The pandemic has changed a lot about how our relationship with the workforce.

For some, the constraints of the pandemic provided an opportunity to create a healthier work/life balance. For others, it meant re-evaluating what makes them happy. Young professionals are making moves to change their career paths while they have the room to do so.

The same is true for the anthropology space.

For those looking to make a transition, it’s worth evaluating the similarities anthropology may have to other fields of work. My personal recommendation is a move to UX research — though academics might not yet recognize all that anthropology and UX have in common.

To learn more about how anthropology and UX research compare, read on. We truly believe that the realization could be career-shifting.

Comparing Anthropology and UX Research

As a twenty-first-century anthropologist, your opportunities abound in the tech world.

Since you are a graduate of anthropology studies, you exhibit a unique set of skills that other candidates may not yet grasp. With your qualitative research skills, holistic worldview, understanding of culture, and your desire to ask endless questions, there’s no reason to waste any more of your time seeking out academic positions– especially in this economy. Read on about how anthropology compares to UI/UX design, and make this job search a successful one.

Anthropology Work

Simply put, anthropology is the study of humans. The field of study explores human existence to understand why and how they make or have made choices throughout every time period. Anthropologists specialize in one or more of the following sub-fields:

  • Archaeology
  • Linguistics
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Socio-cultural Anthropology
  • Applied Anthropology
    • Business Anthropology
    • Design Anthropology
    • Medical Anthropology

Anthropologists are concerned with how humans are motivated to make decisions. Their methodological training may include:

  • Ethnography
  • Field-work and data collection
  • Cross-cultural analysis
  • Systems thinking
  • Interpreting and presenting research

The motivations of an anthropologist parallel those of a UX researcher. They are passionate about making an experience actionable, delightful, and accessible to a large group of users, and are curious about how a company’s choices can impact both end-users and stakeholders.

UX Design and Research

Rather than spending precious time on grant-writing in pursuit of academic funding and field studies, UX researchers are focused on one thing: regular, impactful research of a company’s user base. Daily tasks may include:

  • Product research
  • Understanding of industry standards
  • Interviews and surveys
  • Focus groups
  • A/B testing
  • Creating personas and understanding scenarios
  • Creation of information architecture
  • Creating wireframes to demonstrate understanding of product design
  • Creating empathy with users
  • Product testing

UX research and design succeed through constant iteration. Through patience, curiosity, and strong communication skills, it’s a UX researcher’s job to consistently check in on the user population to determine how a product or service can be improved.

Transferrable Skills

In many ways, UX research is an example of “applied anthropology.” As UX is most concerned with the perspectives of groups as they use a product, there are a handful of applicable skills that make anthropologists a great fit for this kind of analysis. Crossover skills and traits include:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Empathy
  • A passion for behavior science
  • Design thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Collaboration
  • A desire to ask insightful questions
  • Analyzing qualitative data
  • Understanding complex social systems

It’s these skills that will give you a leg-up during networking and interviewing, and why a transition can be possible at this point in your career. Companies like Intel, Google, Microsoft, and IBM already have a deep interest in those with an anthropology background, with many technology startups soon to follow.

Your Transition Plan

Now that you recognize the similarities between the two professions, you’re ready to create a professional transition plan. You have the skills– now it’s time to prove it to potential employers.

1. Independent Learning

If you’re coming from a professional career in anthropology, you most likely do not have a UX or specific degree. That’s completely normal! There are dozens of online courses available to anyone looking to dip their toes into the UX waters.

In addition to traditional coursework, take advantage of blogs, UX-focused podcasts, and certificates.

When you aren’t busy consuming content on YouTube, education websites, or UX-specific workshops, look to some popular UX-dedicated books to catch up on design practices and jargon. Understanding UX research methods, planning, and the concept of usability will take you a long way.

2. Create Your Own UX Portfolio

To both practice what you have learned while also developing samples to display for potential employers, it’s advisable that you put together an accessible portfolio. A portfolio should display your ability to think about a problem. It is often broken up into key sections:

  • The Problem
  • Your Approach
  • The Methods
  • Key Learnings
  • Impact / Outcome

Ideally, a portfolio can be used to present as a case study during an interview. Designing and publishing a portfolio isn’t enough– you must be able to verbally present your work as a way to demonstrate your learnings.

A few good Anthro to UX podcast episodes that discuss portfolios include:

3. Update Your Resume

While you may have always identified as an academic or anthropologist, it’s time to align your resume, cover letter, and applications with your UX goals. Emphasize any experience that may be related to this new field. We know that there is a lot of crossover between anthropology and UX— this is your chance to prove it!

If you are struggling, Anthro to UX can help you reframe your academic experience with our resume review.

Start Working in UX

It’s never been more possible to live the life you want. Anthro to UX knows what it takes to evaluate your previous research, search for interesting UX jobs, reframe your past experience, and apply to the UX job of your dreams. Your anthropology and UX research skills will continue to serve you as you step into the world of tech.

The best time to break into UX is now. For a 30-minute one-on-one information interview, check out our private UX coaching offerings.