Interview with Hillary Hanel for the University of Leicester

Below is the first interview for the University of Leicester off-campus Museum Studies degree. A huge thank you to Hillary for providing these answers. She graduates soon; she submitted her masters dissertation a few weeks ago. Congratulations Hillary!


Why did you choose the University of Leicester?

I did some research on a variety of schools that I could attend both in person and online/distance learning. I liked the great reputation of Leicester, and that I could continue working full time while earning my degree. The opportunity to attend summer school on campus was an attractive feature, too, since I have always wanted to travel to the UK.


What was your favorite class and/or professor and why?

The distance learning program doesn’t have specific classes – it is broken up in to 4 modules and a dissertation. I really loved the modules in which the focus was education and exhibit design. As a high school teacher and museum educator, I loved thinking more deeply about museum education and reading about many great theories and techniques. The exhibit design project was a lot of fun. It really got me thinking about how much goes into developing a new exhibit.


For those in the States, do modules break down more into different chapters or is it more like one intensive course?

The four modules are on different topics or themes. When each module begins, Leicester ships a big box of books which contains the module guide and all textbooks and sometimes a few other materials. It was great the the textbooks were included in tuition and were automatically sent to me. The module guide is broken down by chapter and tells you what to read and what types of activities to complete. It is very helpful in that it suggests how long you should spend on each task so that you can plan your study time.


What particular skills were taught in the program?

The Museum Studies MA covers a broad spectrum of skills. Much of the work was theory based, but there were also “hands-on” activities even though it was distance learning. There was a mini lab on collections management and conservation in which we could see how the environmental conditions of our homes affect objects. Other skills included marketing, working with the community, education, and exhibit design.


Did you complete a thesis or capstone project? If so, what was your topic?

I completed a masters dissertation of about 12,000 words. There was a 6 month dissertation term in which I researched my topic, conducted surveys and interviews, and wrote my paper. My topic was about museum education, specifically how museums should respond to the Common Core State Standards. It was really interesting to analyze the survey data from museums around the country and my research was very relevant to my career.


Where were you and your classmates in your career? Just out of undergrad, or coming from an entry-level museum position, or coming from outside of the field, etc.?

Because of the Distance Learning factor, I only “met” a few classmates on the discussion boards online. When I attended summer school near the end of my studies, I met some classmates in person and we were all at different places in our careers – the program is really for any level. I started grad school 9 months after I finished undergrad. I had spent over 4 years working at a children’s museum, with the last year being in the role of education director. I had worked in several other museums for internships, part-time jobs, and volunteer positions. When I started grad school, I had just moved and started two new jobs that week, so it was a big transition.


Related, who would you recommend your program for?

I would recommend this program for anyone who wants to start or further their museum career. It works especially well for people who need to continue working full-time because the program is very flexible.


Was housing provided for grad students or did you find your own housing and was it a challenge?

As a distance learner, I continued living in my own house and was excited when each new module’s big box of books showed up on my doorstep!


Any other insider information you would like to provide about your program or university?

If you attend University of Leicester as a distance learner, I highly recommend taking advantage of the summer school. It was great to be on campus and meet classmates and professors in person. I wish that I had gone earlier in my program, instead of within a couple of months of finishing my dissertation, because it was so helpful.


Any advice for those looking into graduate school and beginning a career in museums?

Gain as much relevant experience as possible. Of course, extra education such as a graduate degree is helpful to start a museum career, but I believe experience helps even more.

Thank you again for an inside look at this program! If there are additional questions you would like answered about the University of Leicester Museum Studies program or other graduate programs in the future, let me know. If you would like more information on this program, head over to the blog post or the program’s website.


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