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Anthropologists on the job

Whether to design software or study eating routines, their academic skills are in demand

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If your child announces he's majoring in anthropology and you picture subsidizing him for life while receiving postcards from exotic locales, it's time for an update. On the heels of the initial shock, the reassurances will start to filter in: Anthropologists are just as likely to be well-paid corporate consultants as they are to be hanging out with monkeys in the rain forest.

Even in this high-tech era, people trained to understand other people are in demand. But the field's image is still playing catch-up.

"Nobody, still, relates anthropology to the real, contemporary world," laments Cris Johnsrud, an anthropologist at the Southern Technology Application Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Nobody, that is, except the people doing the hiring.

From environmental groups to dotcoms, employers are realizing that the competitive edge they're after may come in the unlikely form of an anthropologist. Graduates find

jobs designing software, developing breakfast foods, and helping to form one happy family after a corporate merger.

"Even most academic departments don't know the range and variety of careers out there," says Susan Squires, president of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

But colleges and universities are starting to adapt. As the University of Florida anthropology club's motto reads, the field has moved "Beyond Bones and Stones."

In the decade from 1987 to 1997, the number of anthropology majors more than doubled, according to the American Anthropological Association (AAA), with the number of PhDs up by more than a third. But until recently, it was rare to see a job advertisement for an anthropologist. Most are trained for scholarly work, but academic jobs are practically nonexistent.

"The responsible departments are now admitting that there are no jobs in teaching," says Bill Young, managing editor of Anthropology News.


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