How to become an anthropologist

January 17, 2023 · 5 min read · By ASU Online
Get the details on how to become an anthropologist, the subfields of anthropology, and the different careers paths and education you’ll need for each.

Anthropology is the study of humans past and present. Our origins, identities, linguistics, bodies, thought patterns, conflicts, foods and even how we engage with social media are all things that anthropologists investigate. If you find yourself pondering these social and cultural constructs and wondering how they originated, how they can be explained or how they can be improved, then consider earning an anthropology degree that can lead to a career in this field.


The subfields of anthropology

The duties of anthropologists vary depending on what subfield they’re in. Anthropology is a vast discipline, and academics typically break it down into four main subfields:

  • Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the lens of material artifacts discovered and retrieved from the field. Archaeologists work to uncover and examine these objects in order to interpret the activities, experiences and living environments of civilizations throughout history.

  • Biological/physical anthropology

This subfield is the study of human and primate bodies, remains and fossils for the purpose of understanding more about the evolutionary history of humans and how the environment impacted human life in the past. Biological anthropologists look at how physical developments, such as changes in our skeletal or genetic makeup, are interconnected with social and cultural behaviors throughout history.

  • Cultural anthropology

Cultural anthropologists study the social, cultural, and learned behavior of groups of people in specific environments. Cultural anthropologists base their work in ethnography, a research method that uses field work and participant-observation to study different cultures and customs.

  • Linguistic anthropology

Linguistic anthropology is the study of the history and development of language and how language influences social life. Linguistic anthropologists focus on how language shapes societies and their cultural beliefs, social networks and understanding of themselves and their environments.


The skills needed to be an anthropologist

An anthropologist's skill set includes:

  • Communication skills

The ability to communicate research findings effectively to different audiences including peers and general audiences, which requires strong writing, speaking and listening skills.

  • Critical thinking

Anthropologists need to draw conclusions from observations, laboratory experiments, and other methods of research. They need to be able to combine various sources of information to try to solve problems and to answer research questions.

  • Research skills

Being able to draw on a tool kit of qualitative and quantitative research skills to design projects that may span over several years or even decades. Knowledge of statistics and an understanding of how to design, analyze and present data sets related to large-scale research projects.

  • Understanding of human diversity

The ability to think with an open mind beyond your own background to study and learn about other cultures' religions, politics and values.


Job outlook for anthropologists

There are many types of practicing anthropologists. This includes those who study urban gangs, archaeological sites, language, climate change or a pandemic's impact on humanity.

Some anthropology jobs offer special opportunities, such as the potential to live abroad, the chance to assist in important criminal investigations or to be a part of archeological digs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $61,910 in 2021. And the number of anthropology jobs is projected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS.

An anthropologist sketches in a museum.

5 types of jobs in anthropology

Here are five types of jobs you could pursue with an anthropology degree:

  • Archivist

An archivist manages collections of anthropological material for a library, museum or other cultural institution. Collaborating with curators and conservators, the archivist implements systems for preserving, accessing and safeguarding important resources.

  • Anthropology professor

If you enjoy public speaking, teaching, mentoring and research in the field of anthropology, you should consider pursuing undergraduate education followed by graduate work in anthropology to become a professor at an academic institution. In addition to lecturing, anthropology professors are encouraged by their home departments to become renowned for research specialization and frequently publish books documenting their theories and discoveries — from unearthing archaeological artifacts to conducting field work with isolated groups of people living in remote corners of the world.

  • Forensic anthropologist

This position is well-known in pop culture thanks to the hit TV show Bones, which was inspired by and fictionalized the workof renowned forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs.

As a forensic anthropologist, you would assist law enforcement and coroners in making conclusions about the circumstances in which crimes were committed — usually homicides. With significant training in biological anthropology, forensic anthropologists use approaches that include reproduction, radiation and preservation to draw conclusions about what happened to human bodies.

  • Organizational anthropologist

If you're interested in questioning, testing and improving group dynamics through dedicated research, you should consider a career as an organizational anthropologist. Whether they're employed by a Fortune 500 company or have their own consultancy, organizational anthropologists are hired to observe organizational culture and advise management on how to align a company's culture with its mission and values.

  • Museum curator

With museums dedicated to anthropology and archaeology dotting the globe, there are opportunities for anthropologists to work as curators managing collections of artifacts. Most curators in this field also need to pursue graduate-level work in museum anthropology to secure a senior-level position.

In addition to arranging exhibits and educating the public about their respective collections, museum curators may dedicate themselves to in-depth research, writing or public speaking.


Earn your online anthropology degree from Arizona State University

There are numerous career paths that can be taken by anthropologists. Some jobs will only require an undergraduate degree in anthropology, while a graduate or doctoral degree may be needed for others.

ASU Online offers both a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and a Bachelor of Science in anthropology from the university’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

  • The BA in anthropology is better suited if you’re interested in the socio-cultural areas of anthropology. The program includes foundational coursework focused on the skills and perspectives of human biology and culture, plus cultural anthropology, evolutionary sciences and social statistics. There’s also a second language requirement for the BA degree, which complements the cultural aspect of the program.
  • ASU Online’s BS in anthropology program is the better choice if you’re primarily interested in physical or biological anthropology, bioarchaeology, or subfields of archaeology where science skills are essential. The program focuses on data collection, research, design and scientific approaches to anthropology, plus coursework in natural sciences' quantitative methods, cultural anthropology and statistical analysis.

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We’ve compiled what you need to know about online classes and degree programs at Arizona State University. Read on to learn all about what to expect from the ASU Online learning experience.


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