Anthropology Beyond The Books

Anthropology Beyond the Books: The Rough Guide

by Sandi Richards

As an anthropology student, you have undoubtedly been faced with the question, "So what are you going to do with that? - Dig up bones?". Not only does this question highlight the popular views regarding our discipline; it also explains why anthropology students are often at a loss when it comes to deciding what to actually DO with an anthropology degree. Now, some people have their futures all planned out before ever setting foot on the U of L campus, for the rest of us, however, deciding on whether to pursue anthropology, finding out how to do so at the graduate level, and determining what the actual value of an anthropology degree is outside of academia, can be a bewildering, frustrating process. Hopefully, this guide can help you along the way, whether you are simply taking anthropology for fun or want to set the world on fire with your brilliant theories.

So, I've declared my major, what next?

Ok, so now that you've decided that anthropology is the degree for you, you're probably wondering what you've gotten into, and how to make the most of it. At this point there are a few things that you can do to make sure you'll be prepared later, whether you go on to grad school or not.

  1. Get Involved - this means joining the Anthropology Club, attending "Brown Bag" talks, getting to know your professors and other anthro students. Senior level students are always eager to show off how much they know, so talking to them can be very informative, even if it's just to get help deciding which classes to take.
  2. Broaden Your Horizons - try taking elective courses that compliment your interests in Anthropology, such as religious studies, philosophy, or Native American Studies. You can create your own multidisciplinary program by taking courses across disciplines which are related. For example taking the Sociology of Gender, Women in World Religions, and Feminist Anthropology will provide you with a "big picture" understanding of some of the complex issues surrounding gender studies. Also, a second or third language is always a good idea. Both French and Spanish will be useful if you plan to study at larger American institutions, and a language that complements your research interests is always helpful, even if it's just the introductory level.
  3. Try Writing - everyone has to write a few essays in anthropology, but if you cultivate good writing skills now, it will make all your future courses easier. You can also polish a particularly good essay into an article for publication, or use it as a writing sample for grad school or job applications.
  4. Join Co-Op - the co-op program at the University of Lethbridge is designed to allow students to gain experience in their discipline, while working at a paid position. Visit the Co-op office (AH151) for more information, or check out their website.
  5. Research - there are many opportunities at the undergraduate level to get involved in research. You can create your own research project, under the direction of a professor by doing an Independent Study, Applied Study or Honours Thesis. All of these are great opportunities to apply the skills you've learned in class to researching a topic you are particularly interested in. An Honours Thesis is similar to an independent study, but it is more intensive, and gains you the Honours designation on your diploma when you graduate. This is important, because you often need an Honours Degree to be admitted to Graduate Programs. Take the opportunity to find out what your professors' specialties are when looking for a thesis or independent study supervisor. You'll gain from their insight and experience. This is your chance to find out whether you really enjoy the research aspect of anthropology.

I love Anthropology, should I go to Grad School?

The decision to pursue further education is a personal one that should not be made lightly. Grad school is difficult, expensive, and often stressful. It also does not guarantee you fame, fortune, or even steady employment once you've finished. That being said, most people who decide to pursue anthropology do so at the masters and doctoral levels. And remember, as long as you keep your options open, you can always decide to enter further study a few years from now, after you've travelled the world.

Ok, I know all that..and I still want to go to Grad School, so what's next?

So, this is the part where you need to be prepared to do a bit of research. First of all, it's never too early to start looking into grad programs. During the third year of your degree is probably ideal, so don't leave it until the spring semester of your graduating year. The process can take as long as a year, so start planning NOW.

  1. Determine your interests - this sounds simple enough, but remember that you will be committed to your subject area for the next few YEARS, not just the duration of a semester. If you are passionate about your area of interest, you'll be more likely to put in the necessary work. Meeting with professors at this point is a good idea to discuss "up and coming" subject areas in anthropology. Think about which courses you've enjoyed the most and why, and determine whether you could turn that interest into a base for further research.
  2. Research available programs - there are a wide variety of resources available in both print form and online which give an overview of anthropology graduate programs. Course calendars are usually available online, which describe the programs offered. Depending on where you are hoping to attend, the graduate programs may be either generalist, or specialized. The main difference is whether or not you complete a thesis at the Masters level. If you have specific interests that you are eager to pursue, a thesis-based program might be best for you. These programs are not offered at all institutions however, so be sure and find out exactly what the programs are like. If you really aren't sure about what you would like to specialize in, the generalist programs are the way to go. They usually combine course work, and a shorter thesis, or none at all. This allows you to gain further research methodology skills, and perhaps pick up a relevant language.

    Most Canadian programs are of the "shorter thesis" type. This usually means taking about a year of courses, some of which are at the senior undergraduate level (ie.4000), and then writing a thesis that is 50-200 pages in length. Obviously, to accomplish such a feat requires excellent writing skills, and organization, as well as the ability to work independently. Some programs, particularly European ones, may also include comprehensive exams, in addition to course work, and/or a thesis.

    Some of the larger Universities also have a nominal master's program. These programs are actually PhD programs which award a Masters degree along the way. However, withdrawing from the program without completing the PhD, may be seen more negatively than receiving a standard (terminal) MA. These programs may be shorter in duration overall, but as they lead to the PhD, should not be undertaken unless you are willing to commit to the entire program. If you intend to work outside of academia, a terminal MA may be more useful, due to the emphasis on course work, which may give you more immediate grounding in methodology.

  3. Research departments - now you have probably narrowed down your possible choices by interest and available programs. At this point, you need to think about more practical matters. For example, are there individuals within your chosen departments who are doing work in your field of interest? You will ultimately be working closely with a few professors, so it's vital to ensure that there are ones that you can indeed work with. What's the reputation of the department? This can be difficult to determine. Talking to professors is probably the best way to find this out, keeping in mind however, that reputation is subjective, so ask more than one person. The high profile schools may not always be the best fit for you. A good program that supports your interests and goals at a small Canadian institution may be better than the London School of Economics. However, if you know of someone you want to study under, and they happen to be part of a high profile department, go for it.
  4. Network - this means getting in touch with actual people, rather than simply reading calendars online. If possible, visit the campuses and departments that you are interested in applying to. You'll get a much better sense of whether you would fit in there, than you could from reading about it. At this point, if you intend to pursue the thesis-style programs, you should be making personal contact with potential supervisors. An email can suffice as a first contact, but a personal follow-up if possible is best. Can you see yourself working with this person? Are they interested in supporting your research goals? If not, consider other programs.

I've done my research, now how do I apply?

The application process varies from institution to institution. However, there are a few general rules to consider. First of all, make a list of schools to apply to. Don't limit yourself to only the best ones, be realistic, keeping in mind that some schools let in only one out of every hundred applicants. Unfortunately, an application fee is required, so the process of applying to multiple schools can be expensive. Along with filling out the usual forms, you may also be asked to provide a variety of other items which "prove" your suitability for the program to which you are applying.

Whether you need one or not, a statement of intent is a good idea. You can use this to narrow your search for schools in the first place. The statement of intent is not a personal life story of why you have always wanted to be an anthropologist, but rather an overview of your research interests and goals. Particularly highlight the reasons you have chosen the institution you're applying to. You can do this by mentioning the research facilities available, or other features that would help you meet your research goals. This part does require a bit of knowledge of the institution beforehand, but is worthwhile.

Transcripts: you will need to provide official copies of all transcripts to each institution you're applying to. These can be obtained through the Registrar's Office, for a small fee.

GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) : most Canadian schools do not require you to take the GRE, however, if you are considering applying to American universities, you may be asked to provide this. The GRE is only offered at specific locations and dates each year, Career & Employment Services (B610) can provide you with the information and application forms. This exam is designed to test you on a variety of subjects. Study guides are available, as well as online preparation and information:

Letters of Reference: These differ from letters you would provide to a prospective employer, in that they should reflect your research and writing skills, and should therefore, ideally come from professors that know you well enough to be able to comment. When asking for letters of reference, provide your professors (or whoever else you choose) with all the information pertinent to the program you're applying to, as well as any special forms necessary. Confidential letters, i.e. ones that you have not read, do sometimes hold more weight, and some schools, such as University of Toronto insist upon confidential letters of reference that are written on official letterhead from the sending institution. Each school varies in the exact specifications, but most require a minimum of two letters. Letters from Anthropology faculty will tend to also "count" for more than those of other faculty, so keep that in mind.

Grades/Courses: This varies significantly from university to university. There is usually a minimum letter grade or GPA requirement. However, there are a number of different grading scales used, including 3 point and 9 point GPA scales. Academic advising should be able to help you determine how your grades measure up to alternate scales. A minimum average of B+ or A- seems to be common in Canada, while some specify a 3.00 GPA and above. Your anthropology grades in particular, especially during the last year of study, are also taken into consideration. Some schools also require you to have a certain number of senior level courses, or a topical focus. The General Liberal Education Requirement at the University of Lethbridge does provide many students with a good balance of major specific course work, and general courses overall. Again, this varies by school, so the earlier you start looking into it, the more likely you will be able to accommodate any unusual specifications in your course choices.

I don't really want to continue with anthropology in an academic setting, what options are available to me?

There are numerous opportunities available besides continuing to graduate school. Of course, taking a little time off from school can put the last few years in perspective, and you might find that after being away from class for a few months, you're actually eager to go back. However, if this is not the case, you can apply anthropology in a variety of ways, including working in international development, social services, the government, or education. Depending on what your interests are, you can also continue your education in a related field, such as communications, archival studies, or archaeology.

Can I really get a job with an Anthropology degree?

Yes! That's the short answer. The skills gained by taking anthropology are applicable to all sorts of jobs and situations. The difficult part is learning how to market Anthropology to the rest of the world. Many employers would love to have an anthropologist on staff; they just don't know it. Communication skills, cross-cultural knowledge, and the ability to mediate between groups of people, are all valuable skills which are gained through anthropology. If you can provide employers with concrete examples of how you have attained these, and other skills, and how you can adapt them to a work setting, your chances are much better. Unfortunately, until "Anthropologist Wanted" ads start appearing in the Lethbridge Herald, "selling" yourself is a significant part of finding work outside of academia. All the reading and paper writing you had to complete as an undergraduate has also provided you with excellent research skills, which can be applied to many jobs, including the government or social agencies. Policy analysis, interviewing, and report writing are directly related to anthropology. For a more complete overview of the types of career opportunities available to you with a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology, visit Career & Employment Services, or check the bulletin boards in the Anthropology department. Networking, getting involved, and following your interests are as necessary in career planning, as they are in applying to grad school.

Where can I go to find out more information?

The Department of Anthropology
University Hall A 874
Phone: (403) 329-2598
Fax: (403) 329-5109

Administrative Support: Jenny Oseen

Academic Advising:

  • They can help ensure you will meet all the requirements for you degree, and can also help determine whether you meet the requirements of graduate programs that you're applying to.

Career & Employment Services:

  • They have career planning books and resources, as well as a comprehensive library of Canadian and International University calendars.
  • You can also find out more about the GRE, including where and when to write it.
  • Ask for a "What can I do with a major in Anthropology?" guide soon to be online.

Applied Studies:

  • Earn course credit for learning
  • Can be completed at the 2000, 3000, or 4000 level
  • You must have second-year standing (so you could potentially do your first Applied Study course this coming summer!)
  • Paid or volunteer, part-time work related to your field of study
  • Work a minimum of 130 hours (10 hours per week) over the course of a 13 week semester
  • Credits Available:
    1. Applied Studies 2000 - Basic Field Experience
    2. Disciplinary Credit (includes all Departments/Faculties e.g., Management, Health Sciences)
    3. Storytelling Program: Since 1977, the University of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Public Library have worked together to offer students the opportunity for participation in a storytelling program. The storytelling takes place in Lethbridge and area elementary schools (K-6), daycares and community organizations.
  • All Disciplinary Credit Applied Studies courses are completed in conjunction with the Applied Studies Coordinator, a Faculty Supervisor and a Workplace Supervisor.

Co-operative Education:

  • Challenging and relevant paid, full-time work experience related to your field of study
  • 4, 8, 12, or 16-month work terms
  • Starting in May, Sept. or Jan
  • Students maintain their full-time student status while on a work term (so if you see your dream job starting in January, take it!)
  • Placements are local, across Canada and even international
  • Available to all students in the Arts and Sciences
  • Allows students to experience real-world application of their discipline
  • Introduces students to employment possibilities in the workplace
  • Develops valuable research skills for future work experience or graduate school
  • Encourages proactive job search skills
  • Assists students in making realistic and informed career choices
  • Provides the opportunity for students to build valuable contacts with employers
  • Assists students in the transition from University to the workplace


Canadian Graduate Programs in Anthropology (and a few Archaeology ones)

U. of ALBERTA - Anthropology


U. of CALGARY - Anthropology & Archaeology

CARLETON - Anthropology (M.A. only)

CONCORDIA - a joint dept., M.A. only - Anthropology

DALHOUSIE U. - Anthropology & Sociology

U. of GUELPH - Anthropology M.A.

U. of MANITOBA - Anthropology

MEMORIAL U. - Anthropology

McGILL U. - Anthropology

McMASTER - Anthropology

U. of SASKATCHEWAN - Anthropology, Archaeology

NOTE: Due to a shortage of supervisors, applications in cultural anthropology cannot be accepted.

SIMON FRASER U. - a joint dept., the site is for both Anthropology and Sociology

SIMON FRASER U. - Archaeology

U. of TORONTO - Anthropology

U. of VICTORIA (British Columbia) - Anthropology (M.A. only)

U. of WESTERN Ontario -Anthropology

YORK U. - Anthropology

Career Related Books

  • Ethnography: Step by Step; by David M. Fetterman
  • Ethnographic Work: Process and Problems in Diverse Career Settings; by Gary Alan Fine, Christopher R. Wellin
  • Careers in Anthropology; by John T. Omohundro
  • Great Jobs for Anthropology Majors; by Blythe Camenson
  • Inside Organizations: Anthropologists at Work; by David N. Gellner, Eric Hirsch
  • Careers for Culture Lovers & Other Artsy Types; by Marjorie Eberts, Margaret Gisler
  • Careers for Travel Buffs & Other Restless Types; by Paul Plawin
  • Careers in Anthropology; by W. Richard Stephens
  • A Guide to Careers in Physical Anthropology; by Alan S. Ryan
  • Others Knowing Others: Perspectives on Ethnographic Careers; by Don D. Fowler, Donald L. Hardesty

Miscellaneous Links

Canadian departments

Journals (from Canadian Perspectives in Cultural Anthropology by Alexander Ervin)

Career Related Links

This compilation of this information would not have been possible without the information provided during the Anthropology Beyond the Books workshop. My thanks to Norman Buchignani, from whose original notes the idea for this guide (and some of the links) came. Thanks also to the Anthropology Department for providing links, insights, and suggestions throughout the creation of both the workshop and this project.

While the information provided is intended as a guide, due to the nature of Internet resources, and changing institutional guidelines, accuracy is not guaranteed. There are literally hundreds of resources available for anthropology students today, so if this resource can provide a starting point to some of you, then my work is done!