How to Become an Anthropologist (Bridging Past and Present!)

how to become an anthropologist

If you’ve ever been fascinated by diverse cultures, historical events, or the evolution of human societies, and wondered what it takes to become an anthropologist, you’re in the right place.

In this guide, we’ll explore the EXACT steps you need to take to launch your career as an anthropologist. We’ll talk about:

  • The skills you need.
  • The education required for this field.
  • How to secure a job as an anthropologist.

So, whether you’re a novice in this field or an individual already immersed in human studies looking to enhance your career, stay tuned.

We’re about to unfold the roadmap to becoming an anthropologist.

Let’s get started!

Contents show

Steps to Become an Anthropologist


Step 1: Understand the Role of an Anthropologist

Before you pursue a career as an anthropologist, it’s essential to understand what the role entails.

Anthropologists study various aspects of humans within past and present societies and draw and build upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences, as well as the humanities and physical sciences.

Their work can involve a wide range of tasks, from hands-on fieldwork in remote locations to teaching in classrooms or conducting research in large archives.

Some anthropologists focus on cultural or social anthropology, studying the customs, cultures, and social lives of groups in various settings.

Others might focus on physical or biological anthropology, examining human evolution and modern human variation.

Understanding the role of an anthropologist is not just about grasping the academic and research aspects.

It also involves understanding the potential challenges such as extended periods away from home during fieldwork, potential language barriers, and learning to respect and navigate different cultures sensitively.

Begin by reading about anthropology, its subfields, and its application in the real world.

Speak to practicing anthropologists, attend anthropology lectures or seminars, or take introductory courses to get a deep understanding of what the role involves.

This initial exploration will help you decide if this is the right career path for you.


Step 2: Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology

In order to become an anthropologist, you must first obtain a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology or a related field.

While in a program, you will learn about different cultures, societies, and human behavior.

Coursework typically includes cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.

Not only will you learn theoretical knowledge, but these programs also often incorporate fieldwork or laboratory components that allow you to gain practical skills.

Fieldwork can provide real-world experience and deepen your understanding of the subjects you study in the classroom.

This could potentially include traveling to different regions to study various cultures, societies, and human behaviors firsthand.

Throughout your program, try to develop strong research and analytical skills.

Anthropologists often rely on these skills to analyze data and understand complex cultural phenomena.

Additionally, honing your communication skills is essential, as anthropologists must be able to effectively convey their findings and insights to others.

If your program offers it, consider doing an internship or working on a research project.

These opportunities can provide you with valuable hands-on experience and can be a great way to establish connections in the field.

Remember, the focus of your studies during your bachelor’s degree can influence your later specializations or focus areas as a professional anthropologist.

Therefore, choose your courses and extracurricular activities with your future career goals in mind.


Step 3: Specialize in a Subfield of Anthropology

As an anthropologist, choosing a specific subfield to focus on can guide the trajectory of your career and research.

Anthropology is broadly categorized into four main subfields: cultural anthropology, biological or physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology.

These subfields cover a wide range of topics, so you should carefully consider your interests and career goals when choosing a specialization.

Cultural anthropologists study human societies and cultures, while biological anthropologists focus on aspects of human evolution and biological diversity.

Archaeologists study past human cultures through material remains, and linguistic anthropologists investigate how language influences social life.

To decide which subfield to specialize in, consider the topics that you are most passionate about.

Take different classes, engage in various research projects, and talk to professionals in the field.

Remember that your choice of specialization can impact the type of work you do in the field, the research opportunities available to you, and the job prospects in your future career.

After selecting a subfield, you may choose to narrow your focus even further by specializing in a particular region, time period, or cultural group.

This will require you to take advanced courses, participate in fieldwork, and conduct in-depth research in your chosen area.

This level of expertise can make you more desirable to employers and open up opportunities for advanced research or teaching positions.


Step 4: Gain Fieldwork Experience

Fieldwork is an essential part of an anthropologist’s training and career.

It involves immersing yourself in the culture or society that you are studying, often for extended periods.

Many undergraduate and postgraduate anthropology programs incorporate fieldwork as part of the curriculum, and it is highly advisable to take advantage of these opportunities.

You might conduct fieldwork in a variety of settings, such as rural villages, urban centers, government offices, or archaeological sites.

The goal is to gather data through interviews, observations, surveys, and other methods.

This experience can be physically demanding and mentally challenging, but it provides invaluable insights into human behavior and social structures.

While in the field, it’s important to practice ethical behavior, respect local customs and rules, and maintain a professional demeanor.

This experience will not only enrich your understanding of anthropology but also equip you with practical skills, like problem-solving, adaptability, and resilience.

In some cases, you might have the opportunity to publish your fieldwork findings or present them at conferences, which can significantly enhance your professional reputation and job prospects.

Additionally, consider joining professional organizations or networks, as these can provide further fieldwork opportunities and resources for your career development.


Step 5: Develop Research and Analytical Skills

As an anthropologist, your career will heavily rely on your ability to conduct thorough research and analyze data.

Therefore, developing these skills is crucial.

During your undergraduate and graduate studies, focus on courses that enhance these abilities such as ethnography, archaeology, cultural anthropology, and statistical analysis.

Participating in field studies, internships, or research projects will give you practical experience in collecting and analyzing data.

This could involve conducting interviews, surveys, observing human behavior, or studying historical and archaeological artifacts.

Furthermore, familiarity with qualitative and quantitative research methods is essential.

You will need to interpret and analyze data effectively to draw meaningful conclusions from your research.

This could include using statistical software or other data analysis tools.

Enhancing your research and analytical skills can help you produce more accurate and informative studies, which are crucial in driving policy changes, informing public understanding of different cultures, and contributing to academic knowledge.

These skills are also transferable to other fields, expanding your career options.


Step 6: Master Another Language (if Necessary)

Understanding and speaking another language can greatly enhance your career as an anthropologist, especially if you wish to work in a specific region or with a particular community.

Certain anthropological studies may require you to work closely with communities that do not communicate in English, making fluency in their language a critical skill.

You can begin to learn a new language in high school or college, and it’s advisable to choose a language that aligns with your interest or the region you wish to specialize in.

For example, if you’re interested in Latin American cultures, you may want to learn Spanish.

On top of that, understanding another language can also be beneficial if you wish to delve into historical texts and documents, as many of these might not be translated into English.

Moreover, many universities and grant bodies look favorably upon anthropologists who have a working knowledge of another language, as this shows a dedication to the field and a willingness to engage more deeply with other cultures.

Remember, mastering a language takes time and practice.

You may need to immerse yourself in the culture, engage with native speakers or take advantage of language learning resources and tools to reach a level of fluency that will be beneficial in your anthropological work.


Step 7: Complete a Master’s Degree or Ph.D. in Anthropology

Pursuing a master’s degree in Anthropology is the logical next step after completing a bachelor’s degree.

The master’s program usually takes two years to complete and often involves a combination of coursework, research, and fieldwork.

The curriculum typically covers various sub-fields of anthropology such as cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology.

Completing a master’s degree can lead to more opportunities for career advancement and higher salaries.

It also lays the groundwork for further study, especially if you are interested in becoming an academic or professional researcher in anthropology.

On the other hand, a Ph.D. in Anthropology is a more comprehensive program that can take anywhere from four to seven years to complete.

It includes extensive research, teaching assistantships, and the writing and defense of a doctoral dissertation.

It is an essential qualification for those who wish to teach anthropology at the university level or conduct high-level research in the field.

Whether you choose a master’s or a Ph.D. depends on your career goals, research interests, and the amount of time and resources you are willing to invest.

Both programs offer in-depth training in anthropological theory and methods, but a Ph.D. requires a greater commitment and opens more doors in the world of academia.

In both programs, it is important to work closely with your mentors and advisors, who can guide you through your studies and help you find opportunities for research and fieldwork.

These experiences can be valuable in building your understanding of anthropology and shaping your future career.


Step 8: Publish Your Research

As an anthropologist, it’s vital to disseminate your findings and theories to the broader academic community and the world.

One way to do this is by publishing your research.

This can be in peer-reviewed academic journals, books, conference papers, or through various online platforms.

Publishing your work provides a means for others to learn from, challenge, and build on your research.

It also serves to enhance your credibility in the field, opening doors to further research opportunities, collaborations, and professional advancement.

When preparing to publish your research, ensure it is well-organized, clearly written, and accurately represents your findings and interpretations.

It’s also crucial to familiarize yourself with the publishing guidelines of the chosen outlet.

Remember that the process of getting published can be lengthy and may involve revisions based on feedback from peer reviewers.

It requires perseverance and commitment, but the rewards for your career and the field of anthropology can be substantial.


Step 9: Network with Other Anthropologists

Networking with other anthropologists is crucial for both academic and professional growth.

This can be achieved by attending anthropology-focused conferences, seminars, and workshops where you can meet and connect with professionals in the field.

Such events not only offer the opportunity to learn about the latest research and developments, but also to present your own work and gain exposure.

Joining professional anthropology associations and organizations can also help you network effectively.

These organizations often have local chapters that hold regular meetings, where you can meet fellow anthropologists from different specialties and stages of their career.

Online platforms and social networks also offer excellent opportunities for networking.

Joining anthropology-focused online forums, discussion groups, and social media channels can help you connect with anthropologists from around the world.

Remember, networking is not just about finding job opportunities; it is also about learning from others, sharing ideas, and seeking advice.

Build relationships and engage in meaningful conversations.

You never know when a connection might lead to a new opportunity or collaboration.


Step 10: Apply for Professional Anthropological Positions

Once you’ve obtained the necessary education and gained some experience through fieldwork, internships, or research projects, it’s time to apply for professional anthropological positions.

Start by identifying the kind of work you want to do and the type of organization you’d like to work for.

Anthropologists can work in a variety of settings such as academia, government agencies, non-profit organizations, museums, or private companies.

Prepare your resume and cover letter, highlighting your educational background, research projects, fieldwork experience, and any specialized skills relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Remember, anthropology is a broad field and different roles may require different skills.

For instance, a forensic anthropologist might need a background in physical anthropology and osteology, while a corporate anthropologist may require skills in ethnography and qualitative research.

Networking is also an important part of the job search process.

Attend professional events, join anthropological associations, and connect with other anthropologists to learn about job opportunities.

Furthermore, consider jobs that might not explicitly be labeled as ‘anthropologist’ but require anthropological skills.

These could be roles in cultural resource management, community development, human rights advocacy, or user experience research.

Finally, prepare for the interview process.

Be ready to discuss your research, fieldwork, and how your anthropological skills can contribute to the organization.

Show enthusiasm for the field and the specific role you’re applying for, demonstrating not just your technical skills but also your cultural sensitivity, adaptability, and critical thinking abilities.


Step 11: Continue Professional Development

In the field of anthropology, learning never really ends.

Even after attaining a job, it is crucial to continuously advance your knowledge base and skill set.

To this end, you should engage in professional development activities regularly.

Professional development in anthropology might involve attending academic conferences, participating in workshops, or enrolling in advanced courses.

You could also consider furthering your studies with a postdoctoral degree or conducting independent research that contributes to the field’s knowledge base.

Also, subscribe to professional journals and publications to stay up-to-date with the latest research and theories in anthropology.

Join professional organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association, to network with other professionals and access additional resources.

In the constantly evolving field of anthropology, maintaining and expanding your expertise can prove invaluable in enhancing your career opportunities.

Continuous learning allows you to keep up with the latest tools and methodologies, broaden your perspective, and provide better insights in your work.


Step 12: Advocate for the Ethical Practice of Anthropology

As an anthropologist, it is crucial to advocate for the ethical practice of anthropology.

This includes respecting the rights, interests, and expectations of those you study, as well as those who may be affected by your work.

You should also aim to always conduct your research in a manner that minimizes harm and maximizes benefits.

One way to advocate for ethical practice is by promoting and adhering to the code of ethics provided by anthropological associations such as the American Anthropological Association.

This code outlines important ethical considerations such as gaining informed consent, respecting privacy and confidentiality, and acknowledging the collaborative nature of anthropological research.

Furthermore, it is important to raise awareness about the ethical issues in anthropology among your colleagues, students, and the public.

You can do this through educational seminars, workshops, or public speaking engagements.

You can also advocate for ethical practice by leading by example in your own research and professional activities.

Remember that as an anthropologist, your advocacy can have a profound impact on the preservation and respectful treatment of cultural heritage and human rights.

Therefore, it is not just a step in your career progression but an ongoing responsibility.



Anthropologist Roles and Responsibilities

Anthropologists use their deep understanding of human behavior, culture, history, and social issues to analyze and interpret the complexities of different societies.

They also apply anthropological knowledge to address contemporary issues.

They have the following roles and responsibilities:



  • Conduct fieldwork to collect information about human behavior, culture, and history.
  • Use various research methods including interviews, surveys, and ethnography.
  • Analyze and interpret data using qualitative and quantitative techniques.


Ethnography and Ethnology

  • Study specific cultures and societies in detail (ethnography).
  • Make cross-cultural comparisons and analysis (ethnology).
  • Document and describe cultural trends, transformations, and patterns.


Teaching and Lecturing

  • Teach anthropology courses at colleges and universities.
  • Present research findings in academic papers and conferences.



  • Advise government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations on cultural matters.
  • Apply anthropological knowledge to address social, economic, and environmental issues.


Publication and Documentation

  • Write and publish research papers, articles, and books.
  • Document cultural artifacts, historical sites, and other significant findings.



  • Work with other anthropologists, archeologists, sociologists, and scientists in related fields.


Preservation of Cultural Heritage

  • Work on preservation and conservation of cultural heritage sites.
  • Advocate for the rights of indigenous and marginalized communities.


Cultural Sensitivity

  • Respect cultural diversity and adhere to ethical considerations while conducting research.


Continuous Learning

  • Keep up-to-date with the latest research and developments in anthropology.
  • Attend seminars, workshops, and training programs to enhance knowledge and skills.


What Does an Anthropologist Do?

Anthropologists are professionals who study the aspects of humans within past and present societies.

They often work for research organizations, government agencies, non-profits, and educational institutions.

Anthropologists typically conduct scientific and archaeological research to understand and explain human behavior.

They gather and analyze data, often using statistical software, to test their theories and hypotheses about human behavior.

They also study the cultures, languages, archaeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

They interpret, synthesize, and evaluate data to gain an understanding of human behavior, culture, and society.

Anthropologists may also apply their findings to real-world problems, often working in multidisciplinary teams with other scientists and professionals.

They often use their research to inform and influence public policy, aid in the cultural awareness and preservation, and help businesses better understand and serve their customers.

In some cases, anthropologists may specialize in a specific area of anthropology such as cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology, or archaeology, each focusing on a different aspect of human development and behavior.


Essential Anthropologist Skills

  • Cultural Awareness: Anthropologists must have a deep understanding and appreciation for different cultures, customs, and practices. This includes being able to communicate effectively with diverse populations and understanding cultural nuances.
  • Research Skills: Anthropologists need strong research skills, including the ability to design and conduct studies, collect data, and analyze findings to draw meaningful conclusions.
  • Critical Thinking: Anthropologists must be able to think critically and objectively to interpret findings, solve problems, and make logical conclusions. This involves analyzing data, recognizing patterns, and understanding the implications of certain behaviors or trends.
  • Writing Skills: Anthropologists often present their findings in written form, so strong writing and communication skills are essential. This includes the ability to present complex ideas clearly and concisely and to effectively communicate findings to both academic and non-academic audiences.
  • Observational Skills: A significant part of an anthropologist’s job involves making observations. This requires attention to detail and the ability to notice and interpret nuances in human behavior and social interaction.
  • Fieldwork: Anthropologists often conduct fieldwork, requiring them to adapt to different environments and situations, and often in different parts of the world. This requires flexibility, resilience, and strong interpersonal skills.
  • Language Skills: Depending on their area of study, anthropologists may need to learn and become proficient in new languages. This skill is crucial when conducting fieldwork in foreign countries or with non-English speaking populations.
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis: Anthropologists need to be competent in both qualitative and quantitative research methods. These skills are crucial for interpreting data and making meaningful conclusions.
  • Ethics: Anthropologists must adhere to strict ethical guidelines in their research and interactions with people. They must respect the rights, privacy, and cultures of the people they study.
  • Patience: Anthropological research can be a long and exhaustive process. Patience is required during fieldwork, research, and data analysis stages.
  • Interdisciplinary Knowledge: As anthropology is a diverse field, anthropologists often need to be familiar with related disciplines such as sociology, history, archeology, and linguistics.
  • Project Management: Anthropologists often oversee research projects, requiring skills in project management, including planning, coordinating resources, and overseeing project completion.
  • Teamwork: Anthropologists often work in teams, especially during fieldwork. The ability to work cooperatively and collaboratively with others is essential.


Anthropologist Career Path Progression

The Foundation: Junior Anthropologist

Your journey typically starts as a Junior Anthropologist.

At this stage, you’ll be involved in fieldwork, data collection, and basic research tasks under supervision.

This phase is all about learning and mastering the basics of anthropological study.

Here are some tips for this role:

  1. Continuous Learning: Keep yourself updated with latest anthropological theories and methodologies.
  2. Fieldwork: Engage actively in fieldwork as it’s the cornerstone of anthropological study.
  3. Seek Mentorship: Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek guidance from senior anthropologists.


The Ascent: Anthropologist

With experience and confidence, you’ll transition into the role of an Anthropologist.

You’ll conduct independent research, present findings, and contribute to the development of anthropological knowledge.

Here’s how to thrive:

  1. Research Skills: Enhance your research skills, focusing on both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  2. Interdisciplinary Approach: Be open to incorporating insights from other disciplines to enrich your anthropological study.
  3. Communication: Develop strong writing and presentation skills to communicate your findings effectively.


Reaching New Heights: Senior Anthropologist

The next step is the Senior Anthropologist position.

At this stage, you’re recognized for your expertise and you may lead research projects, supervise junior anthropologists, and contribute significantly to anthropological theories.

To excel as a Senior Anthropologist:

  1. Mentorship: Share your knowledge and help junior anthropologists grow.
  2. Advanced Research: Lead complex research projects and strive to make significant contributions to the field.
  3. Leadership: Lead by example, motivating and guiding your team towards achieving research goals.


Beyond the Horizon: Lead Roles and Beyond

As your career progresses, you may choose to specialize in a particular area, such as becoming a Professor, Principal Investigator, or a Lead Ethnographer.

These roles involve more responsibilities, leadership, and strategic decision-making.

Here’s what to focus on:

  1. Thought Leadership: Lead critical initiatives and shape the academic direction of your projects and teams.
  2. Teaching: If you transition into academia, develop effective teaching methods to impart anthropological knowledge.
  3. Innovation: Continue to innovate and stay at the forefront of anthropological research trends.


Pinnacle of Success: Director of Anthropology or Department Head

You may reach roles like Director of Anthropology or Department Head at the highest levels of the anthropologist career ladder.

Here, you’ll be responsible for shaping the overall research strategy of the institution, making critical decisions, and managing larger teams of researchers.


Anthropologist Salary

Entry-Level Anthropologist

  • Median Salary: $40,000 – $60,000 per year
  • Entry-level anthropologists typically have 0-2 years of experience and hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in anthropology or related fields.


Mid-Level Anthropologist

  • Median Salary: $60,000 – $80,000 per year
  • Mid-level anthropologists have 2-5 years of experience and often take on more complex research projects, contributing to the development of anthropological theories and methodologies.


Senior Anthropologist

  • Median Salary: $80,000 – $100,000 per year
  • Senior anthropologists possess 5+ years of experience and are responsible for leading research projects, publishing anthropological studies, and mentoring junior anthropologists.


Lead Anthropologist / Anthropology Research Director

  • Median Salary: $100,000 – $130,000+ per year
  • These roles require significant experience and often involve leading large research projects, making significant contributions to the field, and decision-making related to research direction.


Principal Anthropologist / Anthropology Department Chair

  • Median Salary: $130,000 – $170,000+ per year
  • These high-level positions require extensive experience, deep anthropological expertise, and often involve setting research strategies for a department or institution.


Anthropologist Work Environment

Anthropologists often work in a variety of settings depending on their area of specialization.

They may find employment in universities, museums, cultural institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and even corporations.

For those specializing in physical or biological anthropology, they may work in laboratories or be involved in fieldwork, sometimes in remote locations, to collect samples and data.

For cultural anthropologists, their work could involve spending extended periods in the communities they are studying.

Some anthropologists enjoy flexibility in their work schedules, particularly if they are conducting independent research or teaching at a university.

However, anthropologists engaged in fieldwork may have more demanding and unpredictable schedules, including travel for extended periods.

As their career progresses, an anthropologist may choose to become a consultant, advising organizations on cultural sensitivity, human behavior, and social issues.

Others may go into leadership roles within their organizations or even author books and articles to share their knowledge and findings with the public.


FAQs About Becoming an Anthropologist

What is needed to become an anthropologist?

To become an anthropologist, you typically need a strong background in anthropology or a related field.

This usually involves obtaining a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, followed by a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in a specialized area of anthropology.

Key skills include ethnographic research, cultural sensitivity, analytical thinking, and writing skills.

Other important aspects include being open-minded and curious about diverse cultures, societies, and human behaviors.


How long does it take to be an anthropologist?

Becoming an anthropologist can take several years depending on the level of specialization and research involved.

A bachelor’s degree typically takes around four years, a master’s degree takes around two years, and a Ph.D. can take an additional four to six years.

You may also spend additional time gaining fieldwork experience, conducting research, and writing a dissertation.


Can I be an anthropologist without a degree?

While it is technically possible to study cultures, societies, and human behavior without a formal degree, most professional anthropologists have at least a master’s or Ph.D. This is because the field requires a deep understanding of anthropological theories, research methodologies, and ethical considerations, which are typically learned through formal education.

A degree also provides opportunities for guided fieldwork and research, which are critical for honing the skills needed in this profession.


Is anthropology a stressful job?

Anthropology can be challenging and stressful at times, particularly when conducting fieldwork in remote locations or dealing with sensitive cultural issues.

However, the level of stress can vary greatly depending on the specific role, work environment, and individual coping strategies.

Many anthropologists find the work rewarding and intellectually stimulating, and the opportunity to contribute to our understanding of human societies can offset the stress.


What are the prospects for anthropologists in the next decade?

The demand for anthropologists is expected to grow in the next decade, as their expertise is increasingly recognized in fields such as business, health care, and environmental studies.

Their ability to understand human behavior and cultural dynamics can provide valuable insights in an increasingly globalized world.

There are also opportunities for anthropologists in academia, museums, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and consulting firms.



And there you have it.

The expedition to become an anthropologist is indeed a monumental endeavor, but undeniably rewarding.

Equipped with the appropriate skills, education, and tenacity, you’re just steps away from making substantial contributions to our understanding of human societies and cultures.

Remember, the journey may be demanding, but the potential discoveries are infinite. Your insights could lead to groundbreaking knowledge that reshapes how we perceive human existence and interaction.

So, take that initial leap. Immerse yourself in knowledge. Connect with professionals. And above all, never cease exploring.

Because the world is eager to understand the stories you can unravel.

And if you’re seeking personalized advice on initiating or progressing your career in anthropology, check out our AI Career Path Advisor.

This complimentary tool is designed to provide tailored advice and resources to assist you in effectively navigating your career path.

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