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Between Undergrad and Grad School


elana
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So I know it's slightly early to be worrying about this, as I have only just finished my junior year of college, but I am wondering what I should be doing after graduation. I am currently an Art History major at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and my ultimate goal is to get some kind of museum job (hopefully curating or publishing). I am planning on going to graduate school to get at least an M.A. in Art History or something of the like, but I think I want to take a year off first to get some more experience in the field. I have already had one summer museum internship (as a Curatorial Intern at the North Carolina Museum of Art), am currently interning at a gallery in New York City, and will most likely have another museum internship during one semester of my senior year.

 

My dilemma is whether I should intern again or start really working post-graduation. I understand that it is very difficult to find entry-level museum jos, so if I chose the second option I would probably work as a Gallery Assistant. But which option looks better to graduate programs/will be more likely to help me with my career? Any help would be appreciated!!!

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Elana,

 

It looks like you have already started to build an interesting CV, which it will certainly make you very competitive when looking for museum/art gallery positions and/or applying to graduate programs. Besides it does not hurt that your program is well regarded in our field also. 

 

First of all, I believe a MA (especially the ones with a museum studies component embedded in it) is absolutely necessary in order to further your career in the field, since PhDs tend to be more important for those seeking a career in academia -- but I bet you already knew that.  Of course, I know that there are plenty of museum curators out there with PhD degrees.

 

Regarding museum vs. art gallery... Museum experience is "usually" better regarded, thus I think you should definitely look for a paid (employee type) position in one, since you already have internships under your belt.   Art gallery work will also help with your application to grad schools, especially if you get to work in a "major" gallery. If that is the case, it may end up actually counting more in your CV than working for "some" museums.  Of course, this depends also on what kind of work you would end up doing for each.

 

Assuming that you are graduating from college at a young age (though it may not be the case - as it wasn't for me), I think that taking a little break from school in order to gain more museum work experience will be tremendously beneficial as long as you don't fall on the trap of "starting to make a living" and find it hard later to return to school.

 

Anyway... keep up with your great work and focus. It is never too early to start planning your life and career.

Edited by brazilianbuddy
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Hmmm...these days you pretty much need a PhD to be a museum curator. There's just too much competition from people with PhD's for it to be any other way. But if you're unsure about what you want to do, or feel like you need more experience, then it makes sense to get an stand-alone MA first rather than jumping straight in to an MA/PhD program.

As for what to do during your time off, how's your language ability? If you want to study non-American/British art, try to find work or an internship in the country/region you want to study. Language prep is so important for upper-level work in art history.

Edited by condivi
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Especially those advertised by university museums or major museums, keep an eye out for one year or two year, paid fellowships/internships -- these would be a great bridge into entry level/mid-career museum work. Also, seek out auction houses... the jobs with answering the phones/cataloguing/handling artifacts is how you get a foot in the door.

 

As I work currently in the museum field, I can tell you we don't discuss art in terms of value; galleries are so different than museums, with the financial values accompanying the work. (I've worked in a fine art gallery, too.) Although, if you get experience in galleries, it will probably be transferrable to museums.

 

I'd second thinking about language(s). Top museums definitely seek language ability for curatorial positions.

 

As I'm in the museum field, I could go into specifics about museum experience/getting jobs in the field -- so feel free to PM me. 

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I would not wish the application process and the emotional toll of applying to grad school on my worst enemy. Prepare ye, the 2014-2015 application season is nye!

 

Just the thought of applying makes me curl up and die a little bit on the inside. I don't think that my PTSD will allow me to advise prospective students yet. 

 

Being on the other side of this is the best thing ever.

Edited by Mary Queen of Scotch
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I would not wish the application process and the emotional toll of applying to grad school on my worst enemy. Prepare ye, the 2014-2015 application season is nye!

 

Just the thought of applying makes me curl up and die a little bit on the inside. I don't think that my PTSD will allow me to advise prospective students yet. 

 

Being on the other side of this is the best thing ever.

Applying is the easy part! Wait till you start grad school!

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Personally, I took the gap year and worked to build my CV more. I had two internships during undergrad, both at museums, but I mostly took the gap year to know that I wanted to go into grad school for Art History. I was also able to build my CV up a lot more by writing reviews, working at one of the museums I interned, starting up an artist co-op and organizing pop-up or "art in the unlikely" shows, chairing and lecturing at a conference in October, and refining the direction that I wanted to take my arts blog (focusing on artists in developing countries). Needless to say, I think the gap year paid off so much more than if I had just applied straight out to graduate programs. As a side-note, though, I also felt forced to work on my CV due to my lacking GPA in undergrad (a horrendous first two years is all I will say). 

 

So, I would highly encourage the gap year just to build your CV up even more against competition, know that you for sure want to continue on your set path, and really just learn more about the entire process. You're much smarter than me for looking into this your junior year, though, so you will probably be well-prepared to take on grad school. 

 

I also agree that museum work would be much more favorable than gallery work, although the status and pedigree of where you work could make a difference as well (as someone noted above). 

 

Also, as I'm sure you know, get a language or two under your belt. And know it well. That's really the only thing that would be easier in undergrad than the gap year. 

If you're leaning to the gap year, definitely do it, it will only abet you in your path to doing and being the best at what you want. 

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