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.

The Benefits of Switching

The benefits of making a transition from anthropology to UX research include:

  1. Relevance in the modern job market: UX research is a growing field in the tech industry, providing more job opportunities and stability than academia.
  2. Transferable skills: Anthropologists have skills such as empathy, design thinking, problem-solving, and qualitative data analysis that are highly valued in UX research.
  3. Career advancement: UX research provides opportunities for professional growth and advancement and the ability to work on exciting projects and make a real impact on user experience.
  4. Competitive compensation: UX researchers are often well compensated, with salaries comparable to or higher than those in academia.
  5. Alignment with personal passions: For anthropologists passionate about understanding human behavior and making a positive impact, UX research provides a way to apply these skills in a practical and meaningful way.

Comparing Anthropology and UX Research

Anthropology and UX research share several similarities regarding their focus and approach to understanding human behavior and decision-making. Both fields aim to understand the motivations and perspectives of individuals and communities and use this understanding to create better experiences and outcomes.

Anthropologists study human existence to understand why and how people make decisions, using techniques such as ethnography, fieldwork, and cross-cultural analysis. Similarly, UX researchers study the experiences and behaviors of users in order to improve products and services, using methods such as product research, user interviews and surveys, focus groups, and A/B testing.

Both fields strongly emphasize empathy and understanding, as well as the importance of using qualitative data to inform decision-making. Anthropologists and UX researchers value the importance of communication and collaboration and are passionate about using their skills to impact the world positively.

In many ways, UX research can be seen as a form of applied anthropology, as it involves using anthropological methods and principles to create better user experiences. This overlap makes it possible for anthropologists to transition smoothly into UX research, leveraging their existing skills and knowledge to make a meaningful impact in a growing and exciting field.

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:

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

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:

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, you should put together an accessible UXportfolio. 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.

Next Steps

The similarities between anthropology and UX research are numerous and profound. Both fields focus on understanding human behavior and decision-making and have a commitment to using qualitative data to inform their work. Anthropologists bring unique skills to the table, including empathy, design thinking, and problem-solving, which make them well-suited for a career in UX research.

The demand for UX researchers will only increase as the tech industry continues to grow and prioritize user experience. This provides a tremendous opportunity for anthropologists to transition into a field that aligns with their passions and leverages their existing skills and knowledge. Whether you are just starting in your career or looking to make a change, UX research offers a chance to make a real impact on the world while enjoying stability and competitive compensation.

So if you are an anthropologist looking to make a transition, now is the time to explore the possibilities of UX research. You can turn your passion for human behavior into a fulfilling and rewarding career with the right resources and support.

For a 30-minute one-on-one information interview, check out our private UX coaching offerings.