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Work as a Museum Curator

As museum curators, archaeologists take on a great deal of responsibility that reaches far beyond the care of artifact collections. Curators are responsible for the overall administration of museums, or museum departments, which can prove to be an extremely complex, demanding, and ultimately satisfying undertaking.

Responsibilities

Museum curators generally work for museums, educational institutions, or historical sites. Generally speaking, their job is to collect, interpret, exhibit, and maintain artifact collections. More specifically, their duties often include:

  • Approving the sale, purchase, exchange and loan of collections
  • Creating exhibits
  • Writing and editing grant proposals
  • Conducting and overseeing research projects and educational programs
  • Meeting with trustees
  • Fundraising
  • Keeping track of inventories
  • Writing educational museum literature
  • Managing museum staff
  • Writing articles for academic journals

Education and Training Requirements

In the field of archaeology, smaller museums generally require curators to have at least a master's degree in anthropology, archaeology, history, or museum studies, while larger museums require a doctorate degree in one or more of these disciplines. Due to the often complex and multifaceted nature of the position, it is highly desirable for curators to acquire knowledge in a variety of different areas, including:

  • Administration and management
  • Public relations
  • Marketing
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Historic preservation

While pursuing their studies, individuals are strongly encouraged to obtain a museum internship in order to develop hands-on training in a professional atmosphere. Internships can generally be found through the anthropology or history department of a student's home institution, as well as through outside institutions, such as the Smithsonian Institution.

Successful curators are also expected to be familiar with computer applications in order to manage electronic databases and to conduct internet-based research. In addition, curators generally possess exceptional oral and written communication skills in order to effectively communicate with the public, museum staff, and museum boards.

Salary and Advancement Opportunities

Depending on experience, location, and the institution of employment, curators can expect to earn an average annual salary of approximately $35,000 to $95,000. While pursuing their formal education, many curators start out as volunteers, interns, and museum technicians. But even after individuals have completed their formal education, it is difficult to attain permanent status as a curator. Thus, many graduates work as assistant curators or research associates until their experience improves and an official curator position becomes available.

Almost all curators, or individuals working toward a curatorial position, must seek advancement through continuing education. Many join professional archaeological, historical, and museum organizations and attend relevant conferences, meetings, and workshops. Most curators, especially those from research institutions, advance in the field by conducting research and publishing articles in academic journals. And, of course, with advancement comes responsibility. In larger museums, curators might advance to the level of museum director, while curators in smaller museums might move on to larger institutions.

Job Outlook

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public interest in museums and museum attendance have remained relatively constant over the years. As a result, museums are generally financially stable and will continue to provide employment opportunities for museum staff.

Curatorial positions, however, have proven to be extremely attractive to individuals over the years and are extremely competitive. As a result, there are more qualified applicants on the market than there are jobs. Because of this, many candidates have had to work part-time or as museum technicians, assistant curators, or research associates.

Online Resources

American Association of Museums
Museum Employment Resource Center
Global Museum
MuseumProfessionals.org

For a broader look at museum careers beyond archaeology, check out JobMonkey's Museum Jobs page.

 

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