If you aren’t very familiar with the discipline of anthropology, you may be wondering, what kinds of skills do anthropologists bring to careers outside of academia?
There are many ways to answer that question. Depending on the sub-field of anthropology you have studied or the university you attended, your answer may be different than mine.
In my anthropology courses, I learned how to conduct ethnography. An ethnography is a record and analysis of a specific cultural group. It can include information about the group’s customs, values, traditions, language, family structure and much more. Traditionally, ethnographies were often centered around the study of specific ethnic groups, especially indigenous groups. Modern ethnographies focus on a much wider variety of groups—topics can include religious groups, hobby enthusiasts, age groups, corporations, and even virtual communities. Many companies and organizations use ethnography to gather qualitative data about product use, customer opinions, and program effectiveness. There are some unique data collection methods used in ethnography, such as…
Through anthropology, I learned the value of learning from others by sharing experiences. While simple observation of a group is always a good start, it is even better to try and experience what others are going through directly (when possible). Participant observation could be as simple as trying out a company’s product, or as complex as learning a new language and living with native speakers. Participant observation can produce insightful research data.
Anthropology taught me how to write interview questions and conduct interviews in a way that elicits deeper and more meaningful responses. Semi-structured interviews are different from the more common structured interviews as they allow more room for follow-up questions and shifts in the dialogue as new themes are uncovered. Semi-structured interviews often rely strongly on open-ended questions that encourage story-telling.
Data Analysis and Organization
Anthropologists sort their data through a process called “coding.” Coding involves looking at the research data one has collected, such as interview transcripts and field-notes, and identifying major themes. These themes are then labeled so that they can be easily referenced and analyzed. The most important and reoccurring themes are what is outlined in the final research report or ethnography. Back in the day, coding was done by hand. Thankfully, modern technology has given anthropologists tons of cool tools to making coding and analyzing a much less painful process.
Through anthropology, I have learned to look at everything from a culturally relative point of view. This means that I try to see people and events within the context of the culture they come from. Understanding culture is a crucial part of fostering effective communication. Some may not consider cultural relativism to be a skill, but I believe it is an important one. It takes time and practice to train your brain to think this way!
Anthropologists and former anthropology students—what are some of the most valuable skills that you have learned from anthropology?
Current anthropology students– if your family is wondering what the heck you are learning in school, share this post with them! And while you are at it, you might want to take a look at this post too.
As always, thank you for reading!