Museum Studies Update

March 2, 2011 Comments Off on Museum Studies Update

Many things have happened on the museum studies front since I last wrote about it. For starters, in January I applied to the Cooperstown Graduate Program, mostly on a whim, because it is apparently the Harvard of museum studies schools and their acceptance rate is pretty low. It was a pain. I took the GRE and everything. (And, by the by, got an 800 on the verbal part, which is a perfect score (99th percentile). Not that I’m bragging or anything.) I bugged people for letters of recommendation and I wrote a personal statement that pretty much kicked ass, even though personal statements are stupid. And last weekend I got a letter from them inviting me to Cooperstown, NY, for an interview. They accept approximately half the students who attend the interview weekend.

In the meantime, the wonderful woman at the UW Geology Museum set me up with a woman at the Field Museum in Chicago for a job-shadow at the end of January. Frankly, I don’t think much of some of their exhibits; the Ancient Americas exhibit in particular has too much stuff and winds around and around and around and god when will it end? But it’s a cool museum, and has seven libraries. It has several departments, each with its own curator, that does its own research, so it’s like a tiny university attached to a museum. And specimens galore! We went to see a woman preparing a bird skeleton that had been cleaned by flesh-eating beetles. (They asked if I wanted to see the tanks of beetles but I had visions of what a horror-movie director might do with tanks of flesh-eating beetles, and declined their offer.) Anna told me that they have millions of gallons of alcohol with specimens floating in it, which is such a fire hazard that they can’t be stored under the museum itself; instead, they have a special underground storage area off to one side, under the visitor parking lot, with blast shields in the ceiling. Blast shields! I thought those were only in Star Wars! I talked to two women in charge of traveling exhibits, the guy in charge of the videos/photos/interactive media/&c. for the exhibits, a content developer, and the registrar. It was tough because the only thing I could see myself doing was the content developer job, and the woman I talked to seemed sickly and put-upon, and didn’t get around to taking me on a tour of an exhibit, which I’d been looking forward to. The registrar, on the other hand, was awesome. Her name was Jenn, and she had waist-length dreads and multiple facial piercings, and swung down the halls with a stride I couldn’t begin to match. She had a degree in studio art (talk about useless…and I know useless), and had been hired because she could weld. She was responsible for setting up exhibits, taking down exhibits, crating them, sending them around the world, and moving everything into the museum. She advised me to get a job in a museum for a couple years before deciding if I really wanted/needed a degree in it, which was such good sense that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been thinking that all along. Of course, easy for her to say, oh, just get a museum job, and easy also for her to say you don’t need a museum studies degree because look at me, but on the other hand, she is proof that enthusiasm and quick learning (and maybe side talents or skills like welding) can be enough of an asset to be hired without certifications or qualifications. I liked her and decided to take her advice if I can.

I came away from Chicago feeling neither violent aversion nor zealous interest, which is actually a terrible result to get from a job-shadow. What’s the point if it doesn’t help you make up your mind? I definitely don’t want to work at a big museum like the Field; the jobs were too limited. But still, my reaction was mostly, “I could see myself doing this.” Unfortunately, that’s not a strong enough reaction to merit going to grad school for it. I have yet to look for museum jobs exclusively, but that was kind of the plan after Chicago.

As for Cooperstown, I think I’ll make a good faith effort to get in. If I don’t, oh well. If I do, I might see what their policy is on deferring admission. I definitely don’t want to go this coming school year, but it would be good to have the possibility open. In the meantime, I am flying to Cooperstown for Interview Weekend, March 17-20. Further reports to follow.

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