Although some curator jobs require only a bachelor’s degree, many employers require curators to have related work experience or a master’s degree. Museum technicians must have a bachelor’s degree; conservators generally need a master’s degree.
Curators. Most museums require curators to have a master’s degree in an appropriate discipline of the museum’s specialty—art, history, or archaeology—or in museum studies. Some employers prefer that curators have a doctoral degree, particularly for positions in natural history or science museums. Earning two graduate degrees—in museum studies (museology) and a specialized subject—may give candidates an advantage in a competitive job market.
In small museums, curator positions may be available to people with a bachelor’s degree. Because curators, particularly those in small museums, may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fundraising are recommended. For some positions, applicants need to have completed an internship of full-time museum work, as well as courses in museum practices.
Museum technicians (registrars). Registrars usually need a bachelor’s degree related to the museum’s specialty, training in museum studies, or previous experience working in museums, particularly in designing exhibits. Relatively few schools grant a bachelor’s degree in museum studies; more common are undergraduate minors or tracks of study that are part of an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as art history, history, or archaeology.
Students interested in further study might get a master’s degree in museum studies, offered in colleges and universities throughout the country. However, many employers feel that, although a degree in museum studies is helpful, a thorough knowledge of the museum’s specialty and museum work experience are more important.
Conservators. When hiring conservators, employers look for a master’s degree in conservation or in a closely related field, together with substantial experience. Only a few graduate programs in museum conservation techniques are offered in the United States. Competition for entry to these programs is keen. To qualify, a student must have a background in chemistry, archaeology, studio art, and art history, as well as work experience. For some programs, knowledge of a foreign language also is helpful. Completing a conservation apprenticeship or internship as an undergraduate can enhance admission prospects. Graduate programs last 2 to 4 years, the latter years of which include internship training.
In large museums, curators may advance through several levels of responsibility, eventually becoming museum directors. Curators often start in smaller local and regional establishments at the beginning of their careers. As they gain experience, they may get the opportunity to work in larger facilities. The top museum positions are highly sought after and competitive. Individual research and publications are important for advancement in larger institutions.
Analytical skills. Curators, registrars, and conservators need excellent analytical skills to figure out the origin, history, and importance of many of the objects they work with.
Critical-thinking skills. Many artifacts need to be restored, maintained, and then classified. Curators must be able to determine the origins and authenticity of the objects that they are adding to their collections.
Customer-service skills. Curators who work at museums, zoos, and historical sites often work directly with the general public. Therefore, they must be able to describe, in detail, the collections to nontechnical visitors.
Organizational skills. Museums have many collections. Curators need to display these collections logically.
Stamina. Curators in zoos, botanical gardens, and other outdoor museums and historic sites often walk great distances.
Technical skills. Many historical objects need to be analyzed and preserved. Conservators must use the appropriate chemicals and techniques to preserve the different objects they deal with, such as documents, paintings, fabrics, and pottery, to prevent further deterioration.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition