Museum 2.0h No, Where Next?

By Natasha Naughton

 

Writing an article about my hopes and fears for the GLAM industry seems a daunting task at this stage of my career. I’m very much an early stage professional in the museum sector, and at the moment most of my hopes and fears feel very self-centred. At their most basic:

 

I hope that I will get a full-time job, in the industry that I love.

I fear that I will not.

 

Nonetheless, I believe from my conversations with friends and colleagues that these are very common hopes and fears and so maybe articulating them here will give me some help in finding my direction. Hopefully it will help you too!

 

tash sovereign Hill
Internship at Sovereign Hill.   Photograph courtesy of Natasha Naughton

 

 

I graduated from my Master of Museum and Heritage Studies degree this week, and I am already worried that I am about to slip off my chosen career path and into something only tangentially related to my dreams simply because it is so hard to get a full time, ongoing role in a museum. I was told from the very beginning, back when I went to my first networking event in semester one of my Bachelor of Arts, that to succeed in this industry I would need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to volunteering and interning. And I did. I spent weeks repacking dusty stone tools at Museum A, I catalogued the contents of nineteenth century houses for Museum B, I collected quotes to be used as a soundscape in a new exhibition at Museum C, and I wrote a short play to be performed at Museum D[1]. Amongst these opportunities eventually came some paid work. I started by juggling writing my Honours thesis with two casual Visitor Services Officer jobs – mainly telling people where the toilets were, or asking them to please stop trying on the clothes that were part of the exhibitions. Then I moved cities to study for a Masters’ degree and a chance conversation led me to a casual job as a museum educator, which I love.

 

But…

 

After spending six years at university, it frustrates me enormously that I work in jobs where my qualifications are not necessary. Even most of my work/volunteer experience is not necessary. I work in teams with some wonderful, talented people, who are fantastic at their jobs, but they come from completely different backgrounds to me, work history-wise. And I understand that diversity is important[2], but I do feel somewhat ripped off.

 

I was led to believe that the only way to get a job in a museum in 2017 was through crazy amounts of study. But now crazy simply feels like excess.

 

Tash UK dig
Archaeological Fieldwork.    Photograph courtesy of Natasha Naughton

 

 

And so, while I spend my days talking to eleven-year-olds about the past, and my evenings filling in job applications, I wonder where I will be in one, five, ten years’ time. Will I still be a casual museum educator? Will I be the manager of a museum education team? Will I be writing policy for the Department of Somethingorother because I’ve given up museums in favour of a more typical public service job? I hope that it is the middle option, but that will probably be determined by how long I stay in the first option. I’ve already applied for a job in a Federal Government Graduate Program for 2018 and I am very much on the fence in terms of what to do if I get it. If I jump ship now am I making an intelligent career move into something more stable, or am I letting go of my dreams in favour of Plan B?

 

However, as a friend recently reminded me, working as a museum educator was not initially my first career choice, nor even my second choice. From the ages of 15 to 20, I was determined to be an archaeologist. But an extended stint digging in cold rain combined with a fantastic bit of work experience exploring the collection of one of my favourite museums convinced me that I’d prefer to probe the past indoors. And yet I still had no intention of working in an education team – I was going to be a curator. But moving to a new city meant that I was open to just about any jobs, and by happy chance, it turned out the one that I found gives me great enjoyment and job satisfaction. Now that I step back and recognise that I have had these twists and turns in my career already, perhaps another one at these stage is not the terrifying misstep that I fear it could be.

 

 


I cannot say that I have been inspired to throw caution to the wind and take the next job that come up, regardless of perceived suitability, but I think I will be a little less afraid, and more open to opportunities that may arise.


 

 

I don’t know that I am in a position to offer much advice to anyone facing a similar predicament, but writing this piece has somewhat consoled me as I reflect on that last paragraph and the path that I have started to explore. I cannot say that I have been inspired to throw caution to the wind and take the next job that come up, regardless of perceived suitability, but I think I will be a little less afraid, and more open to opportunities that may arise. They may not completely take me out of the woods, but while I’m there, I may as well build a cool treehouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] And I absolutely recognise that I was in such a position of privilege to be able to do this – I was incredibly lucky that my parents lived within walking distance of the university where I completed my undergraduate degree and I was able to live with them while studying. I did have a casual (non-museum) job while I studied, but I was able to save the majority of the money I earned, rather than having to worry about balancing volunteer work with the need to pay rent and buy groceries.

[2] Interestingly, while we come from diverse backgrounds in terms of work history, almost everyone I work with comes from a similar cultural and gender background – we are predominantly white women. This imbalance, however, is a topic best left to be explored in another article.

 

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