How to Become an Anthropologist


Anthropologists study what makes us human by examining our biological and cultural origins, development, and social behaviours.


To get into this field, you’ll need to start by earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Depending on where your career and research interests lie, you’ll likely have to earn a master’s degree and eventually a Ph.D. to further your career.


Your chances of success in this field will also increase if you’re eager to learn about human biology and culture across time and space, someone who’s dedicated academically, and someone who is willing to do isolated fieldwork internationally.


If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to become an anthropologist, read on below. We’ve prepared an overview of what it takes to set a proper foundation for this profession. We’ve also included actual job postings (where available), as well as a list of scholarships for relevant fields of study.



Educational Requirements 

The education needed to become an anthropologist ranges from a bachelor’s degree to a Ph.D., depending on what type of work you'd be doing. Below is an overview as to where each level of education can take you:


Bachelor’s Degree: Having an undergraduate degree in anthropology, or a closely related field, will qualify you to work an entry-level job, such as Research Assistant, Curatorial Assistant, Laboratory Technician, or Site Excavation Technician (also known as a “digger”).


Master’s Degree: Depending on the requirements of the employer, a master’s degree in anthropology, or a closely related field, is typically sufficient for many applied research and consulting positions. Admission to master's programs generally requires successful completion of a 4-year bachelor's degree program (preferably in the honour's stream and with completion of an undergraduate research paper called an 'honour's thesis'). 


Doctoral Degree: To work as a university professor, lecturer or researcher, a Ph.D. in anthropology, or a closely related field, is generally needed. Anthropologists typically need a Ph.D. to work internationally in order to comply with the requirements of foreign governments.





What is an Anthropologist?

General Job Description


An anthropologist is someone who studies, analyzes and interprets various aspects of human and non-human primate society and culture.


They create theories and perform research regarding the biological and cultural makeup of human beings and their primate kin in order to prove or disprove those theories.


They may work in many different capacities, across many different sectors. For example, an anthropologist may work as a university lecturer, a government researcher, a consultant for a business, non-profit, or non-governmental organization, or in any number of other capacities.



Branches of Anthropology: Areas of Specialization

Anthropology is a broad field that seeks to explain differences and similarities in human societies across different regions and historical eras, from both cultural and biological perspectives. It can be segmented into four major branches, which include:


Archaeologists study the remains of humans, plants and animals, as well as other items such as tools and pottery, in order to gain an understanding of the daily lives of peoples of the past.



Biological/Physical Anthropology
Biological/physical anthropology specializes in evolution, genetics, and health. This field is primarily concerned with understanding how humans adapt to different environments, what causes disease and early death, and how humans evolved from other animals. There are also areas of specialty within this branch, such as medical and forensic anthropology.



Cultural Anthropology
Cultural anthropology studies human societies and elements of cultural life. It serves to explore how people in different places live and understand the world around them. A primary concern of this area of anthropology is to gain an understanding of what people across different cultural groups think is important, and the rules they make about how they should interact with one another. These anthropologists often learn about other peoples and cultures by spending time living among them.



Linguistic Anthropology
Linguistic focuses on language in society. This branch is concerned with exploring how language is linked to how we see the world and how we relate to each other. This involves looking at how language works in all its different forms, and how it changes over time, as well as looking at what we believe about language and communication, and how we use language in our lives.



What Does an Anthropologist Do?

Some of the Core Job Duties and Responsibilities


The responsibilities of an archaeologist can vary widely from one area of work to another, and even from job to job within that area. For simplicity’s sake however, anthropologists are generally responsible for the following tasks:


• Formulating theories within specified subject matter

• Planning and conducting research studies in order to prove or disprove theories

• Working in different communities to gather and analyze information on the social and cultural behaviour, artifacts, language and biology of groups and societies

• Writing and preparing reports on findings

• Presenting findings at conferences, seminars, academic lectures and other speaking engagements

• Advising organizations such as businesses, government agencies and others on the cultural impact of policies, programs, and products



Work Environments Common to This Profession

Indoor Settings


Many anthropologists work primarily indoors in offices, classrooms and laboratories. Their hours may be regular business hours, although like most professions, may involve overtime during evenings, weekends, and holidays.





When conducting fieldwork, anthropologists may live in tents or in local housing sometimes in remote locations, and often work long hours (sometimes in isolation) for extended periods of time. Fieldwork is usually seasonal and some of the work can be very physically demanding. They may also be responsible for supervising students, staff and volunteers, although this is also true of anthropologists that work in indoor settings.





Is Becoming an Anthropologist Right for You?

To be successful as an anthropologist, you will need several personal traits and characteristics, including:


• The ability to adapt to unfamiliar and changing circumstances

• An understanding, respect and tolerance for other cultures, peoples and regions

• The ability to do required physical labour

• Comfortability with travel, especially overseas

• A willingness to work in potentially challenging and isolated field conditions

• The ability to pay close attention to details

• Excellent observational and recording skills


You should also enjoy:


• Collecting and analyzing data

• Finding innovative approaches to intellectual puzzles

• Consulting with and directing the work of others

• Taking a precise methodological approach to interpreting and understanding human behaviour



Experience You’ll Need

The level of experience you’ll need to work as an anthropologist will primarily depend on what type of role you will be working in, and how much responsibility will be involved in that role.


To work in entry-level positions, you will likely need in-field experience and training in quantitative and qualitative research methods.


Fortunately, as part of an anthropology degree program, you will likely gain this experience through field training or internships with museums, historical societies, or nonprofit organizations while you’re still in school.


For more advanced positions, you will likely need a combination of education and experience, which will work together in tandem from the outset of your career, throughout your progression into different roles.



Salary Level Typical to This Field

As is true for any other occupation, the level of pay you could earn as an anthropologist can vary greatly, depending on several factors:


• Your area of specialization (if any)

• The actual position you hold, such as field researcher, lecturer, etc.

• Your professional reputation and level of experience

• Your level of education

• The size and type of your employer, as well as the size of the market it operates in

• The structure of your employment

• Other applications your knowledge, such as if you are a published author or are paid to write on a blog, including your own

• Many other factors


Canada (Alberta): According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the “Other professional occupations in social science, n.e.c.” occupational group earned on average from $34.92 to $47.66 an hour, with an overall average wage of $44.18 per hour.


United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median salary level for Americans working in the “Anthropologists and Archeologists” occupational group was $62,410 per year.



Who Employs Anthropologists?

Within Academia


Within the field of academia, anthropologists often teach undergraduate and graduate anthropology, and many offer anthropology courses in other departments and professional schools such as business, education, design, and public health.


Anthropologists also contribute significantly to interdisciplinary fields such as international studies, as well as ethnic and gender studies, and some work in academic research centres.



Outside of Academia


The work of anthropologists outside of academia involves building research partnerships, assessing economic needs, evaluating policies, developing new educational programs, recording little-known community histories, providing health services, and other related activities.


In fact, it is now more common for anthropologists to work outside of academia than within it; more than half of all anthropologists can be found as full-time research staff or independent consultants with government agencies, private businesses, community organizations, museums, independent research institutes, service organizations and the media.



Did You Know?…


Organizations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), UNESCO, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank often employ the services of anthropologists.



Job Postings - Current Opportunities

Check our job board below to find jobs in anthropology in your area! 




Career Advancement Opportunities

Career advancement opportunities within the field of anthropology generally involve advancing your education.


As you further your education, your expertise and technical knowledge will grow. This can result in having more opportunities to conduct field research, instruct course at the post-secondary level, and do consulting work with businesses, non-profits, NGOs, government agencies, and other organizations.


Experience is also critical to advancing your career. As you gain experience, you should become more competent and well-versed in your chosen area of specialty, which will help you qualify for various positions and opportunities involving progressive levels of responsibility, and possible increased levels of pay.



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Below is a list of careers in our database that are most similar in nature to anthropologist, in that they may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities:



• Cultural Affairs Officer

• Ethnologist

• Forensic Lab Analyst

• Linguistic Anthropologist

• Museum Curator

• Paleontologist

• Research Assistant

• Social Scientist

• University Professor



Scholarships for Becoming an Anthropologist

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below shows fields of study that are relevant to this profession, whatever form that might take for you. You can find scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Scholarships, Bursaries and Awards page.



References for This Guide

Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to work in this field:


Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Anthropologists and Archeologists.” (April 12, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved Apr. 17, 2018.

Occupations in Alberta: “Anthropologist.” (March 5, 2016). Government of Alberta - Alberta Learning and Information Service. Retrieved Apr. 17, 2019.

Careers: “How to become an Anthropologist.”. (n.d.). The Good Universities Guide. Retrieved Apr. 17, 2019.

Learn & Teach: “Becoming an Anthropologist.”. (October 13, 2015). American Anthropological Association. Retrieved Apr. 17, 2019.

Department of Anthropology: “Anthropology’s Four Branches.” (n.d.). Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April. 17, 2019.



Relevant Fields of Study

The majors listed below can provide an excellent foundation for a career as an anthropologist. Click on them to find out where else they could take you!


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