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Okay, so I'm completely new to this site so I apologize in advance if my below ramblings don't make sense. I am looking to go into graduate school but am a little lost as to what fields I should be looking into.

I graduated last May with a BA in computer science. I got into this field because it was something I hadn't learned before. I realized too late that I didn't have interest in it beyond it being new to me. This set me looking to go back to school to try to break into another field.

The problem is, I have a rather useless set of interests. I enjoy art and most history provided it's not American history (I've had classes in it since I was 8 and am rather sick of it); I love anthropology and learning about other cultures. I enjoy learning about all religions and literature from before the Romantic time period. None of those interests seem to have much of a place outside of academia. I started to look into museum work on the off chance that it might fit my interests. Unfortunately, researching into the field seems to have confused me more than I was before.

From what I've read, many people have found issues breaking into the museum field regardless of experience or degree status. One of my questions is whether or not getting a museum studies degree is worth it right off the bat. The general opinion on forums is that getting the degree, whether you get experience during the process or not, tends to set you in the same place most people without the degree are in (job-search wise) with the exception of the added debt. The other down side to getting the museum studies degree is that it limits what paths I can go down should I be unable to get a job in a museum. While I understand that I would need the degree in order to become a curator, I was wondering if I would need it to work in a museum as a technician or an assistant curator (or something else that is specific to the museum field).

The other option I see would be getting a degree in history; whether this would be academic history or public history I am unsure at this point. This would give me the background that some museums look for as opposed to the strictly technical background I have now. Of course, a Masters Degree in History would set me along the same paths where I could end up in either museums or academia.

Ultimately I am looking for advice on what areas I should go into and am looking for the answers to the following questions:

1. Is getting a museums studies degree necessary to work in the museum field?

2. Will getting a museums studies degree put me ahead in the search for a job? If not, is it worth the time and money to be right back where I started?

3. Would it be smarter to get a degree in history rather than museum studies?

4. Given my ramblings above, am I suited for a museum post or would I be better suited in academia with research and teaching?

Any advice people could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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1. Is getting a museums studies degree necessary to work in the museum field?

A degree (preferably MA/MS) in MST isn't necessary, however most job announcements require a related degree like Anthro, Art History, History, American Studies, etc depending on the museum's mission. More often that not, anything but a house museum (and maybe even that) will want a Masters for any position (conservation and exhibit design being whole other areas I know little about, though my friend with exhibit design aspirations is getting her MA too)

2. Will getting a museums studies degree put me ahead in the search for a job? If not, is it worth the time and money to be right back where I started?

It will give you experience in the different areas of museums if you go to a generalist program (most are now). Even my minor gave me experience in education, administration and collections on top of specific knowledge like Material Culture. Most require internships which not only get you experience which get you ahead in the job market but help you narrow down what area of museums you want to work in.

3. Would it be smarter to get a degree in history rather than museum studies?

Not necessarily, going into academia? Sure. Going into a museum? Figure out what kind of museum you want to work for. Most history museums in the US are going to focus on US history. If you want to work in an art museum look into an art history program.

My MST professors come from a variety of backgrounds :

museum director: Fine Arts (BFA), Museum Science (MA), Fine Arts (PhD)

director of program: Government (BA), American Civ (MA), American Civ (PhD)

professor: History (BA), MLIS (library science, believe focus on conservation), History (PhD)

professor: Museum Studies (BA), Museum Studies (MA)

professor: ? (BA), museum admin/American History (MS)

My mentor (head of collections for a state museum/agency):

American Studies (BA/MA)

4. Given my ramblings above, am I suited for a museum post or would I be better suited in academia with research and teaching?

I would say academia. Like I said above, most American history museums tend to focus on US history (there are exceptions of course). If you want to go abroad you might have more luck in an area you are interested in. Do you want to work in a museum or do you want to just focus on your interests and see museums as a means to an end?

Since you are more unsure, history may be better for you to leave you more options.

See if you can sit in on a Museum Studies Course at a local university (for some reason these keep popping up despite the job market being terrible and not near enough spots for those that have the training) or read an intro book - 100 years of Museums and Museum in Motion were both on my assigned list when I started. Remember your career doesn't have to fit all of your interests. If you looked at all my research interests I would never fit anywhere, however I am picking one or two areas and planning on doing my thesis on that before settling down in a history museum's collections department where a generalist would be right at home.

A degree certainly does not put you on the same footing as someone without a degree + debt. Museums are looking for people with training and experience. The programs give you that. The market is flooded with people with training so museums can pick and choose from the cream, you want to be the most prepared you can be.

A MST degree is fairly limiting. I've heard it explained that MST isn't like other programs (history, anthro, etc) because it is a more professional degree than academic. You are being trained for a specific field - like how CompSci is, my husband- a programmer- would have a very hard time finding a job in another field because he was trained for a specific career, he can teach or he can program. Now that he has experience in programming he can also work in some business positions but that more has to do with his experience than his education.

Hope that helps. Reading over, it reads kind of depressing but a lot of that has to do with the job market. It's just flooded (you have much better career options in compsci, and much better pay checks.) If you really want to go into museums- go for it!

Edited by GreenePony
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  • 2 weeks later...

Slightly echoing what some people have already said, the first thing I would do if I were you is find an internship at a museum. It's not too late to look for a summer position, although most likely the deadlines have passed for all of the funded internships. Museums are complex institutions and need all kinds of skills, including people with computer science backgrounds. Even if you don't want to use your degree in the long term, you can leverage it now to help get yourself a good internship.

If you're asked to interview, express your interest in learning more about the inner workings of a museum, and ask (unless it's clearly posted on the website) what kind of opportunities there are to interact with people in different departments. Maybe it's a small museum, in which case that might happen automatically. Otherwise, a lot of more formal internship programs include a mini-lecutre series from people with different kinds of museum jobs. You might learn about a position that really excites you, and be able to set up an informational interview with someone who has your dream job to find out what career path they took, and if they were hiring you for an entry level posiiton, what they'd want to see on your resume.

Good luck! I've done my share of museum internships (at both large and small history & art museums) so if you'd like to ask any questions, feel free to PM.

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  • 4 months later...

From my point of view, the most important question you need to answer is what kind of position do you want to hold in a museum and then, what kind of museum do you want to work for? The kind of training that you need for a particular position can be DRASTICALLY different from that needed for others, and as I learned from hopping back and forth between history and art museums, the type of institution really matters too. For working in a history museum, a Masters in Public History or a Museum Studies degree are good ways to go for most types of position unless you really want to specialize in something like education or exhibit design. However, for art museums, I would suggest a Masters in Art History at a school which offers a concentration in Museum Studies or even a supplementary certificate program. If curation is your ultimate goal, the trend in art is that a Ph.D. is virtually required now, but almost no one in history musuems expects that level of degree. I would follow runaway's excellent advice and do as much volunteer work/internships as possible before comitting to further school. The number of unemployed museum MAs has not been overstated so it's very important that you have clear goals going into your studies and as much work experience relevant to the position you evetually want as possible. You might actually have very good luck getting a job or at least a temporary position in small museums looking to set up databases for the first time. Many people who run historical societies have NO computer skills and your CompSci background, if you want to go that direction, might be your ticket in the door.

Edited by Shelley Burian
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  • 7 months later...

If you just want to work in an art museum, in an administrative or support role, a museum studies degree might be useful.  But if you want to be a curator, your time and money is better spent on a Ph.D. in art or classics or whatever is your special area of interest.  For curatorial positions, academic work counts most, and experience (internships, fellowships, volunteer work, etc.) is also very helpful, but museum studies credentials don't make much difference one way or the other.  And the advantage of the Ph.D. is that you can go either academic or museum world--in fact, most people end up in one or the other largely on the basis where jobs are available.  But they are hard to get whichever way you go.  Choose a grad school where there is a museum (or two) with collections in the area where you want to specialize, and then introduce yourself to the curators, and grab any paid or unpaid internships on offer.  The advice to do volunteer work before starting school again is also very well supported--especially since you are changing fields, it will show commitment to your new interests.

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