New York University is the subject of our Graduate Schools post today. Elizabeth Harris is a recent alum who studied at their Museum Studies program from 2010-2012, having graduated just this past May. She previously worked for three years in Development (individual giving and major gifts) at The Jewish Museum, and held internships at the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Guggenheim, and The University of Michigan Museum of Art. She also worked in VIP relations for FITZ & CO, an international communications firm specializing in the visual arts. Elizabeth recently moved to London and now looking for museum work that focuses on external relations, fundraising, and events. We wish her the best of luck!
Name of School: New York University Program in Museum Studies
Location: New York, NY, USA
Program Emphasis: A balance of theoretical and practical studies. Students can tailor classes to their own interests, with courses offered in exhibition design, conservation, fundraising, education, management, and much more.
Perhaps I put all my eggs in one basket as they say, but New York University’s Program in Museum Studies was the only program I applied to. At the time of my application I was living in Manhattan and working in The Jewish Museum’s Development office. I planned to stay in New York and sought a program that would give me more specialist museum knowledge and also introduce me to professionals in my network. Aligning myself with a prominent university in the city that future employers would recognize was a top priority. I briefly considered the arts administration programs at NYU and Columbia Teachers College, but since I planned to spend my whole career in museums, NYU’s Museum Studies curriculum was the best fit.
The program is completed in two years if studying full time. There are four required courses, four electives, an internship, and a fifty page Master’s thesis totaling 32 credits for graduation. Classes can be taken part time, which is generally recommended for students with full time jobs. Since the required courses and some electives were taught in the evenings I decided to work full time throughout my first year. This meant my schedule was 9-5 (with some evenings) at The Jewish Museum and three evenings a week in class, plus all coursework afterwards. In retrospect I consider this a positive experience which forced me to prioritize my work and juggle projects simultaneously, though I would not suggest this set up for most others. I was one of only a few students working full time, and I was rather sleep deprived and stressed that year!
Apart from the four required classes students can choose whether they want to focus on practical museum studies (like exhibition design or fundraising) or more theoretical museum studies (like political conflict in the museum). Around forty people enroll in the program each year and the class sizes varied. The four required courses (History and Theory, Collections and Exhibitions Management, Museum Management, and Research Seminar) were comprised of twenty to twenty five students. The elective courses were smaller, with ten to fifteen people. I found that the amount of one on one instructor time did not vary with the fluctuation of class size; if a student sought extra help or counseling, they received it. Moreover, since classes are two to three hours per session there is plenty of time for instructors to get to know students and vice versa.
Forty students is a somewhat large number for a graduate program but I never felt neglected by the faculty. However it is easy to float around NYU feeling anonymous given the size of the school and its location in downtown Manhattan. To combat that feeling, the Museum Studies Student Association works hard to form a distinct community within the University. They help incoming students to transition, host networking events, organize TMS and Raiser’s Edge training sessions (which are not taught in any formal classes), and are a general support network during high stress times like finals.
A criticism of the program that I hear often from my peers is that it is billed as a general museum studies curriculum and that it is misleadingly touted as appealing to history, natural science, and art museum professionals. Actually, the professors’ backgrounds (history, anthropology, history of art, archaeology, and conservation) reflect this interdisciplinary approach. However in practice the program is a bit biased toward art museums in terms of the course curriculum and readings assigned. One professor said that this is a reflection of the current state of museum study literatures. Bruce Altschuler, the program’s Director, is an art historian and former director of the Noguchi Museum; perhaps his background in combination with the literature and state of the field has had an impact on the overall direction of the program. While this bias exists it is certainly still possible to go in a non-art direction with this program; it just takes a bit more initiative. Students are given a lot of free reign in terms of choosing paper and thesis topics and are encouraged to follow their own interests.
Another criticism is the required internship component. I believe this credit requirement should be eliminated: paying tuition to NYU to complete an unpaid internship that the University does not help to secure apart from resume building is not helpful to students. However, it is clearly stated as part of the program requirements upon application, and of course internship experience is necessary for securing a job upon graduation. The faculty suggests that the 300 hour internship be completed over the summer between the first and second year. Since I wanted to stay at The Jewish Museum for as long as possible, I decided to wait to do my internship (at the Brooklyn Historical Society) until the second year, interning four days a week and taking classes simultaneously. This worked out well for me me and I would suggest it for students in a similar situation.
I had a fantastic experience in the NYU Program in Museum Studies but I think only certain types get as much out of it as I did. First, those interested should have a general idea of what they want to do with their careers. There are many options presented to students and these can be overwhelming without a long term plan: practical versus theoretical studies, a range of internships and part time jobs in countless museums in NYC, and many opportunities to meet all sorts of people in the field. Second, I think it is best to attend this school if you plan to stay in NYC after graduation. Many of the professors in the program are working professionals, and classes visit museums and engage with even more working people. These contacts, and the NYU name, do not necessarily translate outside of New York, an issue I am grappling with myself as I try to find a museum position in London. Finally, I think the program is best suited for those flexible enough in their interests to pursue both practical and theoretical work. They will both be required at some point (since there are four required classes) and I noticed that many of my peers would lose interests if a required class focused too much on budgeting rather than Foucault…or the other way around. I believe that this balance of practicality and the theoretical is important for training successful museum professionals and is one of the greatest strengths of the program.