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Hello All,

I've gotten in to two public history/museum studies programs. The one at Brown is called "Public Humanities" and seems to be focused on a lot of interdisciplinary and theoretical work. The program at George Washington seems more vocational, offering classes in collection management, conservation, etc.

I want to be a curator. That's all I've ever wanted to do, and in the years I've spent researching the job and completing various internships, I still can't discern a clear-cut path towards my career goal. I feel like I already have enough experience as a grunt worker (two years as a research assistant/exhibit construction), and now I want to aim a little higher. I applied to two PhD programs in history and got rejected from both -- one prof wrote me a note saying that I didn't need a PhD to work in a museum... I wish I had the guts to write back and say, "actually, Professor, I plan on being pretty important. So I'll need that PhD to give me street cred." (Don't get the wrong idea. I'm really not so obnoxious I would say something like that).

So what should I do? The program at George Washington seems more geared towards actually training me for jobs, but I'm not sure those are the jobs I want. If I become a registrar, am I stuck with that for the rest of my life or is it possible to crawl up the ranks and eventually become the director/curator? I'm also discouraged because I'm female and it seems to me like most small to middling sized museums are filled with women with MA's who do all the actual work, supervised by a male curator who got into museums after working in academia for 35 years.

I'm also thinking about just sticking in the work force for a while... Only I'm currently unemployed and the opportunities are not too plentiful.

Any advice will be greatly appreciated!

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Psh, that professor was a jerk. S/he can claim that history PhDs are best used for people aiming for the academy alone after s/he gets us all TT jobs.

The best thing to do would be to talk to current and former students of this program. Figuring out the placement issue really is important, and if these programs want you to attend (and they do!) then they will help get you in contact with people who can speak to your concerns. Also, you should see how good of a career services office each school has. These offices can make a big difference - sometimes potential employers will list open positions first at a particular school. Good luck!

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I agree that getting placement information from both schools is key. That said, you may find that many graduates are working as registrars or in development, not as curators.

In general, if you wrote in your cover letters to history programs that you were intending to go on to do curatorial work, the response you received was to be expected (sadly). Many professors and PhD programs in history view themselves as training future researchers/professors. This is an unfortunate perspective given the realities of the job market in history, but it is nevertheless the prevailing view. If you want to be a curator at a major museum, you probably will need a PhD. When/if you apply again, it would be wise to emphasize your research and academic interests rather than public history in your personal statement. Once you get the degree, you can (attempt to) do what you want. That said, there is no reason that you can't do a museum studies degree, get a few years of work experience, and then apply for PhD programs if you want, with the thought of returning to the museum field. Or you might find you're able to advance in the museum you end up working in and decide you don't want to return to graduate school. Don't forget that there are also private companies that do design work, strategic planning, etc. for museums and cultural institutions where you might find employment after completing a museum studies degree. Private sector pay tends to be higher than non-profit and academic pay.

Feel free to PM me if you want more detailed information; I'd rather not totally out myself by adding my personal experiences with all of this.

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Ugh, yes, there is definitely a bias that certain academics have against museum/public history people. Don't let it get to you!

Here are a few things to consider:

- Brown and GW are both good programs, but as mentioned above, I would ask for placement rates. What kinds of jobs do people get after graduating? Since Brown leans academic, it might be that more people go on to get PhDs, which is what you eventually want.

- Would the "resume builders" offered by a more practical program be of value to you? It seems like you already have experience in museums -- will class projects related to collections management, how to set up exhibits, etc. add to your curatorial skill set?

- What about funding? Is GW or Brown offering you a better deal?

Let us know what you eventually decide!

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If you do opt to reapply, NYU has the ability for history PhD candidates to graduate with a certificate in Museum Studies/Public History.

Also, I mentioned my interest in curatorial work in each of my SOPs. I also said I wanted to explore teaching, but I didn't hide the fact that I was also interested in exploring other options. Many of the schools I applied to have a faculty member in the department who teaches a class on Museum Studies. So if you do reapply, I would focus on schools that fit your research interests first, but then see which if those have a faculty member or certificate program related to your career goal.

Good luck, I agree it's a tricky career path to unravel.

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Hey everyone! Your comments have been very helpful. As it turns out, Brown has offered me a generous financial package and GW hasn't offered anything... so that clears up the question of which school to choose.

I'm still exploring some job options, but I will probably head off to Brown in the fall since the program looks very interesting and I'm confident that the degree will be very useful (more useful than the one-year MA in straight History I'm currently completing). I've talked to my old boss about this and she supports my plan of accepting the spot in the program while the offer is on the table. As of right now most employers may view me as less qualified than applicants with more vocational degrees.

I figure with two Master's degrees, one in the specialized field and one in museum studies, I should be fairly well set to work my up to a curatorial position. It might not be the senior-director job, but that's OK with me.

Thanks again!

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