Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

MA or PhD?


lapomegranate
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hey everyone, I have had the most difficult days when I got admitted to two programs I really like, one is a PhD and the other an MA. The issue is my age, I am considerably older than the traditional MA or PhD applicant and that is why it is such a hard decision. PhD is funded, MA is not. I like the city where the MA is better, also better for family, even though the city where the PhD is is not bad. If I do the MA I will stop there since I need to start working, but can I do with an MA in Art History? Do I really need the PhD? I am tempted by the PhD because it's funded and because I love research and learning, however I do not want to be a professor. Is it a good idea to give up a fully funded Phd in an city I don't love but still not bad for an unfunded MA in a city I Love with plenty job opportunities, especially in this discipline? Thank you to anyone who volunteers time to bring some clarity. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You don't say what your career goals are. You don't want to be a professor, but if you want to be, say, a curator, you'll need a PhD. MAs in art history don't open that many job opportunities on their own. If you want to work in museum education or administration, or in a gallery, you don't necessarily need an MA; and a PhD likely wouldn't help you at all. So the question in, why are you going to grad school? Will either an MA or PhD help you achieve you goals? On principle, given how low salaries are in the art world, I would be wary of taking on too much debt to fund an MA. On the other hand, spending 7+ years getting a degree, making a paltry stipend, especially when you're older and don't want the kind of jobs a PhD is supposed to prepare you for, isn't exactly sound financial planning either. So I think you need to do some serious introspection about what you really want. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 minutes ago, Bronte1985 said:

You don't say what your career goals are. You don't want to be a professor, but if you want to be, say, a curator, you'll need a PhD. MAs in art history don't open that many job opportunities on their own. If you want to work in museum education or administration, or in a gallery, you don't necessarily need an MA; and a PhD likely wouldn't help you at all. So the question in, why are you going to grad school? Will either an MA or PhD help you achieve you goals? On principle, given how low salaries are in the art world, I would be wary of taking on too much debt to fund an MA. On the other hand, spending 7+ years getting a degree, making a paltry stipend, especially when you're older and don't want the kind of jobs a PhD is supposed to prepare you for, isn't exactly sound financial planning either. So I think you need to do some serious introspection about what you really want. 

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Honestly, I just don't want to do administrative work nor do I want to work at a gallery, at least not selling since I have done that and I hate it. I know there aren't many jobs out there for historians and what really draws me to the discipline is research work, maybe I will be happy with a research assistant position and publish and research on my own? Is that an enjoyable job? Of course I would love to be a curator but it is as competitive as it can get and I will be older and without experience, except for the gallery (unimportant galleries, not famous ones) experience I have. The art history world is hard to decrypt when it comes to jobs and opportunities but I just know I enjoy doing research and I will not want to reach old age doing administrative little jobs. I don't know what to do, I need to look up people with successful careers with just an MA but I haven't been successful at finding any.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmmmm....that's tricky. There just aren't too many research assistant positions out there, unfortunately. The big museums do have them, and it used to be that all you needed was an MA, but because there's such a glut of PhDs out there, they're increasingly being filled by people with their doctorate. I should warn you, though, research assistant jobs pay pretty poorly and advancement (say, to a curatorial position) is very difficult without a PhD. Before you take the plunge and enroll in grad school (MA or PhD), I think you need to reflect on the kind of job you want and do some research about how many positions in the field exist and what qualifications are necessary. I totally understand the desire to grad school and I understand your love of historical research, but, unless you have independent means, you want to make sure that all the time and money and energy that you need to invest to go to grad school will actually help you land a viable job at the end. Good luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you so much for your insight. This might be harder than getting a PhD. The truth is that without grad work and just a BA there aren't many attractive options in the job market. I will have to think about it definitely but I think I will definitely do grad school be it an MA or PhD because without that what kind of job can I do? Thanks again!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi! I'm a museum professional who has their MA in Museum Studies and plan on getting a PhD for my "area" (ancient Greek and Roman art/archaeology) before I seek more museum work. It's really hard to break into it without going through an administrative position at first, from my experience. I've interned/apprenticed/volunteered and worked at museums and galleries of all types - encyclopedia state museums, small local art galleries, university museums, archaeology labs, and natural history museums, to name a few. I worked as a front-desk person where I had to do a lot of administrative work at my previous job but during my "down time" I was doing curatorial work and research. Honestly, I did the most research when I helping the Curator of Manuscripts, who ran the Research Library. I thought about getting an Archivist Certificate or MLIS lately because I did really well with working in a research library. I would suggest looking into specialist libraries, which might have something you're looking for. But, for me, in terms of the MA vs. PhD, I'd go with the funded PhD due to the "funded" part; a lot of older people are in PhD programs now and honestly I think it's awesome because I was an adult/non-traditional student as an undergrad so it's encouraging to know there are other older people out there going for their PhDs! I would also compare the resources each school has since you mentioned experience: most PhD programs will offer summer funding so you can do an internship or externship in your focus (or for someone like me, a dig), a lot of schools will have specialty libraries or collections you can access for research or somewhere you can volunteer/work for experience. I worked a part-time curatorial job six months after I received my BA but I was halfway through my MA in Museum Studies a year and a half later when I got my full-time job, so I think those are things you should consider, too. Where would you be happiest in terms of work, would you rather go to a funded PhD program (which usually awards an MA en route, depending on the school, so if you decide it's not for you, you might be able to leave with just an MA; many people have done this), and what resources does each school have that might help you reach your eventual goal?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

20 hours ago, ClassicsCandidate said:

Hi! I'm a museum professional who has their MA in Museum Studies and plan on getting a PhD for my "area" (ancient Greek and Roman art/archaeology) before I seek more museum work. It's really hard to break into it without going through an administrative position at first, from my experience. I've interned/apprenticed/volunteered and worked at museums and galleries of all types - encyclopedia state museums, small local art galleries, university museums, archaeology labs, and natural history museums, to name a few. I worked as a front-desk person where I had to do a lot of administrative work at my previous job but during my "down time" I was doing curatorial work and research. Honestly, I did the most research when I helping the Curator of Manuscripts, who ran the Research Library. I thought about getting an Archivist Certificate or MLIS lately because I did really well with working in a research library. I would suggest looking into specialist libraries, which might have something you're looking for. But, for me, in terms of the MA vs. PhD, I'd go with the funded PhD due to the "funded" part; a lot of older people are in PhD programs now and honestly I think it's awesome because I was an adult/non-traditional student as an undergrad so it's encouraging to know there are other older people out there going for their PhDs! I would also compare the resources each school has since you mentioned experience: most PhD programs will offer summer funding so you can do an internship or externship in your focus (or for someone like me, a dig), a lot of schools will have specialty libraries or collections you can access for research or somewhere you can volunteer/work for experience. I worked a part-time curatorial job six months after I received my BA but I was halfway through my MA in Museum Studies a year and a half later when I got my full-time job, so I think those are things you should consider, too. Where would you be happiest in terms of work, would you rather go to a funded PhD program (which usually awards an MA en route, depending on the school, so if you decide it's not for you, you might be able to leave with just an MA; many people have done this), and what resources does each school have that might help you reach your eventual goal?

Thank you, @ClassicsCandidate! Your insight is must helpful! Honestly I would love to do curatorial work but I have given up on that idea because I do not have many years to dedicate to building a career in such a competitive field. Are you pursuing a PhD because you weren't happy at a museum? I have also worked at galleries but they have been virtually unknown ones and what I did was selling, not curating or anything related. I will look into research libraries, that sounds like an amazing idea. These schools where I have been accepted both have very good resources and opportunities for internships at museums, etc. Also, the MA program awarded partial tuition remission (half). The city I like most and with most museums is the one where the MA is, and that is why I am so hesitant. Also because a PhD is such a long commitment, even though I love the idea of dedicating all those years to specializing and doing research work. I think that if the PhD was in the city where the MA is I would have done it without a doubt. I am so divided :( I was also an adult as an undergrad and I am happy to see a fellow adult on here. Thanks so much again and I wish you the best in your pursuit of a Phd. What are you planning to do after you finish your PhD?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You sound a lot like me - doing the school debate while also trying to balance the responsibilities that come with time. Some of the things I’m thinking about (as a fellow « older » student):

The cost of living, not just the numbers. Such as: how much is health insurance in a particular area? How good is that health insurance, and how would that translate to overall costs? (Lower premiums aren’t always cheaper if there are more out of pocket costs). Transit costs, such as public transit, but also the cost of insuring my vehicle (more in a more urban spot). Plus rent - some cities are half the cost of others. 
 

Time. Ideally, grad school is where a career starts, and the time as a student is invaluable to creating contacts and networks. When I was younger, two years felt like a lot of time, but now it feels so short.
 

You can absolutely curate with an MA. I know numerous humans at reputable institutions with MAs or MFAs that are curating; there seems to be a bias on this forum that this is impossible, which doesn’t align with my own experiences at all. In some ways, it actually seems easier for MAs to get jobs, as they have less baggage in terms of research specificity, and a lot more agility in terms of working at smaller institutions which might need generalists. But I also think about the fact that I’m an « older » student also means I’ve aged out of entry level jobs, which are meant for young people that don’t need benefits, aren’t worried about making maximum yearly contributions to their IRAs (or have the time not to) or have health insurance though their parents; I literally could not afford one of those jobs if I wanted to do it. So in my career, I’ll have to jump to non-entry level post grad school if I want to be not homeless, which makes me (personally) want more education (and time), not less.

[I’m bracing for someone to fire back about the impossibility of curating with an MA, but I stand my ground.]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, lapomegranate said:

Thank you, @ClassicsCandidate! Your insight is must helpful! Honestly I would love to do curatorial work but I have given up on that idea because I do not have many years to dedicate to building a career in such a competitive field. Are you pursuing a PhD because you weren't happy at a museum? I have also worked at galleries but they have been virtually unknown ones and what I did was selling, not curating or anything related. I will look into research libraries, that sounds like an amazing idea. These schools where I have been accepted both have very good resources and opportunities for internships at museums, etc. Also, the MA program awarded partial tuition remission (half). The city I like most and with most museums is the one where the MA is, and that is why I am so hesitant. Also because a PhD is such a long commitment, even though I love the idea of dedicating all those years to specializing and doing research work. I think that if the PhD was in the city where the MA is I would have done it without a doubt. I am so divided :( I was also an adult as an undergrad and I am happy to see a fellow adult on here. Thanks so much again and I wish you the best in your pursuit of a Phd. What are you planning to do after you finish your PhD?

You're welcome; I'm happy I could help! I'm pursuing a PhD because the majority of job listings for museums that hold collections I'm specializing in actually require a PhD. So, I still want to work in museums, but ideally I'd work at a university museum where I could also teach as a professor (a dream I know is extremely hard to get to, but I'd probably get my teaching license and do high school and/or community/adjunct teaching until I land a job where I can be a curator, so I do have plans on what to do about all of that.) 

I think if you're interested in research libraries you could consider an MLIS or, if one of your schools have this program, get a complementing certificate, e.g. some schools will have a Museum Studies or Archivist certificate available to do in addition to their MA or PhD program without an extra cost. I honestly wished I had gotten an MLIS vs. my MA in Museum Studies right now because an MLIS is more versatile because a lot of times you can get a job in a museum or a library with it, and there are so many different types of libraries, it would have been better than just my MA in Museum Studies (still considering doing it, but I'd have to find an MLIS I can either afford out of pocket or fully funded). 

I understand that it's a difficult decision. I think I'd be more hesitant for something partially funded myself because I already have a ridiculous amount of student debt 😅

The plan I have ideally is to apply for academic and museum positions until I land a position in a place I'd like to work, and I know sometimes that that can take a long time, so if I spend some time as a teacher in the classroom, I have experience doing that and am decent at it. I think you can definitely get a curatorial or research position with an MA, it'll probably just be at a smaller institution. I know someone who has an MA in Museum Studies and now she's the Assistant Director of an archival vault, so anything can happen!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, ClassicsCandidate said:

You're welcome; I'm happy I could help! I'm pursuing a PhD because the majority of job listings for museums that hold collections I'm specializing in actually require a PhD. So, I still want to work in museums, but ideally I'd work at a university museum where I could also teach as a professor (a dream I know is extremely hard to get to, but I'd probably get my teaching license and do high school and/or community/adjunct teaching until I land a job where I can be a curator, so I do have plans on what to do about all of that.) 

I think if you're interested in research libraries you could consider an MLIS or, if one of your schools have this program, get a complementing certificate, e.g. some schools will have a Museum Studies or Archivist certificate available to do in addition to their MA or PhD program without an extra cost. I honestly wished I had gotten an MLIS vs. my MA in Museum Studies right now because an MLIS is more versatile because a lot of times you can get a job in a museum or a library with it, and there are so many different types of libraries, it would have been better than just my MA in Museum Studies (still considering doing it, but I'd have to find an MLIS I can either afford out of pocket or fully funded). 

I understand that it's a difficult decision. I think I'd be more hesitant for something partially funded myself because I already have a ridiculous amount of student debt 😅

The plan I have ideally is to apply for academic and museum positions until I land a position in a place I'd like to work, and I know sometimes that that can take a long time, so if I spend some time as a teacher in the classroom, I have experience doing that and am decent at it. I think you can definitely get a curatorial or research position with an MA, it'll probably just be at a smaller institution. I know someone who has an MA in Museum Studies and now she's the Assistant Director of an archival vault, so anything can happen!

Thank you! You bring so much clarity into my torment :D It is good that you have a clear plan and I can almost predict you will be successful. It is true that for Classical there are other requirements in terms of language and specialization. I wish you the best in any case. And thank you for the anecdotal bit about your friend, the museum world is so cryptic that if don't know anybody you will never know. Thanks again!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, lapomegranate said:

Thank you! You bring so much clarity into my torment :D It is good that you have a clear plan and I can almost predict you will be successful. It is true that for Classical there are other requirements in terms of language and specialization. I wish you the best in any case. And thank you for the anecdotal bit about your friend, the museum world is so cryptic that if don't know anybody you will never know. Thanks again!

Happy to help! Thank you for the confidence in my success, I'll take all types of encouragement I can get about it, lol. Yeah, I think because ancient Greek and Roman art - and related art like Thracian - needs a lot of training in the languages as well as the art, for my purposes, going through an entire PhD is worth it for that focus. I'd say that isn't necessarily true if you focus, for example, on something like Pre-Raphaelite art. And yes! She ended up in a music archive, which was perfect for her; so you can always look at adjacent things that interest you if you have the training for it (for example, one of my specialties is witchcraft in the ancient world, so if I find a library position at a rare books collection relating to that in some way, it'd be outside of actual museums, but something I would love to do.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

56 minutes ago, adjunctlifer said:

You sound a lot like me - doing the school debate while also trying to balance the responsibilities that come with time. Some of the things I’m thinking about (as a fellow « older » student):

The cost of living, not just the numbers. Such as: how much is health insurance in a particular area? How good is that health insurance, and how would that translate to overall costs? (Lower premiums aren’t always cheaper if there are more out of pocket costs). Transit costs, such as public transit, but also the cost of insuring my vehicle (more in a more urban spot). Plus rent - some cities are half the cost of others. 
 

Time. Ideally, grad school is where a career starts, and the time as a student is invaluable to creating contacts and networks. When I was younger, two years felt like a lot of time, but now it feels so short.
 

You can absolutely curate with an MA. I know numerous humans at reputable institutions with MAs or MFAs that are curating; there seems to be a bias on this forum that this is impossible, which doesn’t align with my own experiences at all. In some ways, it actually seems easier for MAs to get jobs, as they have less baggage in terms of research specificity, and a lot more agility in terms of working at smaller institutions which might need generalists. But I also think about the fact that I’m an « older » student also means I’ve aged out of entry level jobs, which are meant for young people that don’t need benefits, aren’t worried about making maximum yearly contributions to their IRAs (or have the time not to) or have health insurance though their parents; I literally could not afford one of those jobs if I wanted to do it. So in my career, I’ll have to jump to non-entry level post grad school if I want to be not homeless, which makes me (personally) want more education (and time), not less.

[I’m bracing for someone to fire back about the impossibility of curating with an MA, but I stand my ground.]

@adjunctlifer Wow, this is really enlightening, thank you a million times! And I am so happy you are another "older student". I feel at times this status or circumstance is rather isolating. I am also very afraid of those entry-level jobs because I am not at an "entry-level" age, so I completely understand and I am there. That is part of my problem in deciding, because what will I do with an MA that is not entry-level? On the other hand, it is only two years which will give me some more time to build a career versus seven years of PhD. I don't know what to do. This is killing me! But thank you for sharing your insight about curating with an MA! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, lapomegranate said:

On the other hand, it is only two years which will give me some more time to build a career versus seven years of PhD.

My particular experience is that I actually already have a terminal MFA degree, and am feeling the constraints of that (since I am most likely going to continue in teaching ). So my views are definitely influenced by that experience. I was a little older going into that program, too, and I really treated it as a chance to begin my career rather than just a chance to study. In some ways, I almost feel like pure learning is easiest to do outside of an academic program in many ways, where one just reads and studies on their own time. But I digress. I treated my MFA program as an incubator to build career options and it worked - but I wish I had even longer to make those connections stronger and afford me even more time to explore and learn while doing so. So, I'm actually thinking that I would like to do a PhD to buy time to build my career, so that I can hit the ground running (ie not in an entry level position) when I graduate.

Hope that's helpful to think on, just my personal experiences thus far.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

30 minutes ago, adjunctlifer said:

My particular experience is that I actually already have a terminal MFA degree, and am feeling the constraints of that (since I am most likely going to continue in teaching ). So my views are definitely influenced by that experience. I was a little older going into that program, too, and I really treated it as a chance to begin my career rather than just a chance to study. In some ways, I almost feel like pure learning is easiest to do outside of an academic program in many ways, where one just reads and studies on their own time. But I digress. I treated my MFA program as an incubator to build career options and it worked - but I wish I had even longer to make those connections stronger and afford me even more time to explore and learn while doing so. So, I'm actually thinking that I would like to do a PhD to buy time to build my career, so that I can hit the ground running (ie not in an entry level position) when I graduate.

Hope that's helpful to think on, just my personal experiences thus far.

This is great insight, thank you, especially when you talk about treating the program as building a career. This makes me think differently and see the programs from another perspective. Time is precisely my main preoccupation; I believe 7+ years is crazy long, at least for me, but two years is so short I wonder how much I can get done in such a short time. The MA thesis, for instance, makes me think of my senior undergrad thesis where I had about 6 months to a year to research it and write it and I was so frustrated by the lack of time. I guess the MA will recreate that experience. I am actually thinking that maybe I could try the MA and then apply for a PhD but the issue I am encountering is that very little credit is offered for the MA. In one of the programs I have been looking at only a semester is credited, so that would be one and a half years of MA work added to the 6.5 years of PhD. Do you or anyone knows of any program that offers more credit for the MA? At least you are now sure what you want to do which is teaching, but for us who are not really sure of what to do and, as in my case, don't want to be in academia then it gets complicated, especially when you're older and have less time. But again, treating the programs as career building is really something to think about. Thank you!

Edited by lapomegranate
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi - I don't have a ton of advice to offer here, but I saw that you mentioned something about the city each program is in. I would 100% reach out to someone at the PhD program (current grad student, POI, or both!) and ask what the norm is regarding years in residence. I've gotten very different answers in the past from different prospective programs, some that said many people move after their coursework is done and others where everyone stays through graduation unless they get a fellowship that absolutely requires them to be elsewhere. If your PhD program is like the former, you might only have to live in that city for 3 years or so before you're ABD and can move. It could be worth asking! 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 2/19/2021 at 12:33 AM, RomeSweetRome said:

Hi - I don't have a ton of advice to offer here, but I saw that you mentioned something about the city each program is in. I would 100% reach out to someone at the PhD program (current grad student, POI, or both!) and ask what the norm is regarding years in residence. I've gotten very different answers in the past from different prospective programs, some that said many people move after their coursework is done and others where everyone stays through graduation unless they get a fellowship that absolutely requires them to be elsewhere. If your PhD program is like the former, you might only have to live in that city for 3 years or so before you're ABD and can move. It could be worth asking! 

Hi- thanks for this! I was actually looking at that option and it is definitely doable. Thanks again! 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.