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PhD for museum jobs


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Hi everyone, 

Apologies if many topics like this already exist, but I'd appreciate any outside input. In spite of my username, I actually finished my Master's a few years ago. Now I'm exploring the idea of a PhD.  

A bit of background about me: I received my Master's a couple of years ago and have been working as the curatorial assistant for a medium-sized museum for the last 2 years. This is my first experience working at a museum and I enjoy what I'm currently doing. I've had the opportunity to work closely on several exhibitions and to even publish a few short essays. 

I am wondering though about my career progression at this stage without a PhD. I know that PhDs are often preferred for assistant/associate curator jobs, particularly if they're at larger museum. But would having experience (say, 5 years or more) be enough to trump that? Or am I going to continually hit this roadblock as I try to move up the ladder? 

If I went ahead and applied it would be to programs with a material culture/museum studies bent--for example, Bard (where I got my MA) and the IFA (which allows its PhDs to also get a curatorial studies certificate along the way). I have zero interest in teaching or working in academia. 

I know that PhDs are not something to be taken lightly, so advice regarding their value in this context would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!




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If you want to be a curator these days, you have to get a PhD. While in the program, you should intern, or continue to work as a curatorial assistant, and try to get fellowships in museums. You might get a curatorial job while you're ABD (though you'd probably have to finish before you were promoted to Associate Curator), but your chances of moving up are vanishingly small without getting a PhD. I would encourage you to talk to your supervisors at your museum for advice. 

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It really depends on where you apply for jobs. Having a PhD will never hurt, but may not be necessary if you consider smaller museums as well. I have a friend who is currently the director of a small local museum, and she pretty much fell into that job straight out of undergrad. I'm currently solo curating an exhibit (opening April 1!) for a small state museum. Only a couple of our curators have PhDs, and not in art history/anthro/museum studies. That said, people tend to stay in museum jobs until they die, so positions are hard to come by and there is a lot of competition when they do. Your best bet is a combination of experience, education, and connections. I second talking to your supervisors and see what they think.

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