Last week at the NEMA meeting, Amanda Gustin of the Vermont Historical Society facilitated a lively conversation between Cynthia Robinson, the director of the Tufts Museum Studies Program; me; and a jam-packed room of participants, on the Graduate School Conundrum. Go or don't go? What kind of program? How do I choose? We covered lots of ground in the conversation and Amanda will be sharing the results of her informal online survey on her own blog, but I wanted to share, as many people are beginning the work on graduate school applications, the talk about a buyers' guide for museum studies programs. It's very exciting that the public history world is embarked on such a project, but there's definitely a need for a specifically museum-focused one as well. What would it include?
Here's the list, in no particular order, of the topics the session participants would love to see in a consumer guide to choosing a graduate program:
- Placement rate: in museums, in full-time jobs, in other positions. One year out, five years out and overall. Kinds of placements: in what type of museums, in what type of positions.
- Course requirements and content
- What's the work load?
- What skills are really taught? When was the last time the program analyzed the skills needed?
- Cost and its unfriendly associate, average amount of debt upon graduating.
- Financial aid available
- Certificate or degree; online or in person or a combination
- Evidence of faculty involvement in current museum work; ability to take courses from a range of faculty members
- What kind of networking is available? How do current and former students make use of it?
- Diversity and gender equity among faculty and students
- Internships: where, how often, paid or unpaid?
- What are the application criteria (i.e. should you have worked in a museum before applying?) What kinds of career counseling is offered for incoming students, including those transitioning from other careers?
We ended up this part of the discussion talking about whose job it is to undertake such a buyers' guide. Is it the graduate programs themselves--is there one willing to take the lead, set standards and metrics? Is it the American Alliance of Museums? Their newly released salary survey talks about conditions in the field--wouldn't it be useful to know more before you entered graduate school? Who will step forward--and even more importantly, the field changes when we ask it to. When will we start really pushing for this?
But don't forget my two big questions. The first came before the session, over lunch with Sarah Sutton, who asked,
Why is it, for a field that is all about free-choice and independent learning, that we have made graduate degrees a prerequisite for entry into the field?
and the second came from the session conversation,
If graduate schools are highly valued for the networks, and graduate schools, like the museum field, continue to lack diversity; doesn't using those only those networks to connect with and hire, ensure that our field continues to lack diversity? In other words, same old, same old.
Readers, what say you? Would a buyers guide be useful? What should be in it? And what other big questions do you have?