When people think of anthropology Margaret Mead and her seminal work, Coming of Age in Samoa, are among the first things that come to mind. But there is far more to the discipline than the study of mating rituals on distant islands, burial practices of the ancients or religious beliefs of prehistoric societies. With its origins in the humanities and the natural sciences, anthropology is simply the study of mankind. It is taking on new urgency in today's increasingly globalised world as it can help people understand why others - and themselves - do the things they do. Nothing could be more relevant in the workplaces of a multicultural society such as Hong Kong. The anthropology department at Chinese University (CUHK) launched a master of arts in anthropology programme several years ago. Targeted at graduates who did not receive their first degree in anthropology, but who would like to receive formal training in the discipline, it is a taught programme with no thesis required. Work experience, however, is highly desirable so that students can relate what they study in class to their careers. It can be completed in one-year full-time or two years part-time. The programme is divided into two sets of courses. Three are required and five are elective. All of the required courses are taught in English and most reading is also in English. While some of the electives are taught in Cantonese, there are enough electives taught in English to ensure that non-Cantonese speakers have no problems fulfilling the requirements. 'One of the things that we pride ourselves on is that there are enough courses so that students can follow their own interests,' said Gordon Mathews, professor of anthropology at CUHK. 'One student might focus on archaeology, another on Chinese society, another on globalisation and business, another on ethnic identity.' The department also offers a master of philosophy in anthropology, which is a research degree targeted primarily at those with a first degree in anthropology or a related field in the social sciences. Working closely with a supervisor, students read literature and conduct research on a specific topic. They are able to tailor their studies to their specific interests or needs. A two-year full-time programme, its first year comprises coursework and prepares students to write their thesis. They conduct fieldwork during the summer and write their thesis during their second year. A PhD in anthology is also offered. 'Many people doing the MA go on to do an MPhil,' Professor Mathews said. 'It is possible to go directly from the MA to the PhD, but they don't usually have enough of a background to do that.' Students tend to be in their mid-30s. They are drawn from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds. Some are secondary school teachers, others work at banks, while others are entrepreneurs. Expatriates account for about 10 per cent of enrolment. Students from the mainland constitute between 30 and 40 per cent. 'There are many types of people,' Professor Mathews said. 'For example, there are people in the business world who have cross-cultural interactions. They are interested in globalisation and its effects. That has become a big part of anthropology these days.' Many of the people enrolling in the MA programme do so more for personal fulfilment than to advance their careers. Still, there are often unexpected professional rewards. 'The major purpose is not to advance your career but to expand your horizons,' Professor Mathews said. 'However, because you understand things about people that you didn't understand before, you can become a better manager.'