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A Conversation with Museum Studies Programs

October 25, 2016

By Paula Gangopadhyay
Deputy Director, Office of Museum Services

Participants of the 2016 convening of Museums Studies programs.
Participants of the 2016 convening of Museums Studies programs.

The Office of Museum Services recently held a convening with several Museum Studies programs to engage in a conversation with individual experts from this field.

The goal of the Oct. 17 convening was to learn what each institution is doing to develop and train the next generation of museum professionals, which museums they are actively working with, as well as what challenges and opportunities they are experiencing or foreseeing in the field. Since Museum Professional Development is one of the current special interests for the Office of Museum Services at IMLS, this dialogue was extremely timely and critical.

Participants in conversation
As part of the Museums Studies programs convening, participants spent the day in conversation on a variety of topics relative to the field.

Forty-seven participants from 23 institutions across the nation attended this one-day gathering held at the IMLS offices. We encouraged student attendees to participate as well, so that the student voice could be heard in this important dialogue.

At the onset, each Museum Studies program was asked to share a unique feature about their program offerings. The rest of the day was organized to facilitate some large group discussions on a few core topics:

-Museum Studies as a Career Track, Choice or Chance?

-Diversity and Inclusion, How Are Museum Studies Programs Addressing this Sector Need?

-Museum Studies Programs and Adapting to the Evolving Needs of the Museum

The afternoon segment was broken up into small-group discussions around the following topics:

-Possible Collaborations between Museum Studies Programs

-Research—What's out there and What's Needed?

-Distance Learning Options within Museum Studies Programs

-Student Voices—Challenges, Aspirations and Ideas

Each group shared key discussion points and several ideas with the whole group. Towards the end of the convening, we encouraged another round of idea exchange for stronger partnership between museum studies programs and museums. We provided an overview of IMLS funding opportunities, current agency level priorities, and welcomed interested interns in the Office of Museum Services. The day was extremely productive with engaging and dynamic discussions, made special with thoughtful input from the students.

Some of the key takeaways from the conversation were:

  1. Attendees unanimously expressed that this convening was the first of its kind, and agreed that it was extremely important for Museum Studies programs to continue having similar dialogues and collaborative planning on a regular and annual basis. 
  2. Attendees were interested in exploring co-developed course ideas between universities, inviting museum staff to co-teach courses, and using the power of technology to collaborate across campuses.
  3. Everyone agreed that student voices need to be included in organizational gatherings and meetings, so that they can talk about their challenges as well as share ideas and skills that they bring to the field.
  4. Project management was suggested as one of the relevant courses for all Museum Studies programs that could teach a much-needed skill to the current cadre of students before they embark on their museum careers.
  5. While all higher education institutions are committed to diversity, there is need for a more comprehensive approach and institutional commitment with dedicated funding, towards expanding and sustaining diversity efforts in the Museum Studies programs.
  6. There is a need for longitudinal data on graduating students, as well as research and continued conversation that can bridge theory and practice.

Museum representatives participate in discussion
Museums Studies representatives from all over the country participated in the October 2016 convening.

Several attendees shared enthusiastic feedback with us soon after the convening. A few of the comments are provided below:

"I want to thank you all for convening a truly inspiring and informative meeting yesterday at the IMLS for all of us involved with Museum Studies programs. The dialogue was really productive, and will be helpful as we think about how to best address current needs and trends in the field.  I particularly appreciated hearing the voices of the students in the room, and learned a lot from their diverse perspectives."

"Many thanks to YOU for such a well-organized and informative session, where all ideas were valued."

"It was very rewarding to meet so many colleagues from various parts of the United States, to learn about their concerns and pressure points, and to share ideas. Thank you too for including student voices. Based on what I heard, the future is in good hands."

"I know I speak for the students when I say that this was extremely useful and important for us all. I came away with a better understanding of the Museum Studies field and also of the issues facing both the current and next generation of emerging professionals. I so appreciate that our voices were included in every aspect of the discussions today. Although we exist somewhat separately from the faculty of our programs, the open discussion forum was equitable, empowering, and productive."

"Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in the convening.  I have seldom learned as much about my field (and myself) in one day."

This convening was an example, where acting as a catalyst, IMLS enabled conversation on an important and timely topic, and we, ourselves, learned a lot in the process. We hope that this conversation will continue in the future among the nation's Museum Studies programs, museums and other cross-sector partners towards addressing challenges and opportunities in the field.

Paula Gangopadhyay can be contacted at