When I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist, finding a university was easy. UNCW was one of the top programs in the country and when I visited it, I fell in love. When I decided I wanted to be an aquarium educator, finding a program became a lot more difficult. Lucky for you, I’m here to help.
The tricky part to informal science education degrees is that they are frequently hidden within other degrees. For example, my masters degree is in Environmental Studies with a focus in Environmental Education. I hadn’t even realized I was thinking about going back for my masters when I ran across this post on plankton. It was written by a professor at UNCW who is also a diver at the NC Aquarium. When I sent him an email saying I had known it must have been him (because who else says correctamundo in a post on plankton?) he sent me a reply saying I should come check out their new masters program. He told me the Environmental Education focus was perfect for people like me. It was and I was able to get hired at the NC Aquarium before I even finished it. Here’s a picture of me with our mascot, Sammy C. Hawk, at Trick or Treat Under the Sea. I’m a jelly.
However, finding out which environmental programs have an environmental education focus is difficult. Finding ones that focus on informal science for museums can be super tough as well. My program at North Carolina State University focuses on Informal Science Education. I have had the opportunity to work with faculty members that are doing amazing work in the field of informal education. This semester the department just launched a new course series to help introduce students from the Colleges of Education and Natural Resources to environmental education and help them earn their North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. On the West Coast, Oregon State University is known for their master’s program on informal and free-choice learning .
And this is an important distinction in some programs.
The reason is that environmental education frequently focuses mainly on outdoor environmental education. However, if you want to work in a museum, then you may want to start looking for museum studies programs that focus on science. But that gets tough too because so many are about exhibits not education.
So what can I do to help you find the right program for you?
Well, I recently sent out an email to my colleagues who have programs in environmental or informal science education. I collected the programs they sent me and I put them in a Google Doc that I am sharing with you. I will do my best to keep this updated as other people send me information on their programs. There are links to each of the programs that will hopefully help you sort through the different programs to see which is the best fit for you. Make sure you visit any school before committing several years of your life to it. Once I stepped on UNCW’s campus I knew it was the right fit for me as an undergrad. Hopefully, you can find your best fit too.
Thankfully I didn’t need that much work to find my PhD. Once I knew I wanted to go back to school to study informal science educators, I started exploring schools that had programs in that field. There were only a few and only a few would accept me without a thesis. I did a project rather than a paper for my master’s program. You can check it out here. Then I met my current advisor at a conference and she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So here we are today! This is our team on our way to LA for the NSTA conference:
How did you find your graduate program? Let me know in the comments any tips or suggestions you have for finding the right graduate school.
Until next time,