The year after Aidan O'Connor earned her undergraduate degree in Archeology and Social Anthropology at Harvard University, she hadn't quite determined what path her career would take. "I didn't want to be an archeologist, and I didn't want to teach, but I love research," she says. A trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London spurred an extraordinary "ah-ha" moment, a lightning bolt of clarity. "I thought, This! This is what I want to do," she says. Parsons' MA program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design (now known as History of Design and Curatorial Studies), taught at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, offered exactly what she needed. "I wanted to work with the actual objects, and I knew I would in a museum."
Parsons was "not only an education but my introduction to the field of decorative arts museum work,” O'Connor says. "The program was small and flexible, and the support of the professors was amazing. Students came to it with many passions, and they were great to bounce ideas off of as I matured in the field." O'Connor took on internships: an assistant on the National Design Awards and a researcher on a design survey book covering the Victorian era to the present, which sharpened her focus.
Today, O'Connor is a curatorial assistant in the Museum of Modern Art's Architecture and Design Department—a job she found through Parsons. She recently worked alongside curator Juliet Kinchin on an exhibition of Polish posters from the 1940s to the 1980s and another on objects exhibited by MoMA in the 1940s and 1950s to exemplify "good design." According to O'Connor, "Whether you are digging an object out of the ground or coming across it in a museum, you are asking the same questions: how is the physical world shaped by the zeitgeist, the social concerns, and the cultural movements of the time, and how do physical things affect people's lives?"