Tamsin Russell, 07.03.2019
There are numerous ways to engage with the museum world, says Tamsin Russell. Be open-minded and tenacious, and you will reap rewards
Museums and galleries are complex organisations that perform a wide variety of functions with public benefit at their heart. This means there is huge diversity in the types of institutions, collections and jobs in the sector, in addition to the range of towns, cities and rural locations.
There are multiple entry points and career paths because the sector is open to different experiences and specialisms.
If you have been thinking about a career in museums you may be surprised by the breadth available. Some traditional jobs, such as that of curator, have evolved to reflect 21st-century priorities, resulting in some organisations renaming these roles to reflect this.
Part of your career journey will be to navigate these changes, as it will influence the approach you take in your study, volunteering and employment.
There are many ways to engage with the sector: a career can start from volunteering and participating in a traineeship to joining an entry-level job and working your way up, or by undertaking a PhD.
Postgraduate study provides time and space to immerse yourself in current theory and practice. It can be something you undertake early on to gain an additional qualification, or later in your career, providing you with advances in your field.
The sector is competitive so you need to be able to demonstrate your skills, knowledge and experience to be successful, as well as showing that you know what is happening in museums generally. The Museums Association’s (MA) Museums Change Lives campaign relating to social justice and public benefit is a good starting point.
Aside from postgraduate study, experience in the sector is essential as it needs a workforce that can make an effective contribution quickly.
Regardless of when you undertake your study, absolutely capitalise on opportunities that come your way. Say yes to any work placement even if you have worked in a museum before, as it will give you an opportunity to meet people, work with new collections and think how current theory relates to museum practice.
And remember, after your studies you will be experiencing it from a different perspective, which may open doors and provide additional insights. Working in the sector is not a theoretical pursuit, it’s a practical one.
The MA is committed to developing a workforce that meets the needs of museums, collections and audiences. We support the health, wellbeing and professionalism of the workforce.
Our professional development programme includes events, resources and continuing professional development schemes such as the Associateship and Transformers Influence, both aimed at early- to mid-career museum workers. The MA helps enable those in the sector to develop in a role or specialism and remain up to date with best practice and current thinking.
The museum sector is going through a challenging period, with funding being cut, institutions closing and jobs changing. To be successful, you need to be tenacious, curious and opportunistic. You need to know what you want to do, where you want to go and what you want to work with – not necessarily immediately, but don’t lose focus.
Knowing all this will help you make the right decisions along the way. You need to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, be realistic and have an insatiable appetite for learning. This is where your journey starts, and the MA is here to help, support and guide you.
Tamsin Russell is the professional development officer at the MA