Now, I’m almost thru with my second-year of grad school and I have been corresponding with a number of applicants who have been chosen for interviews. The memories come back of the two years that I interviewed and all the hype, hope, and fear that you have at that point in your career. It is an interesting time, you feel like the decision you have to make is huge and you desperately want the admissions committee to recognize all the work you’ve done for little or no pay over the past few years. I was fortunate, my first year applying I was invited to interview at all 3 schools I applied to, here was my first interview experiences.
The practical things you should know: plan on spending around $600-$700 in flights, food, and housing if you are a triple-threat interviewee. I did not rent a car or pay for a hotel, but I did buy a suit, which made me feel more comfortable and professional for the interview, you may also buy a professional portfolio binder, clear sheet protectors, dividers, and an art portfolio case. You will be offered housing with a student at Winterthur and Buffalo, NYU recommends a hotel. Everyone tells you to ask for feedback from the schools if you are not accepted, to improve your next application. My experience was that NYU and Winterthur gave me feedback, Buffalo never got back to me.
This was my first interview, and I really wanted to go to NYU, I had been working in Houston where Wynne Phelan was the head of the conservation department at the MFAH. She was a graduate of one of the first classes from NYU and she was and is an inspiration and a bit of a personal hero to me.
The NYU interview was shorter than the other two in length, basically a 15-20 minute powerpoint presentation and then a quick look at the art you brought. It was quick, but it was grilling, I remember being asked a myriad of questions “Why don’t you just expose the photographs to the maximum level of light and then put them in storage forever after that? Isn’t that the same as displaying photographs and then putting them away, then displaying them again?” I still don’t know what this question was getting at, but later someone said they were probably trying to see what I would say if a curator brought up some similar scheme. I really liked the visit, the labs had a lot of light, and the summer projects sounded very interesting. I think I wrote a brief condition report of a artifact and had a tour. I remember standing in front of their case of Forbes pigments the with one of the other interviewees and whispering toward the case “I’m not getting into this school”, without looking up from the case she said “Neither am I”. I don’t remember her name, but I really hope she stuck with conservation, she was great.
This was my second interview. I had met and worked with Jill Whitten and Rob Proctor in Houston and I completely loved them, they are also huge fans of Buffalo and I believe they return every other year to teach about varnishes. I was unsure how I felt about Buffalo going into the interview.
The Buffalo interview is longer, around an hour, with a 20-minute presentation, but more questions and chats, and a lot of laughter, I remember thinking I should have added more jokes into the presentation. They also look at your artwork and ask you more detailed questions about documentation. I remember being asked about a textile BT photograph I had taken on a slant board and “Do you know the exact angle of that slant board?” to which I answered “The same angle as the camera lens, I measured them both before I took the shot.” The interview process also includes a basic color blindness test and tour of the labs. The interview is more social, the students have dinner parties each night and if you stay with a student they can look over your portfolio and presentation. I was pleasantly surprised by the school and the town of Buffalo, I really enjoyed it there.
I remember I had around 4 days between interviews and I had to impose on my friend Ariel O’Connor in Buffalo to let me stay with her until I flew to Delaware. In Wilmington I stayed with another friend, Lisa Duncan who was in her first-year as a photography conservation fellow. Lisa and I had worked in photography conservation together in Houston with Toshi Koseki a WUDPAC grad who is still very connected to the program.
The interview at WUDPAC is epic. The day begins with a talk by Debbie Hess Norris about the importance of conserving our cultural heritage, followed by a science test. Then there are a series of stations: a colorblindness test, drawing test, essay, tour of the labs, tour of the house and garden, and there’s a lot of food to keep you going throughout the day, if you can eat. The interview itself is sandwiched in there somewhere, it is around 20 minutes of presentation, Joyce Hill Stoner will ask you about your favorite museum and/or “What would be an unethical treatment?” . Your art portfolio is looked over briefly. Then you are given your choice of an artifact that you take to the front of the room and describe it physically, the current condition (it is always in fair/poor condition) then say how you would treat it. The students will have a dinner or party ever night and it is a lot of fun. I really enjoyed Winterthur and Delaware, and I felt like having a more thorough interview was a better assessment of me as a candidate.
That year, I was not accepted into any of the programs. I was crushed, and completely broke after flying from Texas to New York City, Buffalo, and Wilmington. I moped around the lab for weeks until my supervisor Jane Gillies said to me at one point, “Look, no one is surprised that you didn’t get into grad school the first time you applied. Everyone is impressed that you got three interviews.”