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Advice for anthropologists who want to work for government

20 August, 2008

Charity Goodman, an anthropologist who is a public health analyst for the U.S. federal government, wrote the below with some information about anthropologists working in U.S. federal agencies and she includes some excellent advice about what student anthropologists who aspire to working for the government should study.  Though some of it is specific to working for the U.S. government, other things (like “get methodological and statistical training”) are relevant to aspiring applied anthropologists anywhere.  I repost it with her permission.

–L.L. Wynn

Shirley J. Fiske has written a highly informative article on the federal government as an employer of anthropologists. (See Careers in Applied Anthropology in the 21st Century: Perspectives from Academics and Practitioners, napa Bulletin 29, 2008, pp 110-130. ) She provided statistics on the number of anthropologists in various federal agencies, interviewed practicing anthropologists in a number of agencies, summarized their recommendations for those searching for jobs, and included a list of websites to assist job seekers. According to Fiske, the federal government is largest employer of anthropologists outside of the academy with OPM estimating of 7,500 social scientists (job series GS-101) in 2006. This series includes anthropologists, behavioral scientists, geographers, sociologists and planners. She focuses on the U.S. Census Bureau, The National Park Service, National Marine Fisheries, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID.

From her interviews, Shirley found the following recommendations and lessons learned that are helpful for those planning to work as a federal employee, contractor or for those who already work for the government and want more insight into how another agency works.

  1. “Have a secondary specialty,” especially if planning to work in international development. “It might be methodological, such as evaluation research, or qualitative methods; or it might be substantive specialty such as public health, agriculture, public lands and resource management, housing policy, or any number of mission-related fields or analytic approaches.”
  2. “The importance of the experience factor for USAID hires”. Fedanthro member, Joan Atherton, suggests that if you are right out of graduate school you might want to work for an NGO to gain this experience before applying for USAID.
  3. “Get methodological and statistics training.” Most of the anthropologists mentioned that in addition to graduate school, many anthropologists were expected in their jobs to have this training.
  4. “Utilize internships, fellowships, and networking.” Networking is a life long skill and these programs allow prospective job seekers to make employment contacts.
  5. “Prepare with training specific to government work.” Receive training in federal laws applicable to your specialty. According to the author who worked many years for the federal government, she found understanding “the federal regulatory process and U.S. Code, the civil service rights and responsibilities, and practical skills such as how to read and interpret the federal budget and the budgeting process were extremely useful. Most are learned on the job; but often you can find workshops, classes or courses on these topics.”

Charity Goodman, Ph.D.

Public Health Analyst, Office of Program Analysis & Coordination, Center
for Mental Health Services,

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Dept.of Health
and Human Services

One Comment leave one →
  1. erikwdavis permalink
    20 August, 2008 12:24 pm

    I suppose “don’t” is insufficient advice?

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