Welcome to the Field: Thoughts for New Professionals

Lord Chesterfield (Philip Stanhope), wrote one of the first published advice guides. Starting in the 1730s, he wrote his “Letters to his Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman” as private communications to his son. They were published after his death.

Recently, one of my co-workers came across a “Letter to a Young Librarian” of advice for new professionals. She started a discussion about what she might include in a “Letter to a Young Archivist.” Of course, that got me started on the idea of what a similar piece for young museum educators might include.

Here’s what comes to mind.

Letter to a Young Museum Educator
(1) Balance academic training with practical experience. Both are important–try not to neglect either one!

(2) Cultivate your ability to adapt. During programs and special events, always be prepared for things not to follow the plan

(3) Look for mentors. You can learn a huge amount from more seasoned professionals. Find people whose work you admire and watch what they do. Think about how they act. Have conversations with them about their work.

(4) Become part of a community. Join a professional organization (or several) and get involved.

(5) Connect everything you do to the mission. Avoid creating activities, exhibitions, programs that are just for fun and don’t have a content connection to your site. Mission-connected activities can be fun, too!

(6) Practice self-reflection. Ask yourself what you would do differently next time and what you would do the same (at the next meeting, program, grant-writing session. . .)

What advice for people entering the field? What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting?

One Response to “Welcome to the Field: Thoughts for New Professionals”

  1. April 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm, Museum Partners Consulting said:

    7) Don’t be afraid to take a job to help pay the bills in a (semi-)related field. We all have to eat and sometimes you can’t find a full-time, or part-time, museum job that pays the bills and keeps you going. Be a nanny or tutor, work in customer service, substitute teach – and apply your museum skills and audience knowledge to this work too. On job interviews, be honest about what you are learning and how you are applying these skills, and don’t apologize for taking a non-museum job.

    8) Be ready for the challenges and triumphs of the career ladder. And it is a ladder. You won’t get your dream job first go around. Be willing and able to work hard and learn at a lower level job and you will work your way up to whatever your top rung is.

    9) Be willing to sacrifice something. You’re looking for a full-time job in a well-respected museum that’s where you live and pays a living wage. Rarely will all of these come together at the same time. Decide which of these you can compromise on, and take the part-time job at the great place, or be willing to move to get more.

    Thank you for this and the opportunity to comment!


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