Most of America's professional anthropologists have traditionally worked in higher educational institutions, teaching and researching, but today there are many other career options for trained anthropologists.
Many anthropologists with master's degrees or bachelor's degrees work for contract archaeology firms at archaeological sites, in physical anthropology laboratories, and in museums in a wide range of areas. Similarly, there are many opportunities as social science researchers and in other areas available to anthropologists at every level of training. A doctorate is required for most academic jobs. The nonacademic employment of cultural anthropologists is greatly expanding as the demand for research on humans and their behavior increases. A 2002 survey by the AAA reveals that over half of all new PhDs in anthropology have taken nonacademic positions in research institutes, nonprofit associations, government agencies, world organizations, and private corporations. While the job market for academic anthropologists is relatively steady, demand for anthropologists is increasing in other areas, stimulated by a growing need for analysts and researchers with sharp thinking skills who can manage, evaluate and interpret the large volume of data on human behavior.
On campuses, in departments of anthropology, and in research laboratories, anthropologists teach and conduct research. They spend a great deal of time preparing for classes, writing lectures, grading papers, working with individual students, composing scholarly articles, and writing longer monographs and books. A number of academic anthropologists find careers in other departments or university programs, such as schools of medicine, epidemiology, public health, ethnic studies, cultural studies, community or area studies, linguistics, education, ecology, cognitive psychology, and neural science.
Anthropology offers many lucrative applications of anthropological knowledge in a variety of occupational settings, in both the public and private sectors. Nongovernmental organizations, such as international health organizations and development banks, employ anthropologists to help design and implement a wide variety of programs, worldwide and nationwide. State and local governmental organizations use anthropologists in planning, research, and managerial capacities. Many corporations look explicitly for anthropologists, recognizing the utility of their perspective on a corporate team. Contract archaeology has been a growth occupation with state and federal legislative mandates to assess cultural resources affected by government funded projects. Forensic anthropologists, in careers glamorized by Hollywood and popular novels, not only work with police departments to help identify mysterious or unknown remains but work in university and museum settings. A corporate anthropologist working in market research might conduct targeted focus groups to examine consumer preference patterns not readily apparent through statistical or survey methods. Large and successful consulting firms such as Abt Associates, Inc., were created by two anthropologists and utilize this approach.
Anthropologists fill the range of career niches occupied by other social scientists in corporations, government, nonprofit corporations, and various trade and business settings. Most jobs filled by anthropologists don't mention the word anthropologist in the job announcement; such positions are broadly defined to attract researchers, evaluators and project managers. Anthropologists' unique training and perspective enable them to compete successfully for these jobs. Whatever anthropologists' titles, their research and analysis skills lead to a wide variety of career options, ranging from the oddly fascinating to the routinely bureaucratic.
Anthropology is not a large discipline. There are about 15,000 anthropologists actively engaged in the profession. About 6,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded in anthropology in 2000 and many of those degree holders use their anthropological training in their post collegiate experiences, both in further education and in the world of work. Recently about 1,000 master's degrees and 400 doctorates were awarded through American universities.
The average postbaccalaureate time needed to obtain the master's degree is two years, and for the Ph.D., about eight years. The lengthy time required for an anthropology master's and doctorate is due in part to the custom of completing a field project for the thesis or dissertation and mastering several bodies of knowledge about the area, including comprehensive language training, before departing for the field site. The field research is generally several months for the master's student and twelve to thirty months for the doctoral student.
High school students interested in a career in anthropology should develop a firm background in social studies and history, math, science, biology, and languages, both English and foreign. The computer has become an important research tool and computer skills are useful.