Taylor will graduate with an M.A. in History and a concentration in Museum Studies in May 2017. Currently, she works as a Graduate Research Assistant for Public Programs. Thank you, Taylor, for providing this look into your graduate school experience!
Why did you choose the University of Missouri-St. Louis?
I chose UMSL for two reasons, one of which has changed somewhat for incoming students. It was tuition-free when I started, but even though that’s gone, there is still a stipend, which is incredibly valuable. However, the second reason I chose it is because it provided me with a guaranteed Graduate Research Assistantship in a museum field that I was interested in. I have worked for two years in the Public Programs Office at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and have had an invaluable learning experience. Other grad school programs offered neither a stipend nor any sort of guarantee for an internship/grad position.
What was your favorite class and/or professor and why?
I really appreciated that I was able to set up internships in the local community as part of my classroom experience. It was self-directed and a really great supplement to my classes.
Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about those internships? Were these internships on top of your graduate assistantship?
Part of my focus is on adult programming, and I love history. So I contacted a professor I had taken a class with who worked in the Community Outreach and Public Programs department at the Missouri History Museum and asked if there was any interest in having me as an intern for a semester. They hired me and I worked in their office for a semester, and I did that internship in lieu of a class. So, if you’re interested in interning somewhere, the director of the program is happy to help you brainstorm places/people to contact, but ultimately it’s up to the student to take on the initiative in terms of independent internships.
What particular skills were taught in the program?
This program focuses on the marriage between the practical nature and theoretical underpinnings of museum work. I got real-world experience in setting up digital platforms for public history engagement, produced programs for various institutions in classroom projects, and also wrote a number of papers about the history of museums and museology.
Did you complete a thesis or capstone project? If so, what was your topic?
I am in the process of completing my written thesis, which concerns the ways in which new museology reinforces racial oppression in museum rhetorical responses to controversy. In particular, I am focusing on the Kelley Walker exhibition which was shown at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2016. The exhibition and some comments from the artist sparked boycotts by many in the community who believed the artwork was racially insensitive. The museum & artist gallery response reveals deep-seated oppressive structures in institutions that claim to celebrate diversity, and in the museum sector as a whole.
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.?
Many of my classmates were directly out of undergrad or returning after a short break (I took a year off). There are several students who are mid-career in other fields who are interested in transitioning into museum careers.
Related, who would you recommend your program for? Any particular focus or for those interested in theory vs. application?
I would recommend anyone to this program who is interested in living in a town which has a plethora of museums that can be places of learning and/or possible internship or job opportunities. This is not a competition-driven program, but one in which students have quite a bit of freedom both in class choice and in the level of engagement with the opportunities UMSL and St. Louis has to offer. This is a program for students who love museums, who want to work in the field while they are getting their degree, and who can be self-starters.
Was housing provided for grad students or did you find your own housing and was it a challenge?
I found my own apartment in the city, which is what students should focus on doing; it was relatively easy and the cost of living is great on a grad-student budget. UMSL is primarily a commuter school.
Did you or any of your peers work while pursuing their degree?
Many of us worked part-time jobs in conjunction with our Assistantships. For example, I babysit part time, and some other students work in the food service industry. However, I have other friends who did not work.
Any other insider information you would like to provide about your program or university?
This program can be tailored to your interests. It is technically housed in the History department but can be directed in any number of ways, including art history, art education, museum studies, history, or public history.
Any advice for those looking into graduate school and beginning a career in museums?
Be a “yes” person and seek out all of the opportunities that give you the option to get in and get your hands dirty. Make connections wherever you can–cold emailing someone whose work you admire is a great way to meet someone who might influence your career path!
Thank you again to Taylor for these responses! If you’re interested in learning more about this program, check out the blog post and the program’s website. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any feedback.