Tag Archives: Museum

Five tips (and a bonus!) to landing that first museum job

As promised in my last post about my experience landing my own first ‘real’ museum position. Of course having an well-written cover letter and connections is a big help… but for all of the emerging museum professionals who are wondering if they’ll ever break into the field, or if getting a degree is really worth it (I think it is), these are for you.

Five tips (and a big bonus) to landing a position in museums:

1. Be Confident – not cocky, there is a difference. Be aware of your capabilities and make others know you can and will learn anything beyond that which is necessary.

2. BeRelocate Willing to Relocate – searching in the same little area can often result in nothing because either a) there just aren’t that many museum positions there  or b) you are swimming in a very big pond.

3. Volunteer – Yes, I said it. I had my fair share of unpaid, barely paid, and paid positions and they all count. You HAVE to put your time in. Each position provided learning, experience, and mentorship. You have a full time job to pay the bills? Good, volunteer on the weekends. Leaving no gap in your resume (and showing your dedication) is the. only. way. you will get a job.

4. Make Yourself Invaluable – You must be willing to do what others are not. There are many tasks in museums which are not glamorous, but your willingness to complete them with the same passion you do your favorite duty will show your dedication.

5. Know that this is often a thankless career – feeling unappreciated? Pat yourself on the back. Chances are you’re doing a great job. It’s not that people don’t notice, it’s just that others often have NO IDEA how much work you do in a day, or even what it means to design an exhibition. You know how people thank you? By coming to your programs and exhibitions, by becoming a member, and by putting even a dollar in your donation can. We do this job because WE love it, not because we need to impress anybody else.

6. *BONUS* – Find a Mentor – I am extremely blessed to have found several mentors throughout my time in (and out of) museums. These are people who helped to mold me as a museum leader, who took an interest in my education and my career, and were there any time I needed to call and ask advice about anything. Mentorship cannot be a forced relationship. Find somebody whose personality meshes with yours, they have to be willing to be a mentor and take interest in you, and have something to offer. I’ve called upon my mentors for everything from salary questions, to asking for advice about terrible collections and loans mix-ups, to just having an ear to air my frustrations in the workplace. Mentors are an invaluable resource. I am thankful for each and every one I have.

Have other tips? Please share them in the comments section so that others may see them.

And again, any emerging, or current, or past, museum professionals that have a question or just want to chat museums, feel free to contact me directly. It’s my favorite thing to talk about. I’m a good ear, a strong opinion, and a smiling face.

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How I Landed a Museum Job

I see so many, hundreds at least, of comments on listservs, message boards, e-mails, etc., from young museum professionals asking questions about whether it’s feasible to work in museums right now or not. Should I go to school for museum professions? Will I ever get a paid job? Does my internship count as qualifiable experience? My answer? Yes.

To all my fellow emerging museum professionals out there, this is my story.

After working in so many museums and getting my bachelors degree in Public Relations, I felt I had learned more of what not to do than what to do. I wanted to be able to do right by my profession and not just make it up as I go. I wanted in depth, correct education about how to design exhibits and handle artifacts, etc.

I graduated with my Masters of Museum Professions in May 2012.  At the age of 25, I had 11 years of experience in museums under my belt. From small town historical societies to The British Museum in London, my time included 2 degrees, 5 internships, 3 jobs, and 7 museums around the world. I had done a little bit of everything in a lot of different places.

AdditionImage

I began applying for jobs in late March all over the world; from Saudi Arabia to New York to London and Maine, many positions of which I was sure I  stood no chance at even landing an interview. I was turned down a couple of times, rejected a few offers that didn’t feel right, and just plain didn’t hear back about most of my meticulously labored over applications. When the Executive Director of the Boone County Historical Society, which operates four 100+ year old museums, position came up I applied right away. I knew I wanted to get out of the Jersey/NYC area for awhile and Iowa was close to my family.

The big question, however, was will they give a 25 year old that kind of responsibility AND power? I had a phone interview,  was flown in for an in-person interview (an affair which lasted 8 hours), and within days I was offered the job. Perhaps the Board of Directors and I see it differently, but there are a few things distinct things which I think landed me this position at my age.

1. I was sure of myself. I may be young, but I have a lot of experience and knew I had a lot to offer this museum having come from museums in both a better and, more importantly, a worse state.

2. I asked them questions. During my in-person interview I called the Board out. I asked each of them to share why it is they sit on the Board of Directors of the Boone County Historical Society. I received some interesting answers, answers that have helped inform me about working with some of my Board.RedTape

3. I told them that they would have to be ready to accept what it was they were asking me to do. Change. Change the museum, change the operation, change the exhibits, change the community perception, change the branding, and on and on. It was something the Board knew was necessary but before taking the job I needed to make sure I wasn’t going to try and accomplish something they were going to slap a bunch of red tape all over.

I’m not recommending you try this at home. Museum job interviews are not a formula. EVERY. SINGLE. MUSEUM is so incredibly different, no two interviews should be handled the same. If I would have posed that question to another board (let’s say the MET) I may or may not have been laughed off the face of the planet, who knows. I’m not saying my own Board is any lower caliber than the MET’s because they aren’t. They are both a group of people passionate about their respective institutions, whose mission they are entrusted with serving. The MET is just a different type of board with different expectations and history.

I have been in this position for just over a year and I have learned more about museums, people, working with communities, and collaboration than I ever thought was humanly possible. More on my actual experience as a museum director at a later date. Join me next post for my Five Tips (and a bonus) to Landing that First Museum Job.

Oh yeah, and lastly, any emerging, or current, or past, museum professionals that have a question or just want to chat museums, contact me directly. It’s my favorite thing to talk about. I’m a good ear, a strong opinion, and a smiling face.


Swallowed up in Museums

It has been a busy semester…err semester and a half. I seem to have disappeared, being swallowed up by life, immediately after the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Annual Meeting. Much has happened, most everything EXCELLENT!

Last September, for  my course ‘Creating an Exhibition’, we had the opening of an exhibition I co-curated with a fellow classmate, “The Way, The Truth, The Life: Sacred artifacts from Seton Hall’s Collections.” Below is a  picture taken at the opening. You can expect a full blog post (and more pictures) on this experience soon!

For those of you who read my last post about strategizing museum internships, you know how interested I am in the subject of internships within the museum field. Speaking at this conference, and subsequent conversations to it has inspired me to craft my thesis about professional guidelines and best practices in creating and/or improving museum internship programs. In brief, my thesis will contain three sections:

  1. The first section of this thesis seeks to define the term internship and to differentiate it from volunteer and paid professional positions. It also categorizes internships in a number of types relevant to the museum field.
  2. The second section is a guide for museums hoping to create and/or improve an internship program within their institution and will provide a template and examples of how to begin a formal program for graduate and/or recently post-graduate students, based on materials gathered from several museums and academic institutions.
  3. The third section is a guide for students searching for an internship that will give them the type of experience that will qualify them for their career ahead and shares tips and tricks on finding the right internship, applying for it and then interviewing the institution to make sure it is the best possible fit for them.

Upon completion of this thesis I hope to launch a website I have been working on to make my thesis/guide available to museums, for free, across the world.  I hope that it will empower museums (especially smaller institutions) to create effective and valuable internship programs.  I also hope to host on this site an ongoing internship listing, free to all museums, students, and museum professionals. If any readers, museum professionals, internship coordinators at museums or universities have thoughts please feel free to contact me.

"Urban Owl" By Tricia Zimic

Though you may not believe it, I have many other things going on in life besides my thesis (okay, not TOO much, but some things).  I am currently working for a wonderful artist, Tricia Zimic, as her promoter, graphic/web designer, and all-out assistant.  My latest project though is attempting to independently curate a show including her work, as well as several other artists alike in theme.  Wish me luck, this is really my first time as an “independent” curator. Any advice is welcome.

Just last week I finally secured an internship. Internship AND Thesis in one semester you ask? That’s right! That’s what I get for working too many hours at paid jobs and not spending enough time getting an unpaid one in a museum! Story of the emerging museum professionals’ life.  My internship will be doing a sort of exhibition research and design at the Montclair Historical Society.  You all know my love of all things historical society AND historic house museum.  I’ll be keeping a journal for this internship, so you can expect more regular blog updates (I hope!).

Next week I am lucky enough to have been asked by the couple I nanny for to go to Aspen, CO for nine days, all expenses paid, in return for watching their two lovely little girls for only a portion of the trip.  How can one pass up such an opportunity? My plan, some babysitting, some tanning, lots of snow-shoeing (I’m not a particularly adept skier), and even MORE time sitting fireside working on my thesis.  Is it weird that I am looking forward to my vacation to have quiet-time to do my homework?

Annnnddddddd………….because blog posts without pictures are BOR-ING, here is one of my favorite pictures from my wonderful time spent at home in Iowa for Christmas. My adorable nephew Easton!


Strategizing Museum Internships to Meet (and Manage) Everyone’s Expectations – MAAM

What are the differences between an internship and a volunteer position? What is a good internship? A good intern?  These were just a few of the questions discussed in this panel with Dr. Petra Chu, Seton Hall University, Antonia Moser, Newark Museum, myself Pam Schwartz, student at Seton Hall University, and Pam Veenbaas, Smithsonian Institution.

Presenting four different perspectives from the point of view of an educator, an internship supervisor, a student and an internship coordinator, the panel discussed how to strategize internships in a way that can provide value to both the institution and the intern.

I have been fortunate to have interned at several types and sizes of museums, under many different personalities.  From my perspective, I find the most important things an institution can do are organize, communicate and evaluate.

  1.  When considering advertising for an intern, sit down and brainstorm all of the tasks/projects they can do.  It is better to have more items than to have a bored intern.
  2. Write appropriate postings.  Do not mislead an intern into thinking they will learn something they will not, or that nobody at the institution themselves knows how to do.
  3. Involve us in day-to-day activities.  It is not hard to let an intern sit in on a meeting or seminar and you might be surprised at what we can learn simply by attending.
  4. On the first day be clear about your expectations with the intern.  Your policies on dress, attendance, arriving late, professionalism etc.  You should also make it clear who the intern will report to.
  5. Provide your intern with some form of evaluation part-way through the internship.  This lets you inform the intern of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to be aware of what they should improve upon.

The most important things an intern can do are communicate, be honest and evaluate.

  1.   When applying or interviewing for an internship, be prepared with questions and interview the museum as much they interview you.  You will be dedicating a large amount of time to the institution and you should be careful that it will be a good fit and you will gain from the internship what you hope to.
  2. If you don’t like your internship part way in, are unhappy or do not feel like you are gaining what you had hoped, then just be honest.  Tell your supervisor. If they don’t know you are unhappy, then it is hard for them to remedy the situation.
  3. Evaluate your internship in the same way your supervisor might evaluate you.  Is it meeting your expectations? Are you engaging in the activities you thought you would?

Pam Veebaas is an internship coordinator for the Smithsonian Institution, who has more than 1200 interns a year.  One important aspect of her job is screening internships applicants to ensure they are being chosen as candidates to learn a certain skill, not being chosen for the skills that they already have. The Smithsonian Institution defines an internship as:

“An internship at the Smithsonian Institution is a prearranged, structured learning experience that takes place within a specific time frame. The experience should be relevant to the stated academic and/or professional goals of the intern and to the disciplines represented at the Institution.”

I feel this is an excellent definition of what an internship should be and how it differs from a volunteer position.

Antonia Moser, registrar at the Newark Museum, discussed the necessity her institution has for interns and all the amazing opportunities they have to offer.  As a mid-sized institution in a difficult economy, interns have much to offer the museum and the museum in return can give the intern qualified experience in their field.

An interesting point Antonia brought up was about the difficulties sometimes had with enforcing professionalism in interns.  Often, the students are not being paid and making certain demands of their time, punctuality and dress may be daunting for supervisors.  However, internships are a study in the real life of a student’s chosen career field and they should be expected to act appropriately.  Again, communication is key: supervisors should be upfront immediately about punctuality and dress or professional expectations for students.  Supervisors should also not forget to lead by example!

Dr. Chu, department head of Museum Professions at Seton Hall University discussed the difference between an internship and a volunteer position.

Most interns are students paying to receive academic credit from their internship. Because of this, students should receive training/education equivalent to a (usually) three credit course at their home institution, which applies to their career field.

There is also the differentiation between an internship and what should be a paid position.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines six criteria for determining between these.

From an academic standpoint, Petra struggles with museums offering “internships” that are not providing students with qualified experience.  An institution should not offer an internship merely to get the work done because they themselves cannot complete it, or  because they themselves do not know how.


MAAM and a Discussion With Myself

Many of you may remember my posts last year at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Conference last year as a fellowship recipient.  This year I had the honor of attending as a session speaker.  MAAM, once again,  has definitely not failed in centering and rejuvenating my passion for all things museum.  After attending several thought-provoking sessions and luncheons I’m left with a million thought and new ideas.

My name is Pam and I WILL change museums.

This is a modified version of a quote from Nina Simon, this year’s Stephen Weill Ketnote Speaker and author of The Participatory Museum.  The modification being that I changed the word “want” to the word “will”.  I will be a museum revolutionary, I just need to find my niche.  What do I have to offer?  What purpose/idea do I want to pursue?  You see… I’m already getting off topic, back to MAAM.

But, my mind is million miles an hour.  This same sort of question is arising as I begin researching thesis topics.  What can I write about that is original, new, interesting and most importantly can make a difference?I love historic house museum, genealogy and inventive sustainability tactics for the survival of museums.  These things all greatly interest me, but what do I want to spend months writing sixty some pages about?

As I mentioned, I was a speaker at this year’s conference in a panel about internships organized by Petra Chu, Department Head at Seton Hall University in Museum Professions, where I’m getting my Masters.  My full post on our session will come later, but in keeping with my point (if I have one), our session made me consider the importance of internships both to the institution and to the intern.

So many people have questions about them and as far as I know there really isn’t a type of “master guide” to having and/or getting museum internships.  How should an institution create an intern program? Advertise one?  Manage interns? How can an intern land an internship? Get the most from one?

I’ve had several internships, all great in some way but also some with things that weren’t so great.  There aren’t too many in-depth resources for museum employees or interns/emerging professionals.  Maybe I should/could do that.  Try to help museums AND students with resources, how-to’s, do’s and don’ts.  I could get started by doing my thesis on hosting effective internship programs and on being an effective intern both for yourself and the museum you’re at.

Is there a need for this? Any sort of interest?MAAM session posts coming soon!


Orange Groves and Beautiful Views

Sunday was my sort of day in Rome, the weather was amazing and we visited incredibly interesting places…I’m going to leave out the fact that I did get pooped on by a bird while standing in a lovely orange grove atop a hill.

View from Rose Gardens, Aventine Hill

We began our day in one of the most depressing ways possible at the Museo Storico della Liberzione di Roma or the Historic Museum of the Liberation of Rome.   During the Nazi occupation of Rome, approximately September 1943 through June 1944,this building was used as a detention prison by the Command of the Security Police.  A couple of the cells remain as was within the museum, with names and painful inscriptions carved into the walls of the cells by those detained there without light and little ventilation.  Several of the prisoners that were held here by the Nazis eventually met their demise during the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine, when ten Roman or Jewish prisoners were chosen to die in order to compensate for each single German that had been killed, totaling 335 people.  Though we did have limited packets of information in English, all of the exhibitions were in Italian, making it difficult to read the entire story.

Historic Museum of the Liberation of Rome

Next on to the Centrale Montemartini. I found this Museum to be absolutely fascinating because of the history of the institution itself.  The Museum is housed in what used to be the first public thermoelectric center in Rome (electricity plant).   Much of the hulking equipment and industrial machinery are still present in the building, which for a time had merely become offsite storage for the Capitoline Museums antiquity overflow.

In 1997 a structured exhibition was created in order to maintain accessibility by the public to these works of art, it was called “The Machines and the Gods”, which placed side by side classical art and industrial machinery.  I feel this is truly one excellent example of adaptive reuse and a perfect dichotomy of new existing with old. I especially enjoyed the use of soothing blues and greens for wall/accent colors as it helped to make peace of the transition between the harsh gray machines and the smooth tans and whites of many of the artifacts.

As far as our structured portion of the day, it was fairly short.  So far the rest of the afternoon Luciana and I headed out to Aventine Hill (another of the Roman hills) and it was absolutely lovely.  It was a peaceful afternoon of walking, sitting in the orange and lemon groves, looking at beautiful churches with more beautiful views, rose gardens and the absolute BEST view of all of Rome (or so I think).

Santi Bonifacio e Alessio, gorgeous!

On Aventine Hill there is a keyhole in a door to a garden.  If one looks through the keyhole you see down a shrub lined path with a sunlit opening at the very end.  Through this opening at the end you see a perfectly framed view of St. Peter’s.  Now I thought this might be a little hokey but after seeing it I think I would definitely put it on the list of things one must do in Rome.  It is unfortunately hard to take a picture of this glorious view, especially with my brick of a camera so I’ll have to cite somebody else here.  Alas, another wonderful day in Rome.

What my camera saw at Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta.

What I ACTUALLY saw through the keyhole! Photo from http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Villa_Malta


The Science of Museums – Rome Day 3

Just when you think you’re beginning to get homesick, you find a little piece of home right around the corner from your hotel.  Nothing like Atlantic City, Rome style.

Atlantic City in Rome?

The best part of day three was to get to see museum science in action.  I LOVE THIS STUFF! I mean I have considered being a conservator just so I can discover the history and original form of objects…but I guess I love designing exhibitions more.

Courtyard of Villa Medici

First stop was at the Villa Medici with a tour of the AMAZING garden and labyrinth.  Inside we saw the special exhibition “Poussin and Moses: From Drawing to Tapestry” and something that was very interesting about the exhibition space was a fairly steep incline with “stairs”.  They were really stairs though because each rise was only a few inches and the flat of each stair was a few feet. Charlotte’s (my professor), husband, Derek, enlightened me as to the origin of such stairs.  Villa Medici is built on a large hill and horse stable was located farther up the hill, the stairs were built to be useable by the horses. Learn something random all the time.

Terrible panoramic, beautiful view

The structure was built in 1564 on the ruins of a 2nd century villa,  the walls and structure were ornamented with 1st and 2nd century antiquities, like the piece of freize from the Ara Pacis (you’ll hear about that later) who now has a replica piece.  The Medicis made their start in banking and devised double entry ledger writing.  Along with bringing in a fortune Lorenzo began bringing many artists and musicians to the household until it became a sort of school, which it still is.  Twenty-four artists come from France at a time to stay at Villa Medici, now the French Academy, in order to study in Italy.

The garden is very typical Italian, notice there are no flowers.  Original Italian thought was that man is the center of the universe so he should have complete control over his things.  Bushes you can prune and control, flowers you cannot. Thus the lack of flowers.  My favorite thing in the gardens was the mini sculpture garden depicting the massacre of Niobe’s children.  Essentially Apollo and Artemis were jealous that Niobe had been able to have fourteen children so they killed them all. For a much more informative and romantic version of the story read here.

Sculpture Garden of Niobe Massacre, Villa Medici

The first interesting piece of science for the day you’ll see below.  A room in one of the towers of Villa Medici where you can see they have literally peeled through time back through consecutive layers of paint.  It’s like Christmas and unwrapping the same present with a million different layer of paper, the suspense!

Paint Layers

Next we wandered down the Spanish Steps (actually built by the French) to the Keats-Shelley Museum where we had a tour by the most darling little Irishmen.  Saying that makes him sound old, he wasn’t but he was just pint sized and spritely.  This was the final home of John Keats, the poet, who died from tuberculosis after a truly tragic life.

The Spanish Steps

Those of you who know me, know how I feel about the mixing of the old and new. Incredibly torn.  Sometimes I love it, but most times I really hate it. One instance where I really disliked it was the Museo Ara Pacis Augustae where the Ara Pacis (Alter of Peace) dating is enclosed in a piece of architecture by Richard Meier.  It’s just a big empty, stark, waste of good museum space.

Ara Pacis, Alter of Peace

The interesting thing about marble in Rome is that when you see it now it’s whites, tans and browns.  Had you seen it when it was created a large majority of sculpture and architecture would have been brightly painted.  You can’t get much of the context from this photo but it shows the science of trying to find out what colors would have been used on which areas of the Ara Pacis.

What the colors on the outside of Ara Pacis would have actually been.

View from Janiculum Hill

Next, another of the Roman hills, this time Janiculum Hill where they have restored sculpture for the the 150th Anniversary of the unification of Italy.  Another BEAUTIFUL view.  We finished the evening at the American Academy in Rome.  It serves a purpose similar to that of the French Academy at Villa Medici.  Students and/or artists may reside here to study and practice in Rome and enjoy the Italian Culture.  As it was an open house we were able to view many of the current residents work and studios.

Dinner tonight was at La Tana dei Noiantri inTrastavere which seems to be the hopping place for the teens to thirty somethings crowd.  Pizza, again. Delish. I can’t help it.