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Museums, Arts & Cultural Heritage Week 2019: Careers in Museums

By Skye A Aitken, on 25 November 2019

Written by Shally Sawhney, Skills Officer at UCL Careers.

We invited four different speakers from various roles and institutions within the Museum sector to give students an insight into what it is like to work in the field.

  • Alison Boyle – Keeper of Science Collection at the Science Museum
  • Moa Taylor Hodin – Learning Coordinator at Museum of London Docklands
  • Gina Koutsika – Creative & Skills Director at V&A Museum of Childhood
  • Vanessa Meade – Curator of Exhibitions and Interpretations at Geffrye Museum

Our fantastic panellist gave some great advice and here are some top tips for students looking to get into the sector.

On volunteering and getting experience:

A common theme throughout the panel was the importance of volunteering in the sector. All our panellist recommended this as a great way to get experience and to figuring out what you what kind of roles you enjoy most. Volunteering in a museum can also help when applying for roles, especially as people you know within the museum may be able to support you with your application. One of our panellists regularly volunteers at the museum she works in which gives her the opportunity to learn new skills and also meet people from both front of house and back of house.

On getting into the Sector:

The Museum sector can be a hard sector to get into. It can be competitive, some roles have hundreds of applications and you have to really want the job. Our panellist advised to be persistent, keep applying and be prepared to travel. Local museums are a great opportunity to get experience. One panellist said there are lots of different avenues into working in museums and recommended joining different networks to widen the number of people that you know. Leicester University’s museums job desk which is updated on a Thursday afternoon was highlighted as a great job site

On showing your passion:

All our panellist love working in the sector – there are challenges that they face but the rewards are far greater. Their advice to students is to show your passion and say yes to opportunities.

‘Take every opportunity you can. Ask for feedback and show your passion.’

‘You might have a lot of applications but if you are passionate then keep going.’

‘Take every opportunity that is given to you, just go for it’

‘Give different things a go, you might get asked what has inspired you’

 

We also had some excellent questions from our audience – we’ve included the top 3 questions and what the panel had to say:

Audience Questions:

Do I need a doctorate to work in a Museum?

You can get promotions without a doctorate, it certainly can help but you do not absolutely have to have it. It is more important to have relevant contact experience (especially for a curator role). A Doctorate might be useful later on in your career but experience is definitely more important. One panellist decided to do an MBA instead, which she felt, was more useful for her in running museums. Many institutions are keen on the practical experience to support all the theory that you may have learned.

What are you looking for in applications?

Different organisations recruit in different ways. Make sure that your experience is relevant and that you have tailored it to the job description. Keep it super clear and easy for the person reading it to see how great you are. Some institutions use a points system where they measure your essential skills and desirable skills, so look at having those essential skills ticked off – really spell it out and have practical examples for everything. Try to give different examples (something that stands out), look at the experience that you can adapt and the skills that you are able to transfer. Some applications are now looking at behaviours as key competencies rather than skills.

What support is there for professional development in museum roles?

There is a lot of learning on the job and HR will have a variety of training opportunities, although some people will pay for their own training and development. Make the most of your managers and the team around you, find out if there is a mentoring programme and if there is, apply to access it. If you’d like to attend a conference or an event, sometimes organisations such as the Museum Association may offer you a grant so that you are able to get a ticket.

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