This is an interview with Amanda Vtipilson who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She currently works as the Curator of Education at a history museum. Thank you, Amanda, for providing these insights into your graduate school experience.
Why did you choose Johns Hopkins University?
Johns Hopkins offered an online degree which worked with my schedule as I was working full-time. After much research and consideration, I decided on JHU because it was respected in the field and was a high-caliber school. I also contacted staff members who aligned with my studies – at the time archaeology – and I was impressed with them and interested in working with museums studies professors with backgrounds in archaeology. In addition, they did not require GREs or any other standardized test score.
You mention you were originally working in archaeology; what role did the program play in the change from that to education?
Switching from archaeology to education was more a matter of opportunity, although having just completed my degree certainly helped land me my current position. It was my hope to be able to incorporate museum education theory into my job in archaeology but opportunities and resources for educational outreach were limited and irregular. A job as curator of education opened directly across the street from my job at the archaeological curation facility and I jumped at it. I focused my courses at JHU on education and I knew I would enjoy a museum education job, even if it had nothing to do with archaeology.
What was your favorite class and/or professor and why?
Curatorship: Principles and Practices with Stephanie Brown
This course was by far my favorite because it covered a large amount of theory but in an accessible and practical way. The assignments were relatable to real world experiences and the professor was very engaged in discussion forums and provided excellent feedback on projects.
What particular skills were taught in the program?
The program contained a large amount of theory. It also focused on groupwork – learning to collaborate with classmates, who sometimes were on the other side of the world, was a beneficial skill to learn.
Did you complete a thesis or capstone project? If so, what was your topic?
JHU requires a two-week, on-site seminar preferably at the end of your program. There are both domestic and international options for this on-site portion. Themes are chosen for each seminar – mine was in Washington D.C. and the theme was “Making History: curating, presenting, and archiving the American story in the nation’s capital.” We focused on documenting President Barack Obama’s second inauguration and the use of technology/social media in doing so. Each seminar group is divided into working groups. My group worked with the National Museum of American History and developed a lesson plan incorporating objects on display at that time.
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.?
I had been working as the curator of an archaeological repository for about 3 years and was also out of my undergrad program for 3 years when I started at JHU. But most of my classmates were new to the field – either switching careers or just graduating from undergrad. It did put me at an advantage in terms of some coursework but it also made some of the courses seem very elementary.
Related, who would you recommend your program for?
I always recommend real world experience before enrolling in advanced degrees. So I would suggest this program for emerging museum professionals – those who have been in the field for a few years but would like to advance their careers and get some solid educational foundations under their belt.
Some respondents mentioned feeling that there wasn’t enough support concerning resume and job applications in the museum field. Would you agree with that sentiment?
I personally have not used the career services offered by JHU but I know some of my classmates have and seemed pretty satisfied with their experience. I would say the online network the JHU students have created is the most beneficial part of the program. If I do have a resume or any other professional questions the Facebook group is the first place I go. We are all open and willing to help one another and that is truly invaluable.
Any other insider information you would like to provide about your program or university?
I was able to complete the program relatively quickly, even while working full time. I completed the entire program in 4 semesters but had to receive permission to take more than two classes a semester.
Any advice for those looking into graduate school and beginning a career in museums?
There is no need to jump in a Master’s degree directly out of undergrad. Experience in the workforce will help bolster your resume and verify whether or not you actually want to pursue a career in this field. When you are ready to pursue an advanced degree, do your research and find what fits your needs. Also, if you are currently employed inquire whether or not your employer can support your education financially – every little bit helps!