Becoming a Professional Associate: ECPN Interviews Molly Gleeson

This post follows up on a previous ECPN blog post from 2012 by Molly Gleeson titled “I’m not a PA, but I want to be” (
Professional Associate status is granted through a peer review system whereby the applicant submits evidence of their “sustained high-quality professional skills and ethical behavior that adheres to the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.” (1) This usually means submitting treatment reports and other conservation documentation, as well as recommendations from other conservators. The AIC Membership Committee is tasked with reviewing the applications, which may be submitted at deadlines throughout the year. PAs make up almost 30% of the AIC membership for 2015 (2). To be eligible you must be 3+ years out of grad school.
In Molly’s original post (3) she pointed out five great reasons why Emerging Conservators might want to achieve Professional Associate status:
1. Inclusion in the “Find a Conservator” tool on the AIC website
2. Voting privileges within AIC
3. Make yourself stand out when applying for jobs, contracts and grants
4. Eligibility to apply for Individual Professional Development Scholarships
5. Recognition among your peers and colleagues
Now that Molly has completed the process of becoming a PA, Jessica Walthew (ECPN Professional Education and Training Co-officer) asks her to reflect on the experience by answering a few questions (4) :
JW: What was the most difficult part of the process of becoming a PA? Did you run into any surprises about how difficult or easy it would be?
MG: The most difficult part was committing to applying and actually contacting the people that I was asking to support my application, because that meant that I had to follow through with my part. Once I did that, I really do think the rest fell into place pretty easily. Since all application materials can be shared and submitted online now, I think the process is fairly simple and straightforward.
JW: What materials did you include demonstrating your skills and abilities? Just treatment reports or documentation of other types (outreach, blog posts)?
MG: I submitted 4 examples of work. At the time I applied, my work was not heavily focused on treatment, so I definitely wanted to demonstrate the range of activities that I had been involved in. In addition to submitting two treatment reports, I also submitted materials related to a long-term research project on Native Californian featherwork and from a workshop that I taught for a group of Native Californian basketweavers on the care of baskets, including images from the workshop. I also made sure that my CV was updated and mentioned other outreach I was involved in, publications, presentations, blogging, committee work, etc.
JW: Do you see any additional benefits now compared to those you identified in your blog post?
MG: Sure. First, I might order the benefits I originally listed in a slightly different order – probably bumping voting privileges within AIC and eligibility to apply for Individual Professional Development Scholarships to the top of the list. Another benefit I now see is that the process of applying for PA status is a great professional development activity. It allowed me to share my work with former mentors who didn’t know all the details of what I had been doing since graduation, and led to some meaningful professional exchanges. It was also a nice way to reconnect with some important people who have provided great support for me. And another benefit that I didn’t think of before is that now I can act as a sponsor for other conservators seeking PA status!
JW: For current ECP’s, do you have any advice on preparing for applying for PA status down the road? For example, in the application it states “Professional contributions to the field should be emphasized and must be documented.” (5)
MG: If you feel like you’re not as involved as you’d like to be in professional activities, then make an effort to get involved. I was encouraged to apply to be on the ECPN committee the year after I finished graduate school, and I am very happy that I did, because being on an AIC committee is a terrific way to contribute to the field. I recommend looking for ways to be involved on any committee of interest (and not just applying for committee positions, but also volunteering for specific projects, blogging at the AIC meeting, etc.) and also looking beyond AIC to local/regional groups and getting involved in those. There are so many ways to become involved and to contribute to the field, and these don’t have to be big time commitments either.
The takeaway is that applying for PA status can allow you to be more involved with AIC and gives you the opportunity to benefit from grants specifically restricted to PAs and Fellows. For those of us not yet eligible to apply, Molly’s advice is to make sure to stay involved.
(1) AIC, “Who Can join.” (
(2) Ruth Seyler, Personal communication, via email.
(3) Molly Gleeson for ECPN blog, “I’m not a PA but I want to be” (
(4) Edited and condensed interview with Molly Gleeson. Personal communication, via email.
(5) AIC. Professional Associate application.
Our thanks to Molly Gleeson, Project Conservator, Penn Museum and author of In the Artifact Lab. (

About the Author
Jessica Walthew holds a BA in Art History and Biology from Williams College (2009), with an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology with an Advanced Certificate in Conservation from The Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2015). She has worked in the conservation departments of the American Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Penn Museum. Her research interests include theory and practice in archaeological and ethnographic conservation, best practices in documentation, and technical research in art history and archaeology. In fall 2015 she will begin an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship at The Metropolitan Museum of Art researching the intersection of textiles and objects conservation practices in the Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

I’m not a PA, but I want to be

While there are some emerging conservators who will apply for Professional Associate (PA) status as soon as they are eligible, it seems that many others might be less aware, less interested or less confident about applying to become PA’s. PA membership was more or less off my radar until several months ago, when my good friend and former pre-program internship supervisor wrote me an email asking if I had thought about applying, offering to write a recommendation, and informing me of the next application deadline. She had actually encouraged me to start thinking about this before I was eligible, and the fact that she was taking the initiative to bring this to my attention again made me sit up and think about it much more seriously.

Once I determined that I could apply, I looked closely at the application and guidelines and started asking myself why I, or why any conservator, would want to be an AIC Professional Associate, other than the privilege of getting to attach a little ribbon to your nametag at the annual meeting. What does it mean to be a Professional Associate?

I had heard that there are a lot of people who are eligible who do not apply, but after looking over the application requirements and the benefits, I couldn’t think of any reasons NOT to apply, so I thought I’d poll a few conservators who are PA’s to ask them why they applied, what the application experience was like, and what PA status means to them. Their responses made me even more convinced that I should apply, and prompted me to come up with a list of reasons that might inspire others. Here they are:

Top 5 reasons to apply to be a PA

1.  Inclusion in the “Find a Conservator” tool on the AIC website

This benefit may be particularly attractive for those in private practice or interested in private work. Several of the conservators I spoke with mentioned that they had gotten leads on private work through this listing.

2.  Voting privileges within AIC

The ability to vote was seen as especially important by many members during the certification discussion. When future issues come up for a vote by the membership, being a PA ensures that your voice will be heard and your opinion will count. I’ve heard some people argue that just being an associate member of AIC should be enough, but this isn’t going to change, so if you want voting privileges, this is how you can gain them.

3.  Make yourself stand out when applying for jobs, contracts and grants

From the colleagues I spoke with, I know for a fact that PA status will be valued on job and grant applications and that some government issued RFQ’s (requests for quotes) require that applicants are Professional Associates.

4.  Eligibility to apply for Individual Professional Development Scholarships

I recently found myself in a position where I wanted to attend a meeting but I really couldn’t come up with the money to go. I realized if I was a PA, I would be able to apply for this funding, which can help defray costs for professional development activities, including attending workshops, courses and conferences.

5.  Recognition among your peers and colleagues

This is a big one that I really took for granted. But among all of the conservators I’ve spoken with, their respect and appreciation of PA status is very evident. One person said that “if you want other people to advocate for you, provide them the ammunition-peer approval in a profession is big ammunition”. When I realized that people I really respect and admire think that being a PA is a valuable part of being a professional conservator, I found myself aspiring to this as well.

So now that I’ve written all of this, the pressure is on me to actually apply, since I’m now eligible to do so. I’m encouraged by the fact that everyone I spoke with said that applying was straightforward and easy, and that it was possibly more work for the people writing the recommendation letters than the applicants. So make sure to ask the people who you want to sponsor you as far ahead of time as you can and make it as easy on them as you can.

Finally, for those of you who are PA’s or Fellows, I encourage you to reach out to conservators who have not yet applied for this status to do so, and offer to support their application. And for those of you who are eligible but uncertain-don’t wait for people to suggest this to you-start a dialogue with your past and current colleagues, professors and supervisors, and ask them if they recommend that you apply and if they’d be willing to support you. You will undoubtedly be rewarded with encouragement and a boost of confidence.

A special thanks to Ellen Carrlee, Anne Kingery-Schwartz, Vanessa Muros and Emily Williams for their assistance and encouragement!