Forensic Anthropology
A. Midori Albert, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington

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Interview Questions and Answers

In the past I have often been asked to answer interview questions for students writing papers on careers.
Below is a list of the most commonly asked questions, and my answers--
which are my personal opinion, based on my professional experience.

What type of schooling do you need to become a forensic anthropologist?

Generally the Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) in anthropology is required for admittance into graduate school, where the Master's of Arts in anthropology (MA) is earned, followed by the Doctorate of Philosphy degree in anthropology (Ph.D.).

Occasionally, if one has a BA or BS (Bachelor of Science) in another field but the equivalent of a minor in anthropology has been earned, admittance to a graduate program in anthropology is quite possible. You need to consult with the specific anthropology department you to which you are applying.

While there are some forensic anthropologists with the MA degree, most do have their Ph.D.'s.

How long does it take to earn the degrees required?

The typical time frame for the BA/BS degree is four years. Master's degrees average about two to three years, and the Ph.D. varies tremendously--some finish in three to four years, others take five or more years. The reason it varies depends on multiple variables--finances, nature of the dissertation project (research--collecting data, analyzing data, writing can is a lengthy process that varies depending on what type of research is being conducted), etc.

Is there a faster, easier way to become a forensic anthropologist?

No. Anthropology is a vital component of forensic anthropology and one cannot become a qualified, competent forensic anthropologist without a strong understanding of the whole of anthropology, and most importantly the subfield of physical anthropology.

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What is the job market like for forensic anthropologists?

Not good. The demand for large numbers of these specialists is not great (a good thing, though. Who wants so many unknown dead people in our society?).

Most forensic anthropologists are Ph.D.'s who work in academia (i.e., as professors at colleges and universities). Full time consulting in forensic anthropology is the exception, not the norm. Those forensic anthropologists who are professors teach, conduct skeletal research, and consult on cases of unknown identity.

Those forensic anthropologists who do full time consulting typically work for the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (known in the field as CILHI, pronounced "seal-hi"), or for a medical examiner office, or for state and or federal government agencies. Many work in human rights cases--identifying victims of crimes against humanity, overseas in Europe (Bosnia, Croatia) and in Latin America. Again, these folks are rare.

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What kind of training/experience do you need to become a forensic anthropologist?

Aside from the academics, one should have adequate laboratory experience--be able to identify human versus nonhuman bone, bone fragments, and teeth. One should be able to employ the various methods used to determine sex, age, ancestry, stature, and pathology (pathology is trauma or disease). Experience like this is gained through studying human osteology, skeletal biology--of skeletal materials spanning a wide range of geographical locations and time frames.

Field experience in archaeology will help provide the skills used in exhumation (removing bodies from graves) and in the proper collection of the remains.

Experience with local law enforcement practices is also a must. Photography and radiography (x-raying) is also beneficial. Courses in human anatomy/physiology, genetics, and statistics are a must.

What is the salary range for a forensic anthropologist?

I loathe this question because there's no direct answer. The salary range varies, much like with any other professional. Salary depends on where you're employed (university, government agency, medical examiner office, etc.), how much experience you have, geographic location (some areas are more/less expensive to live than others) and so on and so on.

What is a typical day like?

For me, as a professor and consultant, a typical day can be anything from teaching class, working on a forensic case, attending meetings unrelated to anthropology (more administrative--university business, not academics or forensics), meeting with students, supervising projects, conducting a workshop for law enforcement, etc.

Do you like what you do?


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