Those interested in ethnopharmacology with a focus on medicines derived from plants can learn how cultures use those resources for medicine and further perform detailed scientific studies to determine how they work.
Coursework areas that graduate students in this discipline can expect include the biometry, ecology and economics of forests. They may also cover fire management, forest restoration, natural resources policy and silviculture.
Master's in Ethnobiology
Ethnobiology students explore the relationship between people and the environments in which they live. This includes their use of natural resources as medicine among other aspects of the discipline.
Students in graduate programs in this field are likely to take courses or seminars covering agro-pastoralism, ethnobotany and zooarcheology among other subjects. There may also be some overlap with ecological anthropology programs.
General Admission Requirements
Each program will set its own individual criteria for admissions, but there are some general things that applicants to any program can anticipate and prepare for. Schools generally ask students to take the GRE, and some may either set a minimum score requirement or give preference to students with higher scores. International students may not be asked to take the GRE but may instead be asked to demonstrate their proficiency in English with a minimum score on the TOEFL. Other items that are frequently requested include a personal statement, writing sample, resume and CV, and two or three letters of recommendation.
Given the lack of graduate program options, the path to a career in ethnopharmacology is somewhat indirect. The degree programs listed here will cover skills that employers in the field (such as major pharmaceutical companies) look for, however.