Thinking about a Career in Egyptology?
Thank you for your interest in the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the
University of Memphis. This letter is intended to answer questions from high school
and junior high / middle school students about preparations for a potential career
Young persons often ask what preparation is necessary for a career in Egyptology, and what are the job prospects. Egyptology is an extremely competitive field requiring many years of specialized graduate study resulting in a doctoral level degree (Ph.D.). Before proceeding on to graduate study in Egyptology, you will first need to complete an undergraduate degree in a related field such as Art History, Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Near / Middle Eastern Studies or Classical Studies. Undergraduate students at The University of Memphis may choose to major in Art History or History, and take courses in Egyptian art, language and culture offered at the undergraduate level. A Bachelor of Art degree in Art History or History from the University of Memphis, with some coursework in Egyptian art, history and language, would provide you with an excellent start to your career as an Egyptologist.
Since Egyptological research requires use of books and articles written in French and German, it is a very good idea to begin study of one or both languages before entering college. Egyptology degree programs are very competitive, with many students applying each year for only a few openings. High scholastic achievement (good grades) in college is necessary to compete successfully with other applicants. Learning and practicing good study habits in high school will prepare you to succeed in college. In addition, students with good grades are more likely to get fellowships and scholarships which will ease the financial burden of attending college.
Upon completion of an undergraduate degree in one of the major fields mentioned above, qualified students can enter a Master's degree program such as the one offered at the University of Memphis (one of a very few such Egyptology programs in North America). Exceptional students with the proper undergraduate preparation may also apply directly to a Ph.D. program at one of the centers of Egyptological research. Universities with well-regarded Ph.D. programs in Egyptology include (among others) Brown, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, The Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago, University of California/Berkeley, University of California/Los Angeles, the University of Michigan, New York University, Emory University in Atlanta, and the University of Toronto in Canada. The University of Memphis offers a Ph.D. in Ancient History with a specialization in Egyptian history. Egyptology programs abound in the United Kingdom and Europe. There is also a program at The American University in Cairo (where instruction is in English).
Most universities with a graduate program in Egyptology also offer courses at the undergraduate level, and will allow interested undergraduates to take graduate courses with permission; a few have undergraduate degree programs. Each university program tends to have its own sub-specialties, depending on the background and interests of the faculty. For example, the University of Memphis has one of very few programs which centers primarily on the art of Egypt, as do the programs at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts and Emory University.
Students also frequently ask about the need or desirability of archaeological field experience for a career in Egyptology. No archaeological experience is required for acceptance to any Egyptology program of study. However, if you would like to eventually work on an archaeological project in Egypt, your best action is to enroll in an archaeological field school run by a reputable U.S. college or university. The field school experience trains you in the methods and theory of excavation. Some field schools around the U.S. and the world are listed in a print publication entitled the Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin, available through the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The AIA also makes available an on-line database of Fieldwork opportunities. A few of these programs will take high school students. Excavation work in Egypt is generally limited to students at the graduate level who have acquired a strong Egyptological background. Another web site of interest is from the American Anthropological Association at http://www.americananthro.org/LearnAndTeach/ResourceDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=1462.
The Egyptology job market is extremely competitive, with many well-qualified candidates competing for a few, fairly low-paying jobs. The two main career tracks are that of university professor and museum curator (usually in a museum with a fairly large Egyptian collection). The preparation for both career paths is similar, although the aspiring curator will want to have coursework and one or more degrees in Art History or Anthropology. Coursework in Museum Studies is also beneficial. While it is possible for a trained Egyptologist to work in the ancient art or auction market, these jobs are extremely few in number, and you should be aware that professionally trained archaeologists are prohibited by their code of ethics from participating in the trade in ancient Egyptian art. No Egyptologist chooses the study of ancient Egyptian culture as a career expecting material rewards; professional degrees such as law, business, or medicine are better routes for anyone looking for a more secure financial future. For more information on careers in Egyptology and a list of Egyptology programs abroad, you can also go to http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/er/.
For information about applying to the University of Memphis as an undergraduate student, please see the web pages at http://www.memphis.edu/admissions/freshman.php. You may also visit the Department of Art web site at http://www.memphis.edu/art for additional information, and instructions on how to apply.
Whatever decision you make about your future, we wish you every success in your chosen career.