Kristen Hanich is an American applied anthropologist and data scientist with a background in public health. She works as a market research analyst, and is currently studying digital health and mobile trends across the globe. She is also responsible for a quarterly report tracking the activities of leading tech companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft; and is project manager for a recurring consumer health habits and technology report based on self-reported consumer survey data.
V.R. Hello Kristen. Thanks for sharing some of your time to share your experiences as an applied anthropologist with our community.
K.H. Thanks! I was glad to get your message – I’m always happy to get the word out on what anthropology can do.
V.R. First thing first. When did you get in touch for the first time with anthropology?
K.H. It’s a bit of a funny story, but I wasn’t an anthropology major in undergrad – I majored in health science at the University of Texas in San Antonio. While I was studying there, one of the degree requirements included six credit hours of a social science – I chose anthropology, and fell in love. I made it my minor.
V.R. You have studied the Masters on Applied Anthropology in the University of North Texas. How was the experience? What kinds of subjects did you have in this course?
K.H. Yes! UNT is a great school – one of the leading campuses teaching applied anthropology in the United States. There is, of course, a strong focus on methodology – qualitative and quantitative methods – but also an equal focus on theory, and theoretical applications. The program requires students to engage with a field other than anthropology – an area of focus that they’re working on starting a career in. These include health sciences, information sciences, business administration, education, and environmental science and philosophy. I completed a dual-degree program in public health with one of UNT’s sister schools, which was also one of the options.
V.R. How did it prepare you for working as a professional anthropologist? (Did you even think you were going to be able to work as an anthropologist after it?)
K.H. Part of what makes UNT unique is its focus on job-readiness and real-world applications. The training in methodology was very helpful, of course – especially the quantitative class, which taught me to use SPSS, a statistical analysis tool I use almost every week at work. But part of the graduation requirement from the school was the completion of a self-directed applied thesis project – I needed to find a client in the community, design a research project for them that would help solve a practical need that they had, and then write a thesis on it. This helped me to put into practice everything that I had learned earlier, as well as create a project portfolio of sorts. I was also able to obtain a position as a graduate research assistant for a professor in the public health school – this gave me a great deal of additional “hands on” experience in various projects, and put me on the path to learn programming and data science.
V.R. Is it common for applied anthropologists to find a job outside academia in your context?
K.H. Yes! It’s a truth that most anthropologists do not work in academia – either because the ivory tower of academia is not their choice, or simply because there are not enough positions available. “Anthropologist” may not necessarily be in everyone’s title, but the skills and perspectives of anthropologists are very useful in a variety of settings.
“Part of what makes UNT unique is its focus on job-readiness and real-world applications.”
V.R. What types of jobs do they usually involve on?
K.H. UX (user experience) and design, I’ve found, is a popular choice. So is medical ethnography, program evaluation, and a wide variety of non-profit positions. For organizational and corporate anthropologists, HR and organizational consulting are the most likely fields. I’ve found that market research is also a good fit.
V.R. What kind of added value do you think anthropology brings to a company?
K.H. Perspective, is the main thing – part of what we do as anthropologists is helping bring new worlds to light, examining things in new ways. It doesn’t hurt that anthropologists have a highly-refined research and writing skillset that is very much in demand in certain sectors.
V.R. How did you find your first job as an anthropologist? Was it easy to find?
K.H. Actually, it was! I was attending an anthropology networking event and I met someone else, also in the program – we got to talking about careers, and I talked about my skillset and what I was hoping to do with it. She asked me if I was looking for a job, and I said, “yes,” and she told me about her employer – a market research organization. She mentioned me to the hiring manager there, and when I applied they recognized my name and I was called in for an interview.
V.R. What do you do in your actual work? (What are your chores at your job? What is the day of an applied anthropologist like?)
K.H. Well, my work isn’t that different from academia, I’m afraid. We do a number of different research projects throughout the year, both working with corporate business clients to deliver custom research for their needs and also delivering syndicated work – reports on industry trends, as well as self-reported consumer survey data. I would say that most of what I do is secondary research via the internet, but also interviewing members of industry on their companies’ solutions and what they see the market doing. My most recent report had to do with Wi-Fi’s role when the 5G networks hit. I also manage a project that involves mostly consumer survey data –while that’s quantitative, it is informed both by my background – “industry expertise” – and previous qualitative research I’ve done.
“My work isn’t that different from academia”
V.R. You have specialized on health and more specifically on digital health issues.
K.H. Yes! It’s a bit funny, but the reason I went and did a dual degree program was because I was worried about getting a job with an anthropology degree. And now, I have my position because of my anthropology degree, but I do like to put my health background to good use. It informs a lot of what I do when doing research in that area – one of my favorite projects involves some work we did for the AARP – that is, the American Association of Retired Persons – on family caregiving. With our aging population there’s a lot of burden being put on the family members who care for the elderly, and the AARP was interested in finding out – a.) what are the current and future needs of caregivers, and b.) what kind of solutions, particularly technological solutions, can address those needs? That was a very satisfying project to work on.
V.R. What is self-reported data? And how is this changing the way ethnography is conducted?
K.H. Ah, yes, self-reported consumer survey data. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily new to ethnography, but with the technology we have now – even in the past decade – we can really do more with it than ever before. By combining survey data with a qualitative perspective we have the potential to create very powerful, insightful, and engaging stories that have the potential to drive new ways of doing things.
“Don’t be discouraged! There’s lots of careers out there that you’re qualified for.”
V.R. Do you have any advice or motivational message for anthropology students?
K.H. Don’t be discouraged! There’s lots of careers out there that you’re qualified for, they just might take a bit of digging – make sure you look at a field you’re interested in, and then try to match by your skillset. And never, ever look just for jobs with “anthropologist” in the title or job description! You’ll make yourself depressed that way. If you need to go down this route, try “qualitative researcher” instead.