Become a Conservator

There are many possible careers in conservation, spanning a range of preservation and conservation tasks, but the road to becoming a conservator can be long. Historically, years-long apprenticeships with established conservators were the primary method of training. The first graduate-level training programs in the United States were founded in the 1960s and 70s. Today, more than two thirds of practicing conservators have a Master’s degree, and most job postings for conservators require a Masters degree in conservation or equivalent.

The main phases of conservation training are:


The pre-program phase of training is the time to begin reviewing and completing prerequisites for graduate programs in conservation. Most applicants to graduate programs in conservation have experience working in a conservation lab. Two options for gaining this experience are pre-program internships and technician-level positions. There are also bachelor-level programs designed to prepare students for graduate training in conservation. In addition to gaining work experience in a conservation lab, future conservators may complete undergraduate-level coursework and/or develop fine art or craft skills.

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A Masters degree in conservation is the recognized credential for today’s professional conservator. In the United States, these programs typically last 2-4 years, and incorporate training in both the theory and practice of conservation.

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While some conservators move directly from graduate school into a permanent professional position, fellowships and contract or project-based positions are common in the first years after graduation.

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Continued Education/Professional Development

Due to rapid changes in each conservation specialty, practicing conservators must keep abreast of advances in technology and methodology. Their knowledge and skills are expanded through reading publications, attending professional meetings, and enrollment in short-term workshops or courses. It is the responsibility of each conservator to take advantage of such opportunities.

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New to the field?
Learn more about conservation from AIC’s Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN)