What Is an Anthropologist?

These social scientists study how humans behave and evolve

Anthropologist
••• Gerard Fritz / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Anthropologists are responsible for much of what we know about how ancient societies worked, what they valued, and sometimes even why they fell. Anthropologists help everyone from governments to advertising agencies to universities comprehend what is happening now and how to effectively communicate with people.

Anthropologists, along with archaeologists, study human beings. They look at our origin, development, and behavior.

There are three main types of anthropologists: cultural, physical, and linguistic. A cultural anthropologist studies groups' customs, social structures, and cultures. A physical or biological anthropologist does research on the evolution of humans. A linguistic anthropologist specializes in communication among people.

Where Anthropologists Work

Research organizations, museums, colleges and universities and the federal government employ many anthropologists. Some work for local governments and private consulting firms.

When you think of an anthropologist, you may picture someone traveling the world in order to gather information about the people he or she is studying. While many anthropologists do field work, others spend their time working in offices and laboratories. Many have full-time jobs and work regular hours.

But when working out in the field, anthropologists often put in long hours and don't adhere to a typical 9-to-5 schedule.

Educational Requirements for Anthropologists

Most working anthropologists have at least a master's degree in anthropology. It typically takes two years to earn a master's degree after first spending four years in college earning a bachelor's degree. If you want to teach at a college or university, most will require you to hold a doctorate.

There aren't many positions available to those who have only a bachelor's degree, but if you have one, you may be able to find work as a laboratory, field, or research assistant. You may gain experience by doing an internship, which is a must for all entry-level jobs in this field regardless of the degree you hold.

Other Requirements for Anthropologists

In order to collaborate on research and present their findings, anthropologists need excellent communication skills. Perseverance is another required trait, given the number of years anthropologists spend working on individual projects. Anthropologists should also have excellent critical thinking, analytical, and investigative skills.

A Day in an Anthropologist's Life

Anthropologists work in a variety of settings including universities, advertising agencies, consulting firms, and corporations. Based on online job ads for anthropologists on Indeed.com, some typical job duties could include:

  • University: Teach courses at all levels of the curriculum including an introduction to cultural anthropology and required theory courses for the major. Conduct research with undergraduate students.
  • Advertising agency: Execute competitive research and audits to fuel insights for clients and project-based work.
  • Market research company: Play the role of lead interviewer in the gathering of insights, primarily through ethnography, in-depth interviews, online community moderation.
  • Automobile manufacturer (Research & Development): Design and plan research investigations.
  • Consulting firm: Develop field plans and fieldwork execution, and associated reporting.