There are many possible careers in conservation that encompass a wide range of preservation and conservation activities, sometimes making the road to becoming a conservator complex. Historically, apprenticeship training was the primary route. However, since the establishment of degree-granting graduate programs in the 1960s and ‘70s, conservation education has become more formalized. Today, most professional conservators earn an advanced degree, with the majority of job postings requiring at least a master's degree from a conservation graduate program or equivalent. Below are main stages of becoming a conservator.
Pre-program is a term to describe an exploratory period during which individuals interested in conservation become thoroughly acquainted with the profession and the commitment required to attain an advanced conservation degree. They also undertake the fulfillment of various prerequisites for graduate programs in conservation. There are only a limited number of undergraduate programs designed to prepare students for graduate-level conservation studies. Many students discover conservation as a career option only after they have completed their undergraduate program and must seek additional opportunities to obtain required courses, skills, and experience required for admission. To gain exposure to conservation, many pre-program students will work in a conservation facility, typically as pre-program interns, volunteers, or as paid technicians.
A master’s degree in conservation is the recognized credential for today’s professional conservator. According to the 2014 AIC Compensation Survey, the vast majority of practicing conservators hold advanced degrees in conservation. In the United States, these graduate programs are typically two to four years in duration and incorporate training in both the theory and practice of cultural heritage conservation.
While some conservators move directly from graduate school into a permanent professional position, post-graduate fellowships and contract or project-based positions are common in the years directly after graduation.
Due to constant changes and new developments, conservators must keep abreast of advances in technology, methodology, and scholarship. Knowledge and skills can be expanded through relevant publications, attendance at professional meetings, and enrollment in short-term workshops or courses. A sustained record of professional service, including presentations, publications, and membership in professional organizations like AIC furthers continued development. It is the responsibility of every conservator to take advantage of such opportunities.
Emerging Conservation Professionals Network
Our Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN)
assists with the transition from pre-program candidacy to graduate school and through to early career stages by providing programming and resources, fostering a professional community for emerging conservation professionals.