"Anthropology: exploring the human in all of us."
American Anthropological Association
Anthropological Skills

We think studying anthropology is fascinating in itself (we could be biased!) but there are many other benefits to studying anthropology. The skills developed through completing a degree in anthropology are useful for living and working in today’s world, which increasingly means interacting with people from many different cultural backgrounds and nations. Studying human societies equips graduates to become critical thinkers and effective communicators who are able to be productive members of working groups, generating relevant information and making informed decisions. Anthropological training concentrates on three broadly transferable skill areas: understanding human diversity, building research skills for collecting and making sense of information, and communicating effectively.

Understanding Human Diversity

No matter which subfield is emphasized, an anthropology major learns about other cultures and the ways they may differ from his or her own background and expectations. These differences are not viewed as a problem to be overcome but as a resource that can yield new ways of thinking and new opportunities— a definite advantage in the professional world. Becoming familiar with a wide range of behaviors, beliefs, and values, the student is likely to be more culturally sensitive and flexible in dealings not only with co-workers and clients but also with neighbors and the community. These skills enable him or her to live and work in a world that is increasingly multicultural and global.

Anthropologist, A. Lynn Bolles standing in front of an official Government Building in Lima, Peru in conversation with tourist guides and apprentice guides.

Research Skills for Collecting and Understanding Information

Likewise, whether the student’s experience in school is in documenting artifacts at an archaeological site, taking measurements of human bones, or recording the daily course of social interaction, all anthropologists learn research skills about how to collect quality information, analyze information to identify important details, and relate those particulars to a larger issue. Anthropological training therefore strengthens the ability to think in terms of whole systems, rather than just the individual parts of those systems. It also emphasizes using multiple techniques to learn about a topic, and considering various interpretations of the results. In addition, anthropologists often examine "behind the scenes” aspects of issues to be sure the right questions are being asked in the first place. These habits make graduates good critical thinkers and able contributors to many kinds of projects, from start to finish.

Anthropology graduate student, Brittany Walter, using ground-penetrating radar to detect proxy cadavers in the field.

Effective Communication

Anthropologists recognize what people know is of limited use if it cannot be conveyed to others, so the discipline also fosters written and spoken communication skills. Clear communication relies on clear speaking and writing. However, it also requires providing appropriate background information, and being aware of one’s audience. Anthropologists study and work with many different kinds of people—community members, colleagues, those who fund research, etc.—hence, they learn to tailor their message according to the needs of the receiving group. This ability to write reports and create presentations that are comprehensible and relevant is in demand across many sectors of the economy and is essential to many areas of employment.

In short, an anthropology degree equips students with sought-after skills, whether the ultimate goal is further study, employment within the field, or outside of it. Knowledge of and productive approaches to cultural diversity, the ability to gather and analyze information, and strong communication skills make anthropology graduates competitive candidates in today’s job market.

Anthropologist and PhD Candidate Dvera Saxton gives a talk to a group of Watsonville, CA middle school students about the political ecology of pesticides in the community. Many children in the Pajaro Valley School District are the children of farmworkers.

Created: 07/09/2012 Modified: 12/29/2012
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