Physical anthropology, often considered a stimulating field, can lead to several career options with a positive employment outlook. Additionally, this field potentially involves world travel. The following resources could help you determine whether this is the career for you.
Physical anthropology is a sub-field of anthropology that focuses on human biology, including how biology and culture affect one another. It can involve the study of human variation, biological evolution and primatology. As a physical anthropologist, you might examine human skeletal remains to determine how various factors, such as disease and nutrition, affected past populations. In doing so, you not only learn about past civilizations, but also about how future generations may live.
Some physical anthropologists work for the government, are privately employed or provide consulting services; however, most work in academia, splitting their time between research and teaching. Depending on your focus within the field, you could teach within a department of anthropology, zoology, human biology or biological sciences at a college or university. You might also teach anatomy classes at a medical school or work at a zoo or natural history museum. With the appropriate license, you might become a high school anthropology teacher. Many physical anthropology jobs involve fieldwork, which could allow you to travel to places like Africa or Latin America.
Between 2008 and 2018, employment in anthropology and archaeology is expected to increase by 28%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS (www.bls.gov). This is much faster than the national average for all jobs. The BLS also notes that you're likely to enjoy the best job opportunities with a graduate degree. According to national salary data provided by PayScale.com, most anthropologists earned an annual salary between $26,384 and $113,346 as of December 2011. As of May 2010, the median annual salary for postsecondary anthropology and archaeology teachers was $73,600, per the BLS.
Although the BLS defines physical anthropology and biological anthropology as distinct disciplines, most colleges and universities - as well as the American Association of Physical Anthropologists - use these terms interchangeably to describe a single biosocial science field. Thus, both biological anthropology and physical anthropology programs should prepare you for this field, regardless of title.
According to the BLS, you often need a graduate degree to work in a social science field like physical anthropology, particularly if you want to teach at a college or university. Some anthropology jobs, however, are open to bachelor's degree-holders, including most high school teaching positions.
Hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation offer undergraduate and graduate programs in anthropology, many of which include courses in physical or biological anthropology. Although less common, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs specific to this field are also available under the title of physical or biological anthropology. Some of the topics covered in physical anthropology courses are morphology, human ecology, population systems, human variation and forensic anthropology. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete, whereas earning a master's usually takes two. The duration of a doctoral program often depends upon how long you take to complete original research requirements, but at least three years of study is common.
High schools don't usually offer courses in physical anthropology, but many offer broader anthropology courses that may help you get a feel for this field before committing to a college major or specialization.