Smart Museum: Collections Database Research Associate

Opportunity Description:


Reporting to the Head Registrar and Assistant Registrar at the Smart Museum of Art, the Smart Undergraduate Research Associate will conduct research based on how museums classify and describe artworks in their collections, with particular attention to the ways that museums classify information and data related to artist gender, race and ethnicity, and identity. This will support critical work in creating recommendations for the Museum’s Registration and Curatorial team, developing a framework the Museum can build upon in its goals to create a more inclusive and equitable collections database.

Research will be foregrounded through readings on museum history, theory, and institutional critique. The Associate will investigate the current standards and best practices for classifying artworks and artists in museums by gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information from academic and online sources, as well as museum collection webpages. The Associate will assist in determining the practicability of enacting updates to existing information standards in the Smart Museum’s internal collections database. This will support the development of a proposed set of guidelines/best practices for determining data and information standards to be enacted at the museum. The Associate will also have the opportunity to discuss with Smart Museum curators how this work connects to curatorial research and understanding of the Smart’s collection.

Opportunity term/commitment: This opportunity will begin in Fall 2020 with the potential for a continuation during Winter and Spring 2021; undergraduate researchers should anticipate giving approximately 10 hours/week of time to this opportunity; given the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is anticipated that most of the associate’s work will be done remotely (if things change and in-person/on-site work is required during the associate’s tenure, this will be discussed and worked out with the student based on their location, availability, and comfort with such work)

Additional notes: All Smart Undergraduate Research Associates will be expected to participate in the 2021 University of Chicago Undergraduate Research Symposium during the Spring Quarter and the annual research scholars curriculum organized by the College Center for Research & Fellowships. The selected student will receive more information from the College about these expectations separately.

Primary Responsibilities: 

  • Perform research work into museum history, best practices, and new initiatives for classifying artworks and artists in museum collections.
  • Gather, analyze, and interpret information from academic and online sources, including museum collection webpages.
  • Examine the Smart Museum’s collection and how its information is categorized.
  • Attend virtual project meetings and work in tandem with Registration and Curatorial staff.
  • Based on this research, develop a proposal or set of recommendations for data and information standards for the Smart Museum’s collection.

Minimum Qualifications and/or Eligibility Requirements: 

Research and writing skills, some coursework in Art History.

Open to all majors in the Humanities and Social sciences, although this opportunity may best serve students in Art History.


Preferred Skills: 

Prior experience with databases is helpful but not required.

Knowledge or skills gained from the experience: 

The Associate will gain research skills by investigating classification practices in the museum field as well as by diving deeply into the Smart Museum’s own collection of artworks. The Associate will develop a critical understanding of issues of museum classification with particular attention to gender, race and ethnicity, and identity. These skills and knowledge will prepare the Associate to conduct further academic research or work on critical projects within the disciplines of art history and museum studies.

Application Process: 

Email the following in *one* pdf. document to aaronwilder@uchicago.edu with the subject “Collections Database URA Application”: 

  • 350-word statement of interest in the research opportunity (this is not a cover letter but should detail why you are interested in the research experience, what particular research skills you may bring, what you hope to learn and how this may impact your future studies and/or research in the field);
  • Current curriculum vitae (academically focused resume) with the names and contact details of two references; and,
  • A copy of your unofficial transcript.

Application Deadline: 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Application Requirements: 

  • Submit CV
  • 350 Word Statement of Interest
  • Names of Two References
  • Unofficial Transcript
  • For more information on this opportunity, please contact:
    aaronwilder@uchicago.edu