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PhD for professionals?


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Hi, I'm looking for some feedback, please:

I graduated from a small, respectable liberal arts college with a major in art history and a 3.4 gpa back in 2009.  Since then I've been working in a mid-sized, highly regarded museum, in the Collections department.  I've worked on some spectacular projects there, but it's clear that I've hit a ceiling in terms of responsibility.  I'm now looking into PhD programs with the hopes of becoming a curator or collections manager (most likely).  My interests are broad, though I tend towards 20th century art.  One thing I'm bumping up against right now is that PhD programs seem incredibly competitive.  I'm not interested in being competitive (partly because I have some health issues that make it challenging for me), but I am still craving an intellectual atmosphere.  Are there any programs out there that offer comprehensive training in a smart but somewhat relaxed atmosphere?

Thank you!

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If your end goal is curator or collections manager, Instead of a PhD in Art History, what about a following a special collections track in library sciences (MLIS degree)? This would end end with more of a professional degree than an academic one, and would be less competitive to get into.



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There is really no such thing as a "relaxed" PhD program. Getting a PhD is by nature stressful. 

On the other hand though, as long as you go to a fully funded program with a nice advisor who does not pit her/his advisees against each other you shouldn't have to worry about things being competitive. 

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Are you more interested in being a Curator or a Collection Management professional? What makes you drawn to a PhD versus an MA? 

To me, Curator versus Collection Manager are drastically different jobs/skill sets and have very different training requirements. Museum curation often requires a PhD, though there are still Assistant Curator positions out there for those with MAs in large museums, and you might find full curator jobs requiring only an MA at some smaller institutions. Of course, outside the museum circuit you don't need a specific degree to do gallery/independent curating, though the MA/PhD could be helpful.

On the other hand, in my experience collection managers have MAs or even just BAs. Tho I'm sure they exist, I've never met anyone in Collection Management with a PhD. Though you say you've hit the ceiling at your particular institution, are you sure that has to do with your level of education? Could you find opportunities to advance in CM at another museum?  

I know this doesn't exactly answer your question, but I just wanted to pose these thoughts because based on your description of your career goals, I'm not sure that you need/should get a PhD. Of course, if you want a PhD for other reasons that is totally understandable, but I'd be wary of getting a PhD for career advancement unless you're fairly sure that you need it for your career, which doesn't sound like the case based on the info you provided. And given that you don't sound like you have a particular Art Historical focus, an MA sounds like a better match of degree for you at the moment. 

If you ARE set on the PhD being the right degree for you (e.g. you're sure you want to be a museum curator/teach at the university level/can't imagine yourself doing anything but research and teach for the next 7-10 years of your life) then I'm sure that there is large degree of variance between the levels of competition at different schools. It's a hard thing to quantify, though, so you may just have to visit some different programs and get a sense of what the vibe at each place is. And, of course, you will need to hone your research focus before applying/to begin to narrow down the kinds of places you would want to apply. 

Good luck! 

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