Great question!  You are not the only one asking this question.  Anthropology instructors have growing concerns that their students are not finding employment opportunities that put their anthropological skills to use. They wonder what more they could do to assist. Some suggest that the students reach out to certain alums they remember.  Others point their students to the career planning office on campus. Many doubt their own abilities to do much more since they have limited, if any, practice experience.

Instructors, here’s one option that builds on what you already know how to do:

  • conduct research,
  • make connections with others (e.g., during fieldwork).

The option entails working with a “client” using anthropological research.

Programs are increasingly engaging in project work for a client. Clients range from small, local businesses struggling with streamlining their operations or planning for their future, nearby municipalities seeking resident input on city parks and recreation programming, to large, multi-national entities that need some basic research to understand their potential customers or users.  Benefits accrue to all parties involved:

  • Students: Get hands-on experience collaborating with their classmates to accomplish project goals and make recommendations to the client; can list their participation right on their resumes
  • Instructors: Receive immense satisfaction that students acquire useful and practical research/evaluation experience, and have been able to demonstrate anthropology’s value to organizations/communities
  • Department/University: See improvements in their reputation–goodwill for building bridges between the academy and organizations/communities
  • Client: Receive results and recommendations that can play a role in organizational decision making; over time, a potential pipeline is created for interns and new hires.

To date, two anthropology programs have sought the Career Readiness Commission as a “client.” Susan Squires from The University of North Texas and her 10-member graduate class gathered narratives about the successes and challenges faced when introducing practice into U.S. anthropology programs. The students in Squires’ “Design Anthropology” class, conducted interviews with program representatives and then analyzed the data collectively to find “lessons learned.” All students prepared and presented to the Commission on December 7, 2021 (See photo).

You can see the fine work completed by this class here. During the presentation, it was evident how pleased and excited the students were to present.  Consistent with the way employees are expected to behave in most workplaces, Squires’ uses a grading scheme that reflects employer expectations: the class project (50% of the grade), two essay quizzes (30%), and teamwork and participation (20%).

Oregon State University is just getting started on their class project. Under the leadership of Bryan Tilt, the eight undergraduate seniors taking “Anthropology in Practice” will work alone or with another classmate to write a short blog post or create a video reflecting on their anthropology education. They will focus on the knowledge and skills they have gained along with the next chapter of their lives (post-graduation). The writing or video sample will be incorporated into their career, graduate school, or internship portfolio.

Notable in this capstone course is Tilt’s grading scheme:  Portfolio (100 points), class participation (25 points), discussion leader of the assigned readings and with one or two partners (25 points). Collaboration and communication (written and oral) are important expectations. More updates will follow in the coming months.

What might you do to organize a class project for a client?  Let us know your thoughts.


About the Author: Elizabeth Briody

Elizabeth Briody
Elizabeth K. Briody has been involved in cultural-change efforts for 35+ years—first at General Motors Research and later through her consulting practice, Cultural Keys. Her projects have spanned many industries including automotive, health care, research institutions, aerospace, insurance, consumer products, and petrochemicals.  Among her books are Transforming Culture and The Cultural Dimension of Global Business (9th ed.). She leads the Anthropology Career Readiness Network with Riall Nolan to improve student preparation for careers. She is Past President of NAPA and served as AAA Secretary. In 2020, Briody was honored by the Society for Applied Anthropology’s Bronislaw Malinowski award for lifetime achievement.