Applied Anthropology Skills Education and Training: Perspectives from the Field and the Workplace (COPAA)

Panel Sponsored by the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs (COPAA)

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2007


Tracy Tessman (Texas/Oklahoma AIDS Education and Training Centers at Parkland Hospital)


Panel presentation sponsored by the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs (COPAA).  This panel featured students in the final stages of applied anthropology programs and who have recently graduated from such programs.  Panelists (1) discussed the adequacy of education and training for working as applied anthropologists, (2) discussed their careers outside of academia and which skills are most valuable and/or lacking, and (3) made suggestions for additional skills education and training in the classroom (i.e. courses on “Becoming a Professional”).


Joan Tucker (U South Florida)
Iraida Carrion (U South Florida)
Liz Pulver (U Memphis)
Chad Morris (U Kentucky)
Travis Hedwig (U Kentucky)
Christine Miller (Wayne State)
Gene Luster (Braintrust Consulting)


The panelists for this session were a diverse group of students who were in the final stages of their doctoral degrees and others who had finished their master’s degree and were working in the field. The students also had a variety of interests within applied anthropology and represented various universities. All of these factors resulted in an interesting and well-rounded discussion about the topics indicated in the abstract.

The session was well attended by both students and faculty. Each of the panelists discussed his or her own experience with graduate school based on the topics discussed and had many similar experiences. Many suggestions for both students and faculty in applied anthropology were put fourth by the panelists. For the second half, the session was opened to discussion with the audience and several of the topics were talked about further along with the addition of a few new topics. The critical points made are outlined below.

Critical Points

What students felt the strengths of their university’s applied programs were in preparing them for their practica and/or “real world” work.

  • Methods classes, qualitative and quantitative
  • Having real life projects to work on and experience in the field
  • Advising and mentoring from faculty and how important it is
  • Having access to classes outside of anthropology, but within their area of focus
  • Guest lecturers and staying in touch with alumni

What students felt they would have benefited from that they didn’t get from their programs

  • More focus on needs assessment and evaluation
  • Better preparation to go out and sell ourselves as anthropologists as well as how to promote ourselves on the web
  • Greater emphasis on writing economically and communicating appropriately with clients as well as how to translate our terminology for other fields
  • More transparency with students about obstacles the faculty have encountered with other disciplines
  • More software/technology training
  • Helping students get a better handle on the timing involved with getting though the program
  • Help finding funding opportunities

Advice students had for other students and faculty

  • To emphasize the importance of choosing electives and faculty assistance in accessing these classes
  • The importance of choosing a practicum wisely and not giving up on what you think is important
  • The value of networking
  • Trusting in your abilities and owning the anthropology
  • Individual empowerment for students – it is important to be persistent with what you need from professors
  • Make a decision early on in your career about what you want your career path to be in order to expedite finishing your degree and make finishing a goal
  • Students without work experience should be encouraged to volunteer to gain experience and knowledge
  • Students need to understand how important choosing their committee is to their career
  • Faculty need to remember that they are role models for students, especially in their research
  • Turn anthropology inward on the department and ask the students what they think

Other topics that came up included a discussion of whether/how to better define applied anthropology as well as what students’ plans are for giving back to their program as alumni.