Monday, January 16, 2012

What Real World Advice Would You Give to a Museum Education Grad Student?

Once again I'll have the pleasure of teaching the graduate class in Exhibition Development at Bank Street College this semester.

While I'm continually impressed by the high caliber of the students I work with, I always feel compelled to share "real world" museum advice with them --- especially with the job market so tight.

So I'd like to harness the brain power of all my ExhibiTricks readers and ask you to please share (anonymously if you'd like) in the Comments Section below one bit of advice about the museum business that will help my grad students as they move forward and consider their place in the museum ecosystem.


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  1. Learn some design skills: skills that alllow you to create, write, draw, and how to produce.

    What can distinguish you is not just your ability to interpret existing information, but your ability to create something with it or out of it.

  2. Network, network, network. The people you meet at school, other museums, and in the field will be your greatest assets. You will turn to them for advice and ideas many times in the future as well as have them turn to you. No computer program or book can compete with a person.

  3. Build everything to withstand the worst possible use/abuse you can imagine, and then save budget for maintenance and repairs!

  4. Don't wait for someone to tell you can do something, do it until someone tells you to stop.

  5. I agree with the design specific suggestions above.

    As far as work in general, I would stress the expectation that they will need to move to where the work is, even if they are now in an urban centre with lots of museums. You can wait for the "perfect" job to open where you live, but you may be waiting a long time...

    And expect to the need to move on to continue as your career progresses.

  6. Develop good project management skills. Highly transportable across disciplines, will expose you to different aspects of the industry from budget to security to wherever you can imagine.

  7. My biggest suggestion for having a specialized degree: expect to move to a smaller/less desirable location in order to build towards your dream job, or understand that you have to be very patient while your career slowly builds should you not be able to move. I wish I had realized this when I got my MA in Museum Studies. As the secondary income in my family in a very desirable city, I found myself moving from temporary project to temporary project while my classmates got 'real' positions in other parts of the country. I kept wondering what I was doing wrong, but really it was more of an issue of economy of scale: there were always more experienced people in my city, and fewer people left their jobs once they got them because of the quality of life of our community. I have finally landed a wonderful job that I love in my line of work, but it has taken nearly a *decade*. Worth it in the end, but not an easy way to go - so be prepared!

  8. Hi, Paul, here are my tips:
    1. When you apply for jobs, cast your net wide- don't pre-select yourself out of jobs. If you have some but not all of the skills/experience/education required, go ahead and apply.
    2. Also think about places other than museums that create exhibitions, e.g. here in DC - The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, libraries, government departments, etc
    4.Get on Twitter, various museum blogs, and other social media and follow museum thinkers and leaders (like Paul Orselli :) and others. You will find all kinds of new projects, new thinking, ways that you might use your degree.
    5. If you are offered a job in any way related to your degree and skills, take it even if low paying. It is always easier to move within an oranization than to get into it in the first place. My first museum job paid about half of what I was making as a teacher, but it was the best decision I ever made.
    6. Don't give up! I rarely got jobs I applied for but often got jobs because of word of mouth. I am retired now and long ago threw out all my rejection letters, but I had many. Don't let them get you down. Good luck!