I talk to many students interested in museum work. They ask about what training they should get for this. My story is pretty straight now. For better or worse, an MA seems to be necessary to get ahead in the museum world. Whether it’s an MA in museum studies, a related field like public history or public humanities or curatorial studies, or a straight MA in history or art history; that depends on interests and goals. But a masters is now entry-level, or necessary to get beyond entry-level.
But some of the students ask about a Ph.D. Will getting a Ph.D. help them get a job in a museum? Would it help them get promoted? Will it help them to do better museum work?
My instinct is that the answer to all of these questions is no. Moreover, I think that in many cases, a Ph.D. is not only not useful, but actually teaches the wrong things for museum work. More on that later, and what should be done to fix that.
There are three parts to this essay. First, is a Ph.D. necessary to get a museum job? Next, is it useful – that is should you get one anyway, even if they’re not necessary? And finally, after I argue that it’s not – what could be done – either by an individual, or a department, to fix the degree to make it useful.