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Reporting a member of my interview committee - should I do it


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 I am a pre-program art conservator who just finished going through their first round of application/rejections to American art conservation master's programs. Rejection on the first go around is pretty normal given the small class sizes (5-10 students accepted a year) and how few American master's programs for art conservation there are (4). So I was expecting this - and I was very happy to get to the interview stage with several of these programs, as I understood that this improved my chances of acceptance into a program next year and that the interviewing committees would be open to offering me advice on how to improve my portfolio/application for the next year.

I just received a response from a member of one of my interviewing committees (to my initial request for feedback on my application and interview so that I could prepare for next year) that contained some grains of useful advice thoroughly mixed in with a recommendation that I put aside my current aspirations (to earn a master's degree in art conservation) to go work in another tangentially related field - along with the implication that much of the pre-program conservation training I had was inconsequential because it wasn't in the conservation of fine art objects.

I am not going to deny that I am pretty shocked and more than a little hurt. Its been a long road for me to get to this point - to fulfill the academic requirements to apply to these programs, to rack up the internship hours, to build professional relationships and acquire mentors and god knows to get a reasonable score on the Quantitative section of the GREs. 

I know this person's behavior was inappropriate, and I don't understand what I did to merit this kind of response. But this is also an incredible program that I would very much like the opportunity to apply to in the future. If I register any form of complaint I could destroy my chances of getting into this particular program. Any recommendations or thoughts as to what to do/how to deal with this would be most appreciated.


Edited by TaraConservation
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From an outsider's perspective, it doesn't sound to me like a line was crossed. I gather that this person told you that they don't think your training is sufficient or relevant or something along these lines, and that therefore in their opinion you'd have a hard time getting into programs of type A (since you don't have the right background), and maybe programs of type B would be a better fit.  I understand that it's not what you want to hear, and maybe it's not even true (in the sense that people with similar backgrounds have been successful, or that the person misunderstands how much training or connections you actually have). But the person is entitled to their opinion, and you asked them to share it with you. I don't see an actual cause for a complaint. 

Now beyond my uninformed opinion: since you say that there is such a small number of programs in your field, it seems to me that launching the process of a formal complaint has the potential to do you a whole lot more harm than good. To the extent that you want to do anything, I think that the first thing you need to do is find a trusted senior person in your subfield and discuss this with them. Often the way to go isn't the formal direct route. You'll need someone with a broader perspective to make sure you don't cause yourself unintentional harm. 

More generally, it seems to me that the thing to take from this response is that this is a possible way someone can read your application. So your goal for next year should be to counteract that: maybe your application could do a better job highlighting all of your training, or how your job relates to your proposed field of study, or how you've taken the extra steps to get the experience you have. Maybe you should ask a LOR writer to address this person's concern in their letter so there's an outside opinion that you're well prepared. Maybe something in your interview didn't click or you didn't highlight the right aspects of your profile. Maybe there's some other way to boost your profile in this particular subfield. To me, that's the real takeaway: not this one person's opinion about where you should apply, but how they read your application and the impression they got from you more generally.

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  • 7 months later...

I am a graduate student in your field, and agree with the response by fuzzylogician. If you decided not to report this person, you likely did the right thing. Frankly, this is such a competitive field with an enormous amount of over saturation that you really do need to show off some unique and valuable skill-set in order to get into the US graduate schools. With that in mind, the committee member did you a favor by suggesting you broaden your horizons, because that is what you would need to be a competitive candidate on your next round of applications. 

The reality is that the committee member's behavior would not be considered at all inappropriate by the majority of those currently in this field, in the US. While it stings to receive feedback like that (especially when you interpret it as dismissive), you should know that reporting this committee member will result in zero admonishments for them, as the program almost definitely backs up what they are saying. 

With how competitive this field is (you know it just gets more competitive after grad school, right?) you will need to get used to both rejection and pitching yourself/ your skills to different people, so take this as an opportunity to think about how you want to promote yourself. For example, you are proud of your work on non-fine art objects, right? So make sure to talk about how and why those objects & experiences are important, not just to you but also in the broader sense (important to cultural stakeholders, etc). Keep going, pursuing the work you are the most passionate about, and remember that that there really are multiple paths to your end goal. 

I'm responding super-late, since I just saw this, but I hope it is in some way helpful. There are very few of us on these forums! I am curious to know what happened, if you reported them or not, and what the result was.


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