So You Want to be an Egyptologist?
You’ve come to the right place. Consider yourself warned– it is not for the faint of heart. It requires developing an immense and incredibly detailed amount of knowledge and skills, multiple degrees, and a great deal of grit. The field is a competitive one, and there are not many job openings available beyond working in academia and the museum world. You should know that even if you do succeed in this quest, there isn’t much money to be made in it, and many scholars have said that you should try every other way of making a living first. Before you commit to a decision like this, do your research (starting here!) and give it a great deal of consideration. However, if you remain brave of heart and undeterred, read on!
A number of Egyptologists and academic institutions have posted similar sets of advice on their websites (see Dr. Kara Cooney’s page, and the standard letter that the University of Memphis sends to prospective students), but we will gladly distill the collective of wisdom we’ve heard from the both pages like these and conversations we’ve had with many Egyptologists in person.
There are several main paths to becoming an Egyptologist. If at all possible, start studying French and German as soon as you can, even in high school. Every Egyptologist will need a working knowledge of these languages because so much of the material we work with is published in them. Arabic is fantastic too! Many successful Egyptologists even majored in modern languages during their undergraduate degrees! Bio-Medicine and STEM backgrounds are also great for Egyptology! Between mummies, diseases, floral/faunal analysis, GPR, magnetometry, digital scanning, data analysis, and other applications, these backgrounds could make you a valuable addition to the field.
If at all possible, try to study Archaeology, Anthropology, Art History, or Classical Studies during your undergraduate degree. If you can major, double major, or minor in these fields, all the better. If you are a Bryn Mawr student, you’re in a good place! All of these Bryn Mawr departments have stellar reputations in academia! There are many Egyptologists who got their start at Bryn Mawr. If you can, it is highly encouraged that you start learning Middle Egyptian by taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania. If you can get a year of this language under your belt, along with any other Egyptology courses you can take at Bryn Mawr or UPenn, take them!! They will look amazing on your transcripts. During your undergraduate degree, try to focus as many of your projects as you can on ancient Egypt. Even if you are not in an Egyptology class, there are so many ways to make your work applicable. For example, if you are in a comparative literature class, read some Egyptian literature. Do a project on Egyptian wisdom literature for a philosophy course, write a paper on Greco-Roman Egypt for a Classical Studies class! The possibilities are endless. The more practice you have researching Egypt, the better. Be sure to familiarize yourself with our Links and Resources page! You can’t make it as an Egyptologist if you only use Google and JSTOR.
Spend as much time in museums with Egyptian collections as you can. Is there a museum nearby with an Egypt collection? Going on a vacation soon? Make plans to go to the museums! Is there a traveling exhibit coming to a museum near you about ancient Egypt? Does your college have a research collection of Egyptian antiquities? Go! The more exposure and experiences you have with Egyptian artifacts, the better. Volunteering or interning at museums and collections will also make a great impression on your C.V. We also highly recommend attending local Egyptology lectures and events and becoming members of Archaeological and Egyptological organizations such as The American Research Center in Egypt and the Archaeological Institute of America. If you are a Bryn Mawr student, get involved with our organization! We’d love to have you!
Educate yourself on the history of Egyptology, with all of its racism, sexism, and colonialism, and the modern history of Egypt, especially if you are a westerner. There’s a long history of exploitation and injustice that still needs to be recognized and reconciled with. You should also be aware of the contributions of Egyptian archaeologists, not just the westerners! There is an important history of Egyptian Egyptologists who often get left out of the picture–familiarize yourself with their names and their work! Also, if you want to be an Egyptologist or any form of archaeologist, DO NOT HAVE A PRIVATE COLLECTION OF ARTIFACTS. DO NOT BUY/SELL ANTIQUITIES. Not only is it extremely unethical (placing ownership value on artifacts fuels the black market), it’s very much frowned upon in the academic community these days.
Lastly, if possible at all possible, GO TO EGYPT!!!! Even if it’s just a short trip for a vacation, GO! If this seems like too much of a financial burden, please be aware that there are ways it can be affordable, and many universities and colleges offer funding opportunities that would make studying in Egypt more accessible. Check out study abroad scholarships, language learning scholarships, and undergraduate research fellowships.
If you are a Bryn Mawr Student, funding is quite abundant! The Thomas Raeburn White Scholarship for Foreign Language Study, the Judy Loomis Gould Scholarship for Summer Study Abroad, the Global Bryn Mawr Fellowship, and the Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Fellowship are all wonderful opportunities for Bryn Mawr students wanting to study in Egypt. If you can study abroad at the American University in Cairo, we cannot recommend it highly enough! It has a superb faculty, including two BMC Alumnae, and you will get to see so many Egyptian sites. For BMC students, it will likely be even more affordable than a semester here, and if you get BMC financial aid, it WILL carry over. In addition, AUC offers the Simpson Scholarship for Egyptology which can cover tuition and expenses. If you have any questions about studying abroad in Egypt, please feel free to contact Ella (firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself (email@example.com )! We studied abroad at AUC in the Spring of 2018.
Here you can find a list of many of the best Egyptology Graduate programs for those thinking of applying. Explore, have fun, and good luck!
–Clara McCafferty Wright, ’19