What to Expect
Expect to do a lot of reading and writing if you decide to go into an archival
During Jackie Nicholls' master's program, two seminar-style classes
made up her weekly course schedule. Each was three hours long.
"The remainder of the week, you are doing readings and writing," says Nicholls.
She says she had to read anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pages each week
to get ready for the seminar classes.
And since her program is so small -- it only accepts a handful of students
each year -- unprepared students couldn't hide. So you can't afford to
"Compared to my undergrad [degree], it was a really heavy course load,"
Another difference from the undergraduate years was researching and
writing a major academic thesis. "It was the hardest academic thing I
have ever done," she recalls.
Still, she could not be happier with the choice she made. The intensity
is actually an advantage, she says. "You are completely immersed in this stuff,"
David McCartney is a product of the archival studies program at the University
of Maryland. "For me, grad school was a lot easier than undergrad, because
I was in a field I absolutely loved," he says. "I really felt passionate about
what I was learning."
McCartney also liked that the program was small. He says the atmosphere
among the students was really collaborative. "There was a very strong sense
of community because we all had a lot at stake professionally," he says.
Archival study programs also expose their students to the newest information
technologies. That contradicts a common image of archivists.
"There is a stereotype of archivists that we are tucked away back in the
stacks, and that we have runny noses," says McCartney.
But if you think you'll be hidden away in the back of a row of bookshelves,
you might want to consider another field, he says.
"If you really love interacting with people, if you like helping people
on a treasure hunt trying to find the documents they are looking for, it is
a wonderful profession."