“What’s anthropology?” Most young anthropologists and I have heard this question a lot during the daunting post-graduation job. Despite my best efforts to wax poetic about the human experience, I confronted blank stares. Despite having a master’s degree and experience with the National Cancer Institute, I had no preparation to explain to an employer how their organization would benefit from my training. I had one employer say that my field of study was “esoteric.”

I pursued my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification during my job search after I noticed many employers wanted “project management” as a skill requirement. The PMP is an internationally recognized industry leadership certification granted to professionals by the Project Management Institute. Over 1.2 million professionals in over 200 industries hold a PMP. Project management is a skill that is increasingly desired by employers.

Anthropologists that choose business, healthcare, or government as their career path will often find work in consulting, program development, and contracting like myself. These areas require skills with stakeholder engagement, scope management, risk assessment, budgeting, and project deliverables that transform research into a viable product or outcome.

anthropology project managementDuring PMP training, I obtained skills and knowledge about managing a project’s scope, teams, and material resources; writing project proposals and budgets, performing risk assessments, and improving processes. I had knowledge of management theory and methods common to my peers in engineering, healthcare administration, information technology, and finance. I learned, thanks to the theory of value and delivery of value in project management, to rephrase my explanation of anthropology as something that would “deliver value” to an employer.

I believe that anthropologists bring the value of human-centered research and holistic methods, for example ethnography and material analysis, to engage stakeholders, enter new environments and cultures, and the ability to connect quantitative data to observable human interactions. The value of having an Anthropologist PMP on a project team is that the project will have measurable, human-driven results, which is increasingly in demand for organizations.

Not long after receiving my PMP, I received a call from a recruiter. A small government consulting firm was interested in hiring me for a contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). During the interview, the CEO explained that they were bidding on a contract to build a network of patients and families who would be available to serve on focus groups and advisory panels. CMS needed someone on their team to oversee this initiative on patient and family engagement efforts.

“We saw your profile and that you were a PMP,” she continued. “Which is great . . .” She paused. “You’re in . . . medical anthropology? Can you explain that a bit more?”

I gave her a brief description of what medical anthropology was, but with a twist. I explained my value as an Anthropologist PMP. I could conduct an environmental scan to identify patient-led organizations and use ethnographic methods to identify patients and families in the targeted demographics. I would use this approach to build a recruitment and engagement strategy to meet their deliverable of producing a patient and family network for CMS.

“That sounds very good. Is this something you’d be willing to write an outline for us?” she asked.

“Yes, I can.” I replied evenly.

“Okay, I would love to have you on this contract, if you can do that for us,” said the CEO. “I’d like to hire you.”

I quickly said yes. I wrote my strategy that was then incorporated into the final contract proposal. I collaborated with our vendors to build a diverse network of patients and families. I oversaw our strategies for engaging specific patient populations. I adapted a patient recruitment and engagement strategy tailored to the characteristics of each group for the best outcome. That is where I got to shine as an Anthropologist PMP who used qualitative analyses for pragmatic results. It did not take long for the project to meet its deliverable and please CMS.

Any industry can benefit from anthropology’s knowledge of human behavior, culture, and society. Many already do so. An Anthropologist PMP can gain rapport with the consumer, the patient, the masses, the business rival, and/or the client. The Anthropologist PMP will capture the human experience that is invaluable to organizations, such as expanding or contracting their ventures or managing crises. Project management gives anthropologists one option for translating the discipline to a viable, tangible product that clicks with an employer who wants to hire an anthropologist but might not know it yet.

For additional information on Anthropology PM, please refer to the Anthropology Career Readiness Network project management tool.

About the Author: Victoria Danner

Victoria Danner
Victoria X. Danner is an applied medical anthropologist, consultant, and project manager with nearly a decade of experience in healthcare and health services research. She has led projects for several organizations that include NORC at the University of Chicago, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Pew Research Center, National Cancer Institute, Lupus Foundation, and others. She has dedicated her career to providing consultation and independent research to advocate for patient-centered and engaged research for the betterment of healthcare. Connect with Victoria on LinkedIn.