Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Why Get a Ph.D.?

Andrew Westover is currently transitioning from his role as Associate Education Specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum to a Ph.D. in Education at Harvard, focusing on ethics. He has held positions at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Prior to working in cultural institutions, Andrew taught as a Fulbright lecturer at the University of the Free State in South Africa and as a middle school teacher with Teach For America. He holds a B.A. in History, M.Ed., and M.A. in Religion.
Andrew Westover is currently transitioning from his role as Associate Education Specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum to a Ph.D. in Education at Harvard, focusing on ethics. He has held positions at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Prior to working in cultural institutions, Andrew taught as a Fulbright lecturer at the University of the Free State in South Africa and as a middle school teacher with Teach For America. He holds a B.A. in History, M.Ed., and M.A. in Religion.

This month’s question, asked by Kelsey Picken, asks “Why, after working in museum education for the past several years, have you chosen to return to graduate school?” Andrew Westover, a Ph.D. student in Education at Harvard, tackles this question and offers some insight as to why he decided to go back to graduate school.

Recently, as groups like #MuseumWorkersSpeak have highlighted concerns across our profession, I’ve begun to wonder: What can museum educators do to ensure their work is not merely for tax breaks? How can museums be both “relevant” and “responsive” to our immediate realities (e.g.#MuseumsRespondToFerguson)?  I decided to return to graduate school to ask these questions and spend substantive time considering them.

Talia Gibas notes that museum educators need to address the inherent challenges of respecting teachers’ pedagogies while also seeking to change how they teach. As a teacher programs specialist, I worry that teacher-training programs neglect critical discourse and qualitative metrics, instead relying on participation as a primary signifier of success. What can museums do to ensure that our work with teachers is effective, facilitating both educator development and student success?

While museum educators have long articulated goals of excellence and equity, a lack of foundational understanding (as Elliot Kai-Kee describes) explains why many of the difficulties identified decades ago remain widely present. Ultimately, it’s the promise of museums that keeps me invested in this work: the possibility that cultural institutions can serve as a catalyst for critical discourse, inquiry, empathy, and meaning making.

If you have a question or dilemma that’s been troubling you, click on this link to be redirected to a short submission form to pose your question to the Communications Committee. Your question may be featured in the next e-newsletter and the National EMP Network Blog!

Leave a Reply