Your Job as a Museum Curator

One of the most well-known and prestigious museum jobs, a museum curator is responsible for the selection, storage and management of museum collections, assists in research and educating the public, and they can be found in all types of museums, from art museums to natural history museums.

Education

Most museum curators have at least an undergraduate degree, which can be in any field, from anthropology to zoology, as well as a graduate degree in the same subject, or a graduate degree in museum studies. Some curators have PhDs, which makes this a great career for a person with a doctorate who doesn't want to become a professor. Because competition for positions in museums is so fierce, a museum will never have to settle for a person with only an undergraduate degree, if they have demanded that an applicant possess a doctorate.

In regards to the undergraduate degree, it is more likely that an student with a degree in the sciences, such as biology, zoology or forestry, will find a job in a natural history museum, while a student with a degree in anthropology, history or East Asian or African studies will find a job in a museum with a history collection or a war or cultural history museum. Students with degrees in fine arts or art history will probably look for positions in art museums. It is possible for a person with an undergraduate degree in one field, such as the sciences, to complete a degree in museum studies and find work in an art museum, though having learned the basics of the field in an undergraduate program would be an asset.

There is currently no accreditation or licensure for museum curators, however, the preference is to hire applicants with graduate degrees.

Typical Day

Most museum curators will work Mondays through Fridays, nine to five, as full-time permanent employees. Some additional overtime may be scheduled prior to a large opening or other museum related event, such as a fundraiser.

A museum curator will spend their day researching or writing about the current collection in their museum, researching and finding additional pieces to be added to the collection. They answer questions about the authenticity and ownership of pieces in the collection. Curators will be involved in museum education projects, supplying information about items in the collection and the relevance of those pieces. They will be engaged in finding and negotiating for the use or loan of collections, especially travelling collections from other museums. They may also supply content to the museum's website or newsletter. They will also deal with public relations queries, such as creating excitement for a new collection or event at the museum or dealing with issues about a collection, such as a controversial piece or display.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide average salary for curators was twenty-two dollars an hour.

Getting Started and Advancement

If you are currently an undergraduate student or about to start college, you can find volunteer positions in museums, usually as a docent or guide. There are also paid positions working in customer service in the museum. These positions will help you find out if you like the museum environment, as well as get some experience working with collections and in museum education. You should also look for museum internships and summer employment, and get experience in different museums, such as one summer in an art museum and the school year working part-time in a local history museum. These experiences will be useful when you apply to your official museum internship while in or just after graduating from a museum studies program.

You may find a position right out of graduate school as a museum curator, or as a museum educator, and then work into the curator position. In large museums, they have head curators for separate areas, such as paleontology and botany, but in smaller museums, the curator may also be the museum manager or director.