Our Graduate Schools post today comes from Lisa Huntsha, who graduated from Syracuse Univeristy in December of 2011. Lisa is the Archivist/Librarian at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center in Rock Island, Illinois. This past summer summer, she interned in the education department at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. She spent the summer of 2011 interning at the Sitka Historical Society in Sitka, Alaska where she discovered that she loves wearing many hats (and rain boots), splitting her time among collections, exhibitions, and outreach tasks. Her bachelor’s degree is in Scandinavian Studies, so working at with a Swedish collection is an ideal position for her.
Name of School: Syracuse University
Location: Syracuse, New York
Degree: Master of Arts in Museum Studies
Program Emphasis: Interdisciplinary and varied. Students pick elective courses to tailor degree to their interests and career goals.
When I started my search for a graduate program, I looked at schools that I had heard of for one reason: academic reputation. I knew that while a graduate degree may not be the most financially responsible thing to pursue these days (yep, I’m bringing that up right away), I wanted to make sure I would get a good return on my investment. I wanted to attend a school that has great resources, a distinguished faculty, a vast alumni network, and is well respected in the field. Syracuse also has the benefit of having one of the top library science programs in the country. I mention this because the interdisciplinary nature of the museum studies degree allows students the opportunity to take library courses and collaborate with these colleagues. And, when it comes to landing a job, interdisciplinary study can only make you more desirable.
Located in Syracuse, New York, the aptly named Syracuse University is a huge school with about 20,000 students (undergraduate and graduate), D1 sports, and a rich history. I say “huge” as someone who attended an undergrad with only a little over 2,000 students. However, while the campus is large, the museum studies program hosts about 20 new students each year, allowing for a considerably more intimate experience. Additionally, many of the museum studies classes are held at a satellite building in downtown Syracuse called the “warehouse” (which is, in fact, an old warehouse) located in the trendy Armory Square that has many restaurants, galleries, and nightlife activities. This may cause students to feel disconnected from the general campus, but I think it aids in immersing students in the cultural venues they will be visiting, volunteering in, or potentially working for in the future.
The program itself has a series of required core courses followed by elective options to tailor your degree to suit your needs and aspirations. I think this is particularly beneficial for someone who is not quite sure which aspect of the museum field they want to pursue. For example, I was initially torn between collections management, exhibition design, and education. Providing elective options allows students to explore all these areas plus development, management, public history, library science, preservation, etc. Additionally, electives allow students to take courses from other programs of study at the university. I had colleagues who wanted to pursue museum education and chose to support their museum studies courses with additional courses from the education department at Syracuse. To me, this is one great benefit of attending a school that is academically strong in many departments.
Arguably the most constructive thing you can do while attending graduate school is to intern. Luckily, this is a requirement at Syracuse, with most students taking the summer between their first and second year to intern fulltime. The faculty at Syracuse have connections at many area organizations, but it is, of course, up to you to secure your own internship. Many students choose to leave the Syracuse area for their internship, seeking a new experience or those ever-elusive paid internships (which I highly recommend to offset the cost of paying tuition dollars for those credits).
Along with an intense internship experience, Maymester is one thing that really sets the Syracuse museum studies program apart. What is Maymester, you ask? It is the opportunity to take a weeklong intensive course entitled Museums and Contemporary Practice in either Washington DC or New York City. When I attended it was the year for New York City and we visited somewhere around 16 museums in 7 days. We met with countless professionals in the field, heard their stories of career path, experienced a variety of job responsibilities, received behind the scenes tours, and gleamed priceless advice from experts in the field. This experience was one of the most valuable (and culturally fantastic) opportunities of my graduate career (followed closely with attending Mid-Atlantic Association of Museum conferences, trips to various museums across the northeast, and being taught by faculty who are currently practicing in field).
In terms of grading, students can expect more papers than tests, including the final program thesis, along with final cumulative projects for many courses. While currently there is no student museum studies association (a great opportunity for someone to start one!), the classes of students are so tight knit it almost seems like there is one. Along this same line, this program requires a lot of group work, so get ready to develop those interpersonal skills. One of the best, and most challenging, group project is for the advanced curatorship class where students design and curate their own exhibition at the SUArt Galleries.
The program is doable for those who desire (or need) to work while going to school and there are some opportunities for work-study through the museum studies department and partnerships with other departments (such as art history). Personally, I worked during my entire graduate school experience while attending classes fulltime, and one semester I worked two part time jobs. Be aware, however, that the practicum courses, which require hands-on participation at local galleries and cultural centers, require many hours outside of class time. I encourage you to find a realistic balance that will work for your budget and career goals. I will also say that, like with any graduate program, you will only get out of it what you put in. Sure you can attend classes, participate and do well academically, but that provides no guarantee for a job once school is over. Overall, I think this program is a good fit for enterprising students and those seeking hands-on, practical museum experience. As I’m sure you all have heard countless times, there is no easy path in this field, but finding a graduate program that fosters your interests will make it easier to approach your studies with the dedication that it takes to succeed in this field.
Best of luck, future museum studies graduate students!