Museum Meanderings – Advice on a Career in History, Heritage, and Museums – Part Two

In my previous blog post on museum careers I discussed briefly how to get ahead in the museum world especially at a time when many museums are or have already cut staff. This is not to discourage you about the museum world just to bring reality into what can be a cut-throat industry for jobs! Read on for more practical advice for a career in museums.

Master of what?

In my previous post I discussed whether you would need a degree or not to advance or start you museum career. I argued in favour of a degree though realize this is a privileged position and not everyone can or wants to undertake a three or four year degree. However, if you do have your undergraduate degree you may be thinking about getting your MA or you are at a standpoint in your museum career where you need an MA to move up the career ladder.

I completed my MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds in 2014/2015 and would highly recommend this particular MA course though there are a lot other courses available across the UK and Ireland. My MA had a focus on academic and practical skills which I felt was particularly important as in my opinion having practical skills is possibly more important than theoretical knowledge unless you are going to pursue an academic career.

This is just one point to think about when choosing your MA – do you want a practical based degree or a mixture of academia and practical experience? Some MA’s do not offer or place an emphasis on practical experience which boggles my mind as by essence a job in a museum is practical in nearly all aspects of it’s nature. You need to know how to handle and move objects, how to do basic conservation skills, as well as moving objects from store to exhibitions and vice versa.

Also it is important to consider what subject you want to do your MA in. My MA was in Art Gallery and Museum Studies but I also chose an elective module on country house studies as I hope to have a future career in country house curation. Some MA’s offer degrees in heritage studies or solely art management studies whilst others are more area specific e.g. ‘Scottish Country House Studies’ or ‘Women’s Studies.’ Whilst these degrees are amazing in their own right I feel from my experience a much broader degree such as an MA Museum Studies will give you a better foundation than a more specialized degree.

(Interesting to note I was originally going to study Dress History as my MA but thought against this and am glad I did. Though I am hoping in 2023 to undertake an MA in Dress History as a pre-cursor to a PhD!)

Application, Application, Application!

So you possibly have your degree(s) and experience and are applying for jobs. You are probably applying for a number of jobs to see what jobs will give you interviews or to try out different career paths before possibly specializing. I have applied for so many jobs by this stage I can’t remember exactly how many I have applied for!

It’s important to read the job specification carefully; do you have the skills and knowledge for this job? what are the essential and desirable criteria? (sometimes job interviewers will go for candidates with both the essential and desirable criteria if there are a lot of applicants), is the salary enough to cover your living expenses? will I need to either learn to drive or move away from home for this job? These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself to determine if you really, really, want the job that you are applying for.

For someone who has moved away from home three times for a museum job (I highly recommend this if you can do it as I feel sometimes the museum world in Ireland doesn’t always have enough jobs for the people that need them!) the job you are applying for needs to be the right one for you. Sometimes you won’t know this until you actually are working in the job at others you can tell straight away from the job criteria.

Additionally, sometimes jobs are advertised because museums have a legal requirement to do so but someone working there is already lined up for the job. Whilst I disparage this I can understand this as the museum will already know the working ethic of the person. Though on the other hand it does not give early museum career professionals a foot in the door and can be jarring to people to apply for further jobs. In this instance all I can say is persevere and apply for everything and anything you think you have a chance of getting an interview for. Even if you don’t get an interview or you do get one and are not successful do ask for feedback so that you can improve next time round!

I hope that these two short blog posts have been useful to you in your pursuit of a museum career! I am sure there are more detailed advice pages out there but I thought that my experience of working in museums might offer someone some hopeful advice for their own career!

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