Anthropology is the holistic study of human behavior and biology. Anthropologists play numerous, often underappreciated roles in society. Although our graduates acquire skills that take them into many different professions, their jobs seldom have "anthropologist" in the title. In fact, there is a great deal of competition for positions in anthropology. In our view, however, the value of an anthropology degree transcends a simple accounting of how many practicing anthropologists there are and how much they earn. Many people are attracted to Anthropology because of its varied and complex methods and theoretical approaches. An anthropology degree enriches students' perspectives and provides them with a foundational understanding of how humans operate and interact in a global perspective. Read more about the value of Anthropology or Science magazine's "An Annus Horribilis for Anthropology?"
Many of our undergraduate and Master's alumni have gone on to find fulfilling work in the area of anthropology. Read on for just a few examples of what can be done with an anthropology degree.
Reno Nims, MS 2016
I have just joined the University of Auckland Department of Anthropology in New Zealand to work on a PhD on the archaeology of Māori fisheries. It’s a fast-moving program (ranked 20th in the world by QS World University Rankings by subject) that lasts 3 to 4 years, and I am already making good progress defining my research topic and starting to develop my thesis proposal (in the Kiwi system, master’s students write a dissertation, and doctoral students write a thesis). For the last two weeks, I have been travelling and presenting on my progress at conferences for a transdisciplinary organization called Te Pūnaha Matatini that funds my doctoral research. I am currently working with a computational mathematics student from University of Canterbury on finding ways to collaborate with one another across our disciplines.
The goal of my thesis is to evaluate the effects of sustained human harvesting on marine fish species by examining archaeological fish catches from northwest North Island assemblages for evidence of changes in nearshore population structures. Several archaeologists have already tried to determine whether humans overexploited marine resources in the past, but they did not control for any of the potential biases in their data from identification methods, recovery practices, or differential preservation that would specifically obscure any evidence of resource depression that may have been present. I hope to correct some of these biases and create a more accurate understanding of what traditional Māori fisheries looked like in the distant past, and use archaeofishery records to make recommendations for improving modern fisheries management systems.
Michael Kilman, MA 2014
"I have now spent a year with my case study, The Romero Theater Troupe, and I have seen and filmed some pretty amazing things. The Romero Theater Troupe is a group of community members (not actors) that create plays on important social issues (immigration, policy brutality, homelessness, and more). At the same time they use these plays and storytelling workshops to launch and support different elements of activism in the Denver Community. It has been pretty amazing being able to work such a group for a research project."
"Along side my research I have been working on a film called Unbound: The Story of the Romero Theater Troupe. The film uses an anthropological lens intermixed with a documentary format to examine how the Romero Theater Troupe addresses some of the toughest issues the Denver community faces."
Dawn Rewolinski, BS 2010
Dawn was admitted into the Master's Program for Museum Studies at New York University where she will focus on issues surrounding the repatriation of American Indian human remains and funerary objects under NAGPRA. The final rule on the disposition of "culturally unidentifiable" remains in 2010 has significantly reshaped the processes of repatriation. How these changes will affect both American Indian populations and museum collections is yet to be seen. She would like to explore this as a person who advocates for the return of American Indian materials as well as a member of the museum community.
Eliot Scott, MA 2009
"I found a job as a Web Analyst for Lone Star College in Houston in 2008 and put my anthropological research skills to work doing web usability studies for a site redesign they were doing, incidentally while completing my thesis at night. Still, I found I missed the more academic goals of Anthropology and my family did not care for the Houston heat."
"In 2010 I moved to work on an Information Studies degree at the UT iSchool to combine my anthropological and technical interests. I will now graduate with an MSIS in May, and I just accepted a position developing a web application for the TAPAS digital humanities project at Brown University. When I went to the interview in Providence, they were very interested not just in my technical background, but also in my anthropological training, as several of the professors on the project are working with anthropological texts."
"I think it's safe to say that although my technical experience has helped me in my career quite a bit, my anthropological training has helped separate me from other people with only computer science or information science degrees and allowed me to work on much more interesting projects. I think the beauty of anthropology is that it is easily bundled with any other interest a person may have, and that non-anthropological interest immediately becomes anthropological - whether that interest be art, food, architecture, textiles or technology."
Brad Fortier, MA 2008
Brad works seasonally for the United Way, and they've asked him to train their campaign team on public speaking this year. He also started the arts wing of a new training business called "Happy Improv Fun Time" and does consulting work focused on organizational development through interactive workshops on communications, creativity, leadership, and brainstorming.
Brad says, "When I graduated with an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2008, I was doubtful about finding a job that would be able to blend anthropology and theater as I had with my degree. This fall I took a position with the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette as a Community Speaker. One part of my job is to go to local United Way funded projects and programs to interview the providers and beneficiaries of these programs. It's been a great arena to exercise my ethnographic skills."
"The second part of my job is to stir people through storytelling by giving them a window into the experience of others. I find it very rewarding to use the tools and skills I gained through Portland State University's anthropology and theater programs to help better the lives of people in our community. It has been very moving to interview people whose lives have been elevated through these projects. My work supports the values at the heart of my scholarship: that the performance of human actions and behavior are the most powerful tools for clarifying communication and furthering understanding. The marriage of anthropology and theater has grown into a great success for me, and it is how my knowledge serves the city."
Jennifer Therese Poat, MA 2007
"Since earning my MA I have been working with various departments at Oregon Health & Science University to examine health behaviors in seeking, discussing, and adhering to treatments. My most recent study topics include sharing genetic information with family members, therapy seeking behaviors in Portland's veteran population, and decision making processes for VBAC pregnancies at both the policy and the patient level. My specific interests lie in the realm of health resilience as well as intimate forms of resistance to the medicalized moment, which allows me to advocate for patients' unexpressed needs. I currently work with an informatics team of social scientists, statisticians and nurses, a type of mixed-methods atmosphere that is very common with current studies in the field. Because my focal population has been Latino immigrants for over a decade now, I tend to hold a soft spot for studies addressing these issues, but I've also found that keeping attention to an immigration perspective has been an essential tool in addressing all areas of health studies."
"I am also a communications committee member for the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA), and an active member for the Society for Applied Anthropologists (SfAA). I find both groups to be encouraging and supportive for aspiring practitioners. I would recommend that students start exploring organizations of their interest early, and would be happy to discuss free ways to become involved."