To find work as a curator, you generally need a master’s degree in an appropriate discipline within the museum’s specialty—art history, history, archaeology—or in museum studies. You may even need a doctoral degree, particularly in natural history or science museums. Earning two graduate degrees—in museum studies (museology) and in a specialized subject—gives you a distinct advantage in this competitive job market.
You may be able to find a position with only a bachelor’s degree in a small museum. For some positions, you need to complete an internship of full-time museum work supplemented by courses in museum practices.
Curatorial positions often require knowledge in a number of fields. For historic and artistic conservation, you should take courses in chemistry, physics, and art. Because curators, particularly those in small museums, may have administrative and managerial responsibilities, courses in business administration, public relations, marketing, and fund-raising also are recommended. Computer skills and the ability to work with electronic databases are essential. Many curators are responsible for posting information on the Internet, so you should be familiar with digital imaging, scanning technology, and copyright law.
Curators must be flexible because of their wide variety of duties, among which are the design and presentation of exhibits. In small museums, curators need manual dexterity to build exhibits or restore objects. Leadership ability and business skills are important for museum directors, while marketing skills are valuable in increasing museum attendance and fund-raising. Curators must have the ability to explain and interpret the collections to the public and be familiar with the techniques of selection, evaluation, preservation, restoration, and exhibition of the museum’s collections.
In large museums, curators may advance through several levels of responsibility, eventually becoming the museum director. Curators in smaller museums often advance to larger ones. Individual research and publications are important for advancement in larger institutions. Three years of experience in a museum or related educational or research facility would usually be required before a candidate could advance to a full curatorial position.