Becoming an Applied Anthropologist: Diverse Training Models With a Common Goal

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2011


Jamie Petts (Oregon State University) and Nancy Romero-Daza (University of South Florida)


Jamie Petts (Oregon State University), Sharon Gelfer (California State University at Long Beach), John Trainor (University of South Florida); Nicole Gottier (University of Memphis), Megan Bannon (Graduate from the University of North Texas).

Summary of Discussion

The session brought together five MA and PhD students from five different schools (University of South Florida, University of North Texas, University of Memphis, California State University Long Beach, and Oregon State University) that have applied anthropology programs to talk about how their particular programs are preparing them for a career in applied anthropology. Each panelist spoke about their personal experiences, emphasizing different aspects of their respective programs they believed to be pivotal in the training of applied anthropologists. The session illuminated some differences in programs, but also demonstrated some of the following commonalities:

  • All of the programs represented in the panel tend to emphasize rigorous methodological training, with special emphasis on the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. This is achieved through specialized course work and through practical experience (usually in the form of community-based internships –see below- and through course-related research projects).
  • While the emphasis in methods is central to these programs, equally important is the theoretical underpinnings of applied research. All programs emphasize the dynamic relation between theory and method, and train their students accordingly.
  • All the programs stress the importance of ethical training and typically offer specialized coursework in ethics and special workshops on how to navigate the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
  • All of the programs require students to do internships and/or participate in on-the-ground work training to ensure that students leave the program with tangible skills to make them successful applied anthropologists. The length and format of the internship varies, but usually involves a close and dynamic interaction with local communities and with a diversity of stakeholders.
  • Given that applied anthropologists often work in multidisciplinary settings, the applied anthropology programs represented in the panel foster interdisciplinary work and prepare students to assume a variety of roles (e.g., as evaluators, needs assessors, grant writers, program coordinators, etc.). This is especially evident in programs that offer dual training, for example in anthropology and public health, anthropology and education, etc.

The session’s overall goal was to compare applied anthropology programs to see what types of training models are being offered around the country in response to continued demands for applied anthropologists. The session demonstrated that a variety of models are being used, such as the development of interdisciplinary dual degree programs or the provision of on-line curricula. However, all programs emphasized real-life, community-based internships and work experience as a critical component of student’s training. There was considerable audience participation, which raised relevant issues such as the value of a PhD as compared to an MA in applied anthropology. This lead to an extensive discussion regarding employment opportunities in an environment where academic positions are scarce. The podcast of this session is available at