Kristian Carlson was trained as a biological anthropologist in a four-field doctoral program at Indiana University. He completed postdoctoral research in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University (US) and in the Anthropological Institute and Museum at Zurich University (Switzerland).
His multidisciplinary research program combines comparative anatomy, locomotor mechanics, and bone biology to study form and function in the postcranial skeleton of extant primates, including humans, and human ancestors.
As a functional morphologist, he investigates behavioral correlates in the external and internal structure of limb bones from these groups. From a human health or clinical standpoint, this perspective enables understanding the role non-pharmaceutical factors (e.g., activity) may serve in skeletal maintenance, particularly in reducing or preventing unwanted bone loss. From an anthropological or paleontological standpoint, this perspective enables inferring behaviors in extinct organisms, which is particularly useful for reconstructing their behavioral repertoires. Such reconstructions are crucial pieces of evidence in documenting how extinct organisms engaged with their surrounding habitats, and how this interaction may have changed as environments shifted through geological time.
At USC, he teaches human gross anatomy to first and second year medical students in the Keck School of Medicine.