The long game

Don’t just think about the short term – what you want to do afterwards affects your choice of degree
There are many paths to a museum and gallery career and a postgraduate course can add value to your CV while providing an opportunity to reflect on practice. But it is not the only route into the sector, nor does it guarantee a job in museums.

If you are thinking of a career in the museum, gallery or heritage sectors, it is a good idea to explore the options available.

Combining study with on-the-job skills, development can be achieved through an apprenticeship, a traineeship or paid internship, or by volunteering and independent study while doing paid work outside the sector. Cuts in funding mean that there are fewer paid positions in the sector, and in coming years museums are likely to have to change their way of working. So those considering a career in museums will need the right approach if they are to thrive.

Keep developing

The Museums Association (MA) runs a series of professional development awards. Here are some tips that reflect our approach to continuing professional development that will hopefully help you, whatever direction your career takes.

Discover the values that matter to you most

Before embarking on the next step in your career, identify your values and a long-term vision for your working life. The MA has a clear commitment to the public benefit of museums and the importance of ethical practice, outlined in the report Museums Change Lives and the Code of Ethics. We expect the values underpinning this commitment to be fostered by people who work in museums. Do these values matter to you?

Once you’ve got a good sense of your personal values and how they work within the broader picture for museums, try not to fixate on a role. Instead, pinpoint what values you will not compromise on. Return to this list when making plans or facing difficult decisions and ask yourself: what step will better enable me to fulfil my aspirations and values? This should allow you to be more flexible and choose from a broader range of opportunities.

Invest in your skills so you will stand out

In a crowded job market it can be hard to stand out from the competition, so try to invest in developing the skills that will make you stand out.

This could be anything from developing an entrepreneurial approach to honing your digital skills and online profile. The skillset that museums need is changing, so skills gained in other sectors are becoming more attractive to employers.

If you can’t find a course or ready-made opportunity to develop in the right professional direction, try creating one: you could raise funds for a project, start writing a blog, or work with fellow volunteers to organise a pop-up event.

Look for a mentor or coach

Forming a learning relationship is a great way of developing your skills. This could involve finding a mentor or a coach, participating in a learning set with peers, contributing to the work of a regional or subject specialist network, or offering to mentor someone.

Enjoy the journey and be ­persistent

Throughout your career you may face assumptions – your own or other people’s – that limit what you can do. Try to think laterally about your situation and find ways you can achieve your aims.

Getting your first role in a museum can be hard, so try not to get disheartened if it takes a while; getting your desired job may take much longer. Focus on the small steps you can take to develop your skills and you will be surprised at what you can achieve. Most importantly, enjoy the journey.

For information on the Museums Association’s professional development schemes or to discuss career options email
Hope Falk
Hope Falk is studying full-time for the MA in Museum and Heritage Development at Nottingham Trent University.

What made you choose the course?

I chose it because it emphasised collaborating with the sector on live projects. With so many jobs requiring experience, even for entry-level positions, being able to get that experience through our course was a huge selling point. I have also been impressed by how forward thinking the course is.

What is the most interesting aspect of it?

Besides getting to work on live projects, we get to see how organisations deal with the same problem in a multitude of ways. Being able to test out the different career paths in the heritage sector has also been really interesting.

How do you hope it will help to further your career?

I think this course will help me move into my career with a lot more confidence in my skills, since I will have already put them to the test on live projects. Our course leaders also do a fantastic job of creating networking opportunities for us, which I hope will prove helpful in the future.

What advice would you give someone choosing a course?

I would advise people looking to apply to a course within the heritage sector to look for a programme that will move outside the classroom and let you put your skills to the test. The course should have a working connection with people who are still employed in the sector to help inform how the programme is shaped.


Courses guide and listings (pdf)