Career Readiness Commission

Career Readiness Commission.png

Elizabeth Briody and Riall Nolan are leading an anthropology-wide Career Readiness Commission. This initiative brings together a broad coalition of anthropologists from across the discipline to collaborate on improving career readiness for anthropology students. SfAA leaders have been highly supportive of this initiative and have participated actively in its work.

The Commission’s vision is to integrate anthropological practice and scholarship into anthropology programs so that students will be prepared for a diverse set of careers. The foundational work of the Commission is time-limited: it launched in May of this year and will end it work in May of next year (2022).  So far, it has been an exciting, fast-paced, and rewarding experience!  

With over 140 members to date, the Commission represents numerous anthropology associations and societies in the U.S.; it also has garnered interest from several related professional associations. The logo, by design anthropologist Claire Sigworth, shows three inner triangles symbolizing anthropology students, anthropologists, and Commission members. The green, orange, and blue triangles are enclosed in a black scalloped circle to represent the mission of the Commission: coming together to impact the future of anthropology and anthropological training. 


The concept for a Commission emerged amid a confluence of trends. Practitioners represent the rising majority within the discipline of anthropology. Yet, current students in BA, Masters, and PhD programs get little training in professionalization skills and little experience in anthropological practice (some applied programs excepted). Even academic employment for PhDs is on a downward trend, as hundreds apply for the few open positions in a saturated market. Simultaneously, many anthropology departments are struggling to remain relevant in the eyes of college/university administrators. At the same time, opportunities for anthropologists to work outside the academy in a wide variety of sectors continue to grow.


Members of the Commission have been working on six different workstreams. These workstreams are set up as aspects of what is in effect a "rapid assessment" the purpose of which is not to produce definitive and comprehensive work, but to do initial reconnaissance, draw preliminary conclusions, implement those initial findings, and chart the way for future work. Each workstream follows a four-phase process—from brainstorming ideas to discovering gaps in training, and from developing recommendations to address problems to implementing and using those recommendations in anthropology programs.  


For example, Group 1, headed by Riall Nolan, collected information from practitioners using the Delphi survey technique.  The first question asked what was missing in practitioners’ academic programs which would have been useful to them in getting a job. Key practitioner responses included:

  • Help and guidance in development professional networks
  • Being able to make the case for anthropology as they “pitch” themselves to potential employers. 

The second question asked what was missing in practitioners’ academic programs which would have been useful to them in doing that job effectively. Some salient responses included: 

  • Methods (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, survey, rapid assessment, design)
  • Skills in project planning and management

Now that these results are in, Group 1 is now engaged in conversations about how to get this information into anthropology programs.

Group 2, co-led by Gina Nuñez-Mchiri and Kira Ballin, is in the process of identifying, compiling, and categorizing resource materials particularly for anthropology faculty/instructors and anthropology students. Articles, syllabi, podcasts, training modules, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and other resources will be organized by topics in a repository on the Commission’s website (currently being designed by Matt Artz). Some of these topics are likely to be work sector differences, project planning and implementation, methods, job search and career planning, and managerial skills (e.g., leadership, negotiation, supervision).

Two of the groups are currently conducting interviews. Group 3, headed by Jennifer Studebaker, is gathering practitioner narratives of their experiences by sector (e.g., government, non-profit, medical, business). These narratives will emphasize individual career paths, the sectors in which the anthropologists have worked, skills and methods used in their work, and their experiences job hunting. Group 4, led by Angela Ramer, is scheduling discussions with representatives of anthropology departments which have implemented some form of practice into their programs (e.g., internships, applied concentration, certificate program). Interviewers are exploring the most common reasons for success and failure in implementing change. Group 4 is fortunate to have the assistance of a graduate anthropology class at the University of North Texas taught by Susan Squires.  The deliverables for both Groups 3 and 4 are likely to take several forms including descriptions of work sectors, lessons learned from implementation attempts, and a set of specific suggestions for improving training.

Group 5, headed by April Steele, is exploring organizations with a role in practitioner training including student groups (e.g., Anthropology Clubs), internship organizations, professional associations, and funding organizations. Deliverables include links, lists of offerings, and resource materials for these organizations. For the student groups, 1) a list of “best practices” of effective activities to promote practice, 2) a template or set of suggestions to student groups as to how they might organize themselves most effectively to promote practice, together with a set of specific suggestions for activities, resources, and groups to contact, and 3) a set of guidelines for faculty advisers for these groups.

Group 6, led by Astrid Countee, will attempt to chart the future of practice. It plans on crafting future scenarios of anthropological practice and has begun envisioning future worlds of work along with the kinds of training and support that will be necessary. Group 6 has two main areas for investigation. First, what should the practitioner cohort of the future look like? The deliverable here would be a specific and detailed diversity statement, together with a set of possible strategies for arriving at that diversity. Second, what challenges will they face? They likely will be expected to work on numerous issues (e.g., mass migration, privacy and security, 
climate change), each of which is associated with various non-profits, NGOs, agencies, and private-sector firms. The deliverables here would include a set of recommendations for changes in training to address oncoming challenges.

An Invitation

Come join us!  We need your perspective and your energy.  We welcome

  • students (BA, MA, and PhD)
  • anthropologists working in business, non-profits, and government
  • teaching faculty and instructors.  

Please email or for more information.

©Society for Applied Anthropology 

P.O. Box 2436 • Oklahoma City, OK 73101 • 405.843.5113 •