Doctorado en antropología

Should I enrol in a PhD if I want to be a business anthropologist?

This article deals with a common problem for professional profiles working with companies. Is it worth doing a PhD if you are going to work in the private world?

The growing interest in applied Anthropology is rapidly changing the landscape of the discipline in and out of academia. It is definitely an interesting moment for anthropologists. Instead of the classical linear academic career path towards professorship, nowadays anthropologists are exploring new exciting possibilities of professional growth. Whether in academic or applied settings, we as a community feel the need to expand our skills and imagine new ways of being an anthropologist like never before.  

The fact that this year the Applied Anthropology hosted two panel sessions at the 2020 EASA Biennial conference is a sign of this profound shift. It was very inspiring to see so many applied projects emerging and opening new professional fields for anthropologists. Also, the panel was an incredible opportunity to network and share some of the challenges that come with the expansion of Business and Applied Anthropology. To continue to develop new possibilities for anthropologists, we need to keep strengthening the community as a whole. We definitely grow stronger together.  

That is why after sharing a collective virtual space and time for the EASA biennial conference, we – Louise Pasteur de Faria and Veronica Reyero – decided to have a more intimate call to get to meet each other better and share about our struggles, excitements, and doubts as anthropologists working in business. It is always enriching to listen to what other colleagues are experiencing, and how they are framing what’s happening around them. 

The chat just clicked on quickly! And a good 40-minutes into the conversation we started discussing wether having a P.hD impacted (or not) your professional career as a business anthropologis and if so, how it did so. To do a PhD or not to do a PhD? That is the question… On the one hand, if you are not pursuing an academic carreer, it may not be that relevant. But on the other hand, it is a personal and intellectual challenge that many want to undertake. We ended up talking about this question for quite some time and decided to share some of the issues we discussed, as we realized this could be useful for others asking themselves the same question. 

Be prepared…

Many people pose the question of whether or not to pursue a Ph.D as a personal choice. That is partially true, considering the passionate nature of academic work. Deep down, we decide to become academics out of enthusiasm for our field to the point that we risk forgetting the financial and professional implications of such a choice. However, it is a professional choice that will have long-lasting consequences on one’s career path. To starts, it is a long-term commitment. During your Ph.D., you will be investing a considerable amount of time and effort dedicating yourself solely to academic activities, your department, and your research. 

It will be a confusing time in your life: you are not a student and not yet a researcher. You will have to sacrifice possible financially rewarding professional opportunities and the path ahead will seem long and even opaque, given the uncertainty of the academic career. 

Nowadays, to work as an applied Anthropologist, you no longer need a Ph.D. to prove your worth as a professional. That’s why if you decide to pursue a Ph.D., you got to have a plan. You have to approach this opportunity with a strategic mindset. We thought the best way we could help others was to put together a checklist to help evaluate if that is indeed the best decision in your specific case. 

Consider your professional background: 

  • The starting point for each person is definitely something to bear in mind. Do you already have experience working in the research industry or other professional fields?
  • Do you have a clear vision of how your academic experience would advance your professional career as a whole?
  • Do you have any intention to pursue academic positions in the future? 

Evaluate your situation: 

  • Consider the difference between doing a PhD with or without scholarship: preferably secure funding for the integrity or most part of your Ph.D. Each country has it’s own academic system and theoretical tradition. This is also an element to be taken into account.
  • Age and emotional maturity also play an important role in the decision of pursuing a Ph.D. Ideally, the best position to enter a Ph.D. program is one of strength. You will have to be resilient and self-disciplined to be able to deal with the pressures of undertaking a Ph.D.
  • If possible, reflect on the ways your Ph.D. research could be beneficial to your applied career. Think about the transferable skills you can learn. Or perhaps your thesis topic will be attractive for your future employers, and you mighteven design your thesis in a way where you can later use parts of it for work. Or you might considering enroling on an industrial PhD, a joint effort between a university department and a company to guide you together, which will give you both the academic rigor and the real business challenge to tackle.

Make a list of pros and cons

Here we listed a few pros and cons that came up during our conversation. However, we thik its important each person makes this assesment for themselves condisering their context and personal, professional and academic situation.

  1. Delving into a topic you are passionate about 
  2. Doing your thesis on something you can later use 
  3. Belonging to a community of like-minded people & stimulating networks
  4. It gives you a certain authority with some clients (and colleagues)
  5. In certain countries having a PhD increases your market value (higher fees/ salaries)
  6. It can open certain job opportunities (of course, it lays a path for academia, but also there might be some job positions at certain labs, or research projects that specifically look for PhDs)
  1. More and more companies dont care so much about academic credentials when hiring, but rather the skills and experiences of the candidate
  2. Managing mental health and stability in what many times can be a toxic environment with a lot of pressure (expectations of linear academic journey, academic exploitation, and academic capitalism, free labour for other researchers, sharp competence and hierarchies) 
  3. Not learning a set of skills you will need later in business (i.e negotiation techniques, pricing your work and invoicing, treating clients, sales, marketing, PR, new methods, etc)
  4. One experience over the course of 4 years, instead of the many projects and experiences you´ll have in 4 years working in the industry

Still thinking about it? We would love to hear your thoughts on this 🙂 Let us know if you intend to pursue a Ph.D. in the future or not, and why.  Did you already get a PhD and you are currently working in the industry? How did your PhD open new opportunities for you?

Louise Pasteur de Faria

Louise Pasteur de Faria (Ph.D.) is an anthropologist based in London. She works as an international research consultant and is the co-founder of Halo Ethnographic Bureau, a platform to promote ethnographic thinking in academia and industry.


Co-founder in Antropología 2.0
Graduated in Social and Cultural Anthropology by the University of Granada and Master in Research and Rational Use of Medicines by the University of Valencia. This young researcher has worked in the public and private sector – both nationally and internationally – on consumer issues.

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