Skills Education and Training for Applied Anthropologists

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

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2007


Lisa Henry (University of North Texas)


Academically-based and practicing applied anthropologists will address skills education and training for applied anthropology students.  Panelists will (1) discuss the skills that graduates will need to be successful practicing anthropologists, (2) summarize the skills education and training that students receive within their applied anthropology programs; (3) summarize the skills education and training that students receive outside of anthropology departments; and (4) discuss how students are taught to market these skills.  The goal of this session is to collaborate on skills education and training and to produce a list of skills that will make applied anthropology graduates marketable and effective in a broad array of jobs.


Barbara Miller (George Washington)
Ed Liebow (Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation)
Jan English Lueck (San Jose State University)
Ron Loewe (CSU-Long Beach)
Kerry Feldman (University of Alaska)
Rhoda Halperin (Montclair University)
Wolf Gumerman (Northern Arizona University)
Lisa Henry (University of North Texas)


The purpose of this session was to collaborate on skills education and training with a variety of programs and colleagues.  Each panelist had an opportunity to discuss: 1) their department’s curriculum and the specific skills that are built into that curriculum, 2) skills that are important for graduates that students are not necessarily getting from their program, and 3) skills that faculty encourage students to obtain outside of anthropology.   We were also fortunate to have practicing anthropologist Ed Liebow as a panelist, who shared his perspective on the training and skills his organization looks for when hiring.  The goal of this session was to come up with some innovative recommendations on how to train and educate our students with relevant skills that will allow them to be very marketable and teach them how to articulate the skills that they have.

We began our session with a brief summary of a survey of alumni conducted by Robert Harman, Jim Hess and Amir Shafe, titled Report on Survey of Alumni of Master’s Level Applied Anthropology Training Programs.  This survey asked alumni to free list skills that they were using in the workplace and skills that they received from their anthropology programs.  Then they were asked to discuss the continuity or discontinuity in terms of what skills they had learned in school and what skills they needed in their jobs.  Analysis of that survey showed that the graduates felt very positively about the anthropological perspective that they learned from their programs, and that they were trained in research skills for entry level positions.  The skills that they felt that they needed later on were more workplace skills in terms of communication, how to be good managers, planning, and budgeting–the types of skills that they might need once they move along in their careers.

Panelists noted that their respective programs are including more and more professional skills into the curriculum in order to prepare graduates for the workplace.  These skills are incorporated into core classes (theory and methods courses), as well as electives.  Some programs have a specific “professional development” course, and other programs incorporate these skills into all of their courses.  Some programs do both.

All programs discussed the importance of connecting theory and praxis and emphasized the need to continuously discuss this in our classes.  Panelists suggested that early (and numerous) field experiences help students make these connections in their own work.

In addition to ethnographic skills, most programs are already emphasizing skills such as grant writing, presentation skills, oral communication skills, report writing, computer data analysis skills, mixed methods, and teamwork.  Some programs are beginning to add a newer set of skills to their curriculum, including web design, GIS, DVD and video production, podcasting, blogs, and Wikis…to name a few.

For discussion from a specific panelist, please click the links below:

California State University–Long Beach skills handout
George Washington University skills handout
San Jose State University skills handout
University of North Texas skills handout
Ed Liebow (practicing anthropologist) skills handout

Panelists discussed the best way to juggle incorporating new skills into the curriculum.  One way is to incorporate them into the existing classes.  However, often there is not time to include adequate training while needing to cover the course material.  In addition, many of the faculty may not have enough training in a specific skill to teach the students.  A second way to include additional skills is to have 1-credit hour workshops where students (and faculty) can learn a set of new skills.  These workshops could even be taught by former students who are using the skills in their current workplace.  This would be a great way to 1) introduce new skills into the curriculum without using existing courses, 2) strengthen the relationship between the university and its alumni, and 3) show students a variety of job opportunities for applied anthropologists.

Finally, Ed Liebow encouraged panelists and their programs to continue doing what they do best… train students to think like anthropologists and know how to do research.  He encouraged programs not to stretch their resources too thin and dilute their programs by training the students in too many skills.  He noted that many of the workplace skills can be learned on the job.