The conversation

Philip Miles, Alex Nicholson-Evans, Issue 116/11, p17, 01.11.2016
How can mid-career museum professionals transform their career?
Dear Alex: The biggest transformation for my career was changing organisations to gain wider experiences and skills. To get to where I am today, I’ve had to move all over the country, chasing the next interesting job providing the necessary skills for my ultimate career goal.

These were quite risky moves, as it meant leaving friends, less job security and not putting down firm roots. I wonder if mid-career hurdles and life commitments sometimes go hand in hand? Once you put down roots in one place, the catchment area for that next career-transforming experience can become a lot smaller. Best wishes, Philip

Dear Philip: It’s interesting that you talk about gaining wider experiences and skills through changing organisations or moving areas. You’re absolutely right, but there is often merit in first exploring options within your own organisation. The most transformational elements of my career journey have been facilitated by just one organisation – Birmingham Museums Trust.

I started with the learning and access team, took a secondment in commercial development – and the rest is history. Secondments are an incredible opportunity to progress and change your career prospects without uprooting. Of course, training and networking can’t be underestimated, either.

Best wishes, Alex


Dear Alex: I agree with exploring internal opportunities if they exist, and Birmingham Museums Trust seems to be on the right path with developing its staff. However, this option has been limited in recent years for me. I was at a local authority museum service at the height of the cuts, and a council-wide job freeze meant even maternity cover wasn’t being offered. Now I find myself as the only employee at an independent museum, so internal opportunities are even more limited. Getting on to a balanced, funded, external continuing professional development programme such as the MA’s Transformers programme, with sessions to develop me but also develop my organisation, has been essential.

Best wishes, Philip

Dear Philip: It was Transformers that also gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded professionals with big dreams from across the UK. People who weren’t afraid of challenging the status quo – it was exciting. I loved our residentials; working so intensely with such passionate people was one of the many reasons I decided to apply for my new job at the time. The training was fantastic but it was the facilitators and other people on the course (yourself included) who inspired me the most, and made me realise how much I wanted to be part of driving change in the sector.

Best wishes, Alex


Dear Alex: Transformers was (and still is) an incredibly important life experience for me. The support, development and friendships are something that I will carry with me wherever I end up on my museum journey. I get the feeling that you don’t ever stop being a Transformer. You make a good point about “you” deciding to apply for a new role though – ultimately we decide where our careers take us, what opportunities and risks we need to take to progress, and where we want to be. Having that extra support or push can make all the difference. Knowing when and where to stop will be my next challenge.

Best wishes, Philip

Dear Philip: I get that feeling too – I’m still meeting up with Transformers colleagues, long since the completion of the course, and I hope this continues into the future. I really hope none of us ever stop being Transformers. I’d recommend the programme to anyone wanting to learn, develop new skills, network with like-minded individuals and make a difference within their organisation and beyond. Because that’s what it’s all about – museums changing lives.

Best wishes, Alex

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