Education and Training
Preparing for Graduate Training
Please see the below recording of ECPN Webinar Beyond the Prerequisites: Preparing for Graduate Education in Art Conservation with Margaret Holben Ellis, James Hamm, Rosaleen Hill, Debra Hess Norris, and Ellen Pearlstein; July 16, 2014
Graduate Training Options
AIC's Guide to Conservation Education and Training describes options for training to become a conservator with a focus on the North American graduate programs and post-graduate opportunities.
Please see the website of the Association of North American Graduate Programs in the Conservation of Cultural Property for more information.
A list of UK based programs can be found on The Institute for Conservation website. At present, no professional organization for conservation hosts a comprehensive and up-to-date list of training programs across the globe. Global lists of programs can be found here and here but may be out of date, specialty-specific, limited to a particular country, or compiled via crowd-sourcing.
When considering graduate training programs, it is important to practice due diligence by researching the program of interest, contacting the appropriate program administrator, and asking to be put in touch with alumni. The admission requirements, curriculum, and degree granted varies program to program.
Applying to Graduate Programs
The following are tips for different components of typical graduate school applications.
Your personal statement is your chance to introduce yourself to the schools beyond listing your resume, GPA, GRE, etc. It should be autobiographical by highlighting your major experiences that have prepared you for school, and just as importantly, it should explain how that particular program would be a good fit for you. Each program is different and requires a tailored personal statement (and application). How are you prepared for graduate school and a professional career in art conservation? Ask people to proofread your statement! Remember, this is your opportunity to impress the review committee; you don’t want typos letting you down.
Some programs may require a writing sample. The writing sample proves that you can concisely and effectively articulate your point. These are important skills to have when writing condition and treatment reports. There is no minimum or maximum length, since reviewers most likely will skim them to get a feel for your writing style.
For conservation recommendations, choose someone whom you feel witnessed your hand skills and work ethic, and got to know your personality. For academic recommendations, choose someone whom you feel is familiar with your work and knows about your goals of becoming a professional conservator. Choose people that you feel comfortable asking. If you’re unsure about someone, approach her by asking if she thinks that you’re ready to apply. **Be sure to give your recommenders plenty of time to write, keeping in mind that the holiday season is right before the North American graduate school applications are due. The Education and Training Committee (ETC) compiled guides for requesting and writing letters of reference. The guides can be found on the ETC page of the AIC website.
Artwork (photographed examples)
Your artwork should reflect your developed dexterity and can range from oil paintings and hand-bound books, to sculpture and cross-stitch. Be sure that drawings and paintings are representational and/or precise, not gestural abstract designs, so you can demonstrate your hand skills. If you can’t take photographs at your pre-program site, just do your best to take professional-looking photographs at home. Improvise!
Although tempting to send one more recommendation or some portfolio pages, only submit the required documents and information. There is not enough time for schools to read extras; they won’t, and it will have been a complete waste of your time. Spend that time proofreading your documents or beginning your portfolio.
Portfolios are not usually required alongside the application and instead are presented during the in-person interview. Your portfolio is a reflection of your work and as such it changes as you progress in your career. See the Portfolios section for information on your evolving portfolio.
Most conservation programs require that you take a number of courses in chemistry, studio art, and material culture studies (e.g. art history, anthropology, archaeology) prior to applying. This typically includes two semesters of general chemistry and can include organic chemistry or other science courses. It is typical for a variety of studio art classes (in 2D and 3D media) to be required. It is important to check the exact requirements of the program you are applying to, as they all have a slightly different list of prerequisite courses.
These Reading Lists on Conservation Ethics and Decision-Making are a good starting point for learning about the history and theoretical underpinnings of the field, while the Accessing Conservation Literature Wiki page has additional information on accessing conservation publications.
CAMEO (Conservation & Art Materials Encyclopedia Online) provides chemical and analytical information on many historic and contemporary materials, and AIC's Conservation Science Tutorials reviews key scientific principles in conservation.
For basic principles relating to the conservation of various materials, see the Institute of Conservation's "Care and Conservation of..." Fact Sheets.