Frank Goodyear had every intention of becoming a professor after receiving his Ph.D. in American studies from The University of Texas at Austin in 1998. That is until a well-timed fellowship opportunity and one-of-a-kind job offer directed him down a new career path.
Today, the knowledge Frank gained as a Ph.D. student continues to shape his career as he serves as co-director at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art—a position he shares with his wife Anne, whom he met over 20 years ago in a photography seminar at UT while she was pursuing her Ph.D. in Art History.
What inspired you to pursue a Ph.D.?
I was a high school English teacher after college and really loved teaching and working with young people. I taught high schoolers for three years before I realized that I wanted to teach at the university level. I initially pursued a Ph.D. with the aspiration of becoming a university professor. At UT, I was interested in the history of art, and specifically the history of photography.
After graduating from UT, I moved to Washington D.C., where I taught initially in an adjunct capacity at three different universities. After a year as a visiting assistant professor in American Studies at George Washington University, I received a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian. The fellowship was awarded for me to revisit my dissertation and transform it into a publication. It was during my time as a postdoc at the Smithsonian that I became more familiar with career possibilities at museums. I applied for an entry-level curatorial position at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. I didn't know what to think of the job but recognized that my interest in photographic history, and American history more generally, fit very well for the job responsibilities. Lo and behold, I got the job and have remained in the museum field to this day. Of note, Anne also was hired into a curatorial position at the National Portrait Gallery only six months after I began working there.
How did you transition into your current position as co-director at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art?
I had worked at the Smithsonian for 12 years when Anne and I received a phone call from an executive recruitment firm to tell us that we had been recommended for a job at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
We ended up applying together and were hired as co-directors. This leadership arrangement has been terrific, as it has allowed me to stay involved in curatorial work, while also taking on a host of administrative responsibilities. The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is a wonderful institution. Obviously, it’s smaller than the Smithsonian, but it holds many historically important collections. Anne and I have enjoyed being on a college campus working with faculty and students.
The co-directorship is a very unique arrangement. We’ve learned about other colleagues who co-direct museums but we haven't found a couple who have done this anywhere in the United States. We feel very fortunate to work together at Bowdoin.
How has your Ph.D. served you in this career?
My Ph.D. has definitely benefitted me outside academia. The importance of writing and critical thinking skills is obvious, but just as important is how getting a Ph.D. makes you an expert in your particular field of study. As a co-director at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, I spend a lot of time working with faculty and students. Rather than just being an administrative manager, I converse as a scholar with these critical audiences.
What is the best advice you received during your time in graduate school?
Two pieces of advice come to mind.
The first is to be ambitious. Getting a Ph.D. at a university as celebrated as UT is a big deal. I’m regularly involved in conversations with scholars from around the world. It’s important to participate fully in one’s chosen field. I advise current Ph.D. candidates to go to academic conferences, to publish papers and to apply to various employment and fellowship opportunities. I think students should cast a wide net and not let the intimidation of competition prevent them from throwing their hat in the ring.
The second piece of advice I have is to go to social events to develop relationships with others in their field. I recommend that students go to art openings, show up at lectures and attend symposia. These are all things that make you part of a larger scholarly culture. Often, they lead to wonderful opportunities and friendships.