This post was updated on July 30, 2017, to incorporate the response from the director of the program, Peter Welsh.
This is the review of the Master’s Museum Studies program at the University of Kansas (KU). To begin, here are some facts about the program:
- In addition to the Master’s degree, the department also offers a graduate certificate available to those in pursuing a graduate program in another area of study or those outside of the university.
- The program is 36 credits with only fall admittance. Applications are due January 1st.
- To graduate, students must complete a final project which is incorporated into their final comprehensive exam taken during their last semester.
So far, 13 alumni have submitted responses about the Museum Studies program at KU. Twelve of these alumni graduated between less than a year ago up to five years ago and one graduated over 16 years ago.
They found the following advantages to the program:
- Allowed many traditional disciplines to study museums together
- Most museum-based classes were taught by professionals in the field who were enthusiastic about their courses and invested in their students
- Customizable program with courses that allow you to learn the different positions in the museum field and establish a field of focus within the museum field
- Museum Students Organization (MSO) goes on several trips throughout the year to various museums and cultural institutions, meeting with industry professionals, and also occasionally offers opportunities for students to volunteer together at local museums.
- Dr. Welsh (Department chair) is a great mentor who really believes in his students and pushes them in positive ways
- Small cohort size (about 10 each year)
- Great museum-related opportunities nearby (on-campus, in Lawrence, and in surrounding areas like Kansas City)
- Hands on learning experiences plus, the program requires students to complete an internship
- Independent department that still collaborated with other academic departments
- Core courses draw on theory external to the museum and strengths overall knowledge base
- As a non-thesis program, you have more flexibility with your final product and can focus on what you’re really interested in
- Close cohort experiences, a reliable network
- Affordable (about $408/credit for Kansas residents, $950/credit for nonresidents for the 2017-18 year)
- Excellent job placement
The respondents found the following disadvantages to the program:
- Coursework requirements were fairly rigid and not all directly useful
- Not a lot of funding resources
- It is what you make it. You can make it really special and worthwhile, or float by and do the bare minimum and not get as much out of it.
- Program depends largely on Lecturers, which can make putting your master’s committee together while meeting university requirements difficult
- More interdisciplinary coursework could be included in the program
- KU struggles to integrate grad students well but has initiatives in place for 2017-2018 to improve
- Small program with only a few core professors and limited selection of practical museum-related courses so students have to look outside the department
- Very small class sizes, resulting in fewer people to share ideas with and less diversity
- Internships are difficult to find
Based on these points, the program was rated 7.77/10.00.
Eight of the thirteen respondents do live near KU.
These respondents are well spread out inside and outside the museum field with two respondents working in libraries, two in historical societies, two in natural history museums, and two outside of the museum field. One respondent works in a specialty museum, one at a history museum, one at an art museum, one at a cultural center and one at a university.
When answering the question, “Which best describes the aspect of work you do in museums currently?” six respondents included education, five included collections management, and curatorial duties, four included archival/library duties, three included exhibitions and administration, and two included conservation and visitor services/membership.
Some current job titles of these respondents are:
- Associate Professor
- Assistant to the Director
- Curator and Education Coordinator
- Library Assistant
- Park Historian
Some dream jobs are:
- Director of Public Programs
- Library Director
- Collections Manager
Based on these responses and my own brief tour around the program website, this museum studies program looks like a pretty solid generalist program. The courses look to lean toward application and with the theory noted as an advantage, KU’s program sounds like it excels in balancing both. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr.Welsh in passing at the AAMG conference in Eugene and he left the impression of genuinely caring about his students and the program as a whole. Plus, the Museum Student Organization looks like an excellent resource (to find people who will also nerd out about museums in their spare time-yes please!).
I will be looking for more information on some of the points listed above such as exact stats on job placement, funding, the average amount of museum courses offered per semester.
Update: I received a response from Peter Welsh, Director of the Museum Studies program at KU. Concerning job placement, “Of the 40 graduates between 2012 and 2016, 33 are working in museums, libraries, or other cultural organizations (that includes a few who have continued on for further graduate work) – that’s over 80%. If we go back a few more years – to graduates since 2010, the placement rate is more like 90%.”
Of the 10-ish students enrolled every year only two or three students receive assistantships that include tuition coverage and a stipend. The majority of other students find paid work through internships, student work on campus or in cultural institutions in the area. Dr. Welsh adds, “Our university, like so many others, reserves most assistance for PhD students – M.A. programs don’t have the same resources. The one thing we have going for us is that KU is a relative bargain. Each year we compare the cost of a KU degree to other programs, and we are considerably more affordable than most, especially when cost of living is figured in.”
Four to six museum studies courses are offered each semester. However, it’s a bit more complicated. Dr. Welsh explains that the program is, “built around flexibility to match student interests and skills, so we encourage students to take courses in lots of different departments. In the past 5 years, students have taken courses in 25 different programs and departments outside of Museum Studies, taking over 80 different courses. These range from Public Administration to Philosophy. Students are encouraged to inform the instructor of their interests in museum studies, and to shape their individual course projects in that direction – most have found that instructors are very supportive and enjoy having our students bring their perspective to the course.”
This museum program does not consider itself a generalist program. “We do encourage students to develop a program of study that concentrates on one of the main professional areas of museum work – Leadership, Collections, Interpretation, or Education. That is not terribly strict, however, and students often take courses in several areas. Our main concern is to match students’ studies to the kinds of skills/knowledge-sets that museums identify in job announcements. That said, students are also expected to take courses that correspond to what we call the conceptual domains of museums – Materiality, Representation, and Engagement. These are concerns that permeate every function of museums and affect every area. In addition, everyone here is very conscious of significant and exciting changes on the horizon for museums – from advocacy and accessibility to technology and virtual reality – and we try to give students confidence, as well as the ability, to respond to these changes with curiosity, creativity, and enthusiasm.”
As far as internship opportunities go, “We have lots of opportunities right on our doorstep that students can take advantage of, including Kansas City and Topeka, as well as Lawrence. We would like to see more students apply for internships further afield, though. We encourage that and have had students interning at the Smithsonian, the Gerald Ford Library, and Beijing, among others.
Our internship requirement is for 250 “contact hours” minimum, but students often exceed that. We have an additional requirement that students complete 500 hours of “museum experience” while at KU (i.e., 250 hours beyond the internship minimum). Some students meet that requirement by extending their internship, but others meet it by working in a museum, volunteering, or by taking part in special projects. Several of our students have met the requirement by serving on committees of professional organizations, and one student even served on the board of a local museum. Our primary interest is to ensure that students remain actively engaged with museums while they are here.”
Dr. Welsh added that although a thesis is not a requirement to complete the program, “Research is a key part of our program…We find that university requirements for a thesis are too restrictive and do not reflect the kinds of things students could do. We have had students create web-based data sets, curriculum guides, and exhibition plans in addition to more conventional written documents. We describe the expectation to be a “contribution to the field,” and when written to be equated with a ‘publishable paper.'”
Overall, sounds like this program is a solid generalist program that will prepare students for their next step, whether or not it is still in the museum field. Due to the in-state tuition, this program would probably best work for those already living in Kansas. However, Dr.Welsh stated that the majority of the program’s applicants and admitted students come from outside Kansas. If you would like more information, check out their website.