American Museum of Natural History Offering Accredited Ph.D. Program

Posted By Eliana Osborn on February 24, 2016 at 12:14 pm
American Museum of Natural History Offering Accredited Ph.D. Program
Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Photo: Sergi Reboredo/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Love visiting the American Museum of Natural History just like Holden Caufield?  Then you might be someone interested in a lesser known aspect of AMNH: the Richard Gilder Graduate School.  There’s just one museum in the US accredited to award PhDs, the American Museum of Natural History, and they’ve been doing so since 2009.

There’s a lot of questions that come with going to college at a museum, but you have to remember that AMNH isn’t like most museums. They’ve got resources many universities would be envious of, including more than half a million scientific volumes in their library. The Ph.D. offered by the Richard Gilder Graduate School is in comparative biology. But even if you aren’t looking to get a doctorate, undergraduates can work with the amazing researchers at the school on specific projects.

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Richard Gilder Graduate School 2015 graduation ceremony at the Amerian Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: AMNH/M. Shanley


Teachers can also get a master’s degree at AMNH as well as at other non-traditional institutions discussed here. And even better, the opportunities available at Gilder, for example, are fully funded, with no charge for those who participate. The New York Times reports several collaborative opportunities for such programs, with more to come in the future.

Science isn’t the only area of focus either; the University of Maryland and the Phillips Collection have an arts-based program. The University of Maryland/Phillips Collection partnership announced a six-year plan in late 2015, where both entities will invest money and manpower to “provide rich and meaningful opportunities for education, innovation, research, entertainment, interdisciplinary collaboration, and exploration.”

Chrystal Brown, chief communications officer at the University of Maryland, emphasizes that this won’t be a new school.  Instead, it is “a rich collaboration for existing UMD students, among other things.” You won’t earn a degree from the Phillips Collection, but your UM teaching arts degree will be a cut above the rest, with access to this world-class art facility.

Even the famed Lincoln Center is getting in on the game by working with Hunter College to train teachers.

Stephen Sautner works with the Wildlife Conservation Society, another organization offering degrees for teachers. Teachers can learn on the ground at the Bronx Zoo, as well as online from professors at Miami University. The Advanced Inquiry Program master’s degree even includes an expedition class worth seven credit hours.  The program only began in 2014, but WCS has focused on education generally for their entire existence.  They’ve long reached out to primary and secondary school students, giving small trainings to teachers. So, moving forward into graduate education is a new step.

Why would places like museums or zoos want to provide higher education?  They see a need, for one.  The New York Times reports that 40% of earth science teachers in the city are not certified. For the American Museum of Natural History, that’s a problem they can help with. What’s more, according to a recent CareerBuilder report, majors in science, natural resources and conservation have grown nearly 50% in less than five years.

Michael Walker, manager of media relations at AMNH, says they’ve had partnerships with area universities for a long time. Making a Ph.D. degree available is simply an extension of that. Becoming accredited is a major process though, one that most non-school institutions may be wary of. Partnering with already-established colleges and universities to enrich and expand their degree offerings, from a financial standpoint, can help small schools or museums come together and share resources.  Creativity is the name of the game in finding ways to grow in a competitive education marketplace.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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