Guide | Making a career of it - Museums Association

Guide | Making a career of it

The best ways to keep up with professional development
Careers guide Workforce
Talk to others in the sector about their experience and expertise
Talk to others in the sector about their experience and expertise

Working in museums requires a mix of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. These can be gained in a number of ways, whether you are studying at university, participating in a traineeship, working as a volunteer or taking an apprenticeship.

Professional development should be meaningful and purposeful. No one has endless time or money to support it, so understanding what you want out of it is key. And remember, learning can take place outside formal taught courses. The following can help your professional development:

Look forward

Working in museums may be your career aspiration but the nature of work in the sector is always changing. Reflecting on the diversity of disciplines and roles in the sector, and how they are evolving, can help you think about your development. It can inform what you study, the projects you do and the work placements you apply for.

Connecting with others

Whether you are on a work placement or volunteering, connecting with others in the same organisation is a professional development must. The sector is a generous space and we love talking about our work, so if there is someone you want to chat to about their expertise, talk to them. Take them for a coffee – in real life or virtually.

Keep up to date

It has never been easier to keep up with advancements and insight in museums. Social media, magazines, blogs and vlogs can all keep you in the know with breaking stories, reflections and comment. Having your finger on the pulse enables you to refine your thinking and professional practice.

Join a network

Joining networks such as the Museums Association is a great way to make connections, hear diverse views and gain insights into the way the sector works.

Participate everywhere

There are many ways to participate in the sector – from completing consultations to being involved in Twitter initiatives such as @MuseumHour. Participation can increase your confidence, keep you up to date and helps develop your own views.

Watch, listen and learn

Having role models can help us develop in different ways. They can be good for honing skills, such as giving presentations or chairing meetings, but are also useful to learn about areas such as leadership and management.

If you see someone do something well, this should contribute to your professional practice. Equally, taking note of the negative impact of certain behaviours or lack of competence is a way of developing positively. Remember to listen and observe. What do your role models say and how do they say it?

Students working together on clock conservation at West Dean College
Read and reflect

When on a work placement, reading documents about the museum can provide you with great insight about how the organisation approaches its work. Taking the time to go through an institution’s corporate or strategic plan, annual reports, strategies, policies and procedures can help you build a picture of an organisation. Many of these documents are publicly available, which means you can compare museums.


Volunteering develops skills, extends networks, gives something back and provides an inside view of a role or organisation. At the heart of any successful relationship is meeting the needs of the volunteer and the organisation. Remote or time-limited tasks provide a ringfenced opportunity for development, so there is the chance to develop skills and experience alongside other life commitments.

Tools and techniques

Whether you are visiting a museum in real life or participating in a virtual tour, tools such as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis help to develop a professional eye. Ask yourself the following:

  • What did the museum do well (strengths)?
  • What would you do differently (weaknesses)?
  • What did the museum miss out (opportunities)?
  • Who or what might affect its success (threats)?
Nottingham Trent University has created exercises that are more suitable for different learning styles
Nottingham Trent University has created exercises that are more suitable for different learning styles
Record your learning

One way of embedding your learning is to record it. Learning logs or maps can help – use an Excel spreadsheet for a linear and searchable approach, or a Trello board for visual progress. Capturing what you learned and reflecting on it helps it become part of your professional practice.

Development during Covid

The pandemic can make professional development seem more challenging. The opportunities for hands-on practical development may be reduced, but there is the chance to develop a broader horizon. For example, digital conferences, workshops and webinars are plentiful and are often easier and cheaper to attend than a physical event. All the above complement more formal learning programmes and can support your development as a well-rounded museum professional.

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Comments (1)

  1. Jessica Wight says:

    Amazing article, inspiring and has lots of new ideas (eg. SWOT analysis) to incorporate into career growth. As a new graduate and starting in the sector during these times this is sorely needed.

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