Museum Hour on Museum Career Stories

Museum Hour is a weekly discussion hosted by the @museumhour Twitter account under the #MuseumHour hashtag. I first heard of Museum Hour just before Christmas last year so it wasn’t until the New Year that I had the chance to participate in a discussion; if I remember correctly, the topic was about ‘all things new’ e.g. exhibitions, programmes etc. I strongly recommend having a look through the tweets, it gives you the chance to connect with other museum workers and can be a great source of inspiration and encouragement.

Last Monday (29th August), I had the chance to host a Museum Hour on personal career stories. I decided on this topic after taking part in a previous conversation on museum studies. It was interesting to see how people entered the museum sector with (or without) a museum studies degree, so I thought it would be a good idea to explore in more detail the different pathways people took in the museum sector. It was a very lively discussion; when I made a Storify, I found out there were ~300 tweets! Even though it was a bit hard to keep track of all of the conversations, I really enjoyed hosting it and it was great to hear everyone’s stories, words of encouragement and hopes for the future.

 

My own journey into the museum world began over three years ago. I initially wanted to become a lawyer (I decided on this career choice when I was around six years old). At secondary school, my work experience placement was a legal admin assistant and I had the chance to sit in on local court cases. However, I’ve always loved science and the natural world. After doing a geology module in A-Level Geography, I decided that I wanted to pursue a geological career instead, which led to me applying for MSci Geology at UCL. A few months before starting my degree, I visited the Natural History Museum in London and fell in love with their geological collections, especially the mineral gallery. It was then that I realised I wanted to pursue a career in museums.

After starting my degree in September 2013, I signed up for email alerts from my university’s volunteering unit. I was then sent an email about volunteering at UCL’s Grant Museum and applied for it. During the volunteer introduction talk at the Grant Museum, I was told about another volunteering opportunity with UCL’s Physics Collections. Then, just before the summer holidays of 2014, I was given the chance to do paid work auditing objects in UCL’s Earth Sciences department. So far I have worked three summers with the department and accessioned, catalogued and audited thousands of minerals, rocks and fossils. I also volunteer every now and then at the Grant Museum (half term/evening activities) and last year, I spent some time volunteering for UCL Library Services as a preservation volunteer (this involved cleaning and repairing old documents). My hope for the future is to become a curator of a natural history collection and have the chance to run my own geological exhibition/event.

So my advice to people who want to work in museums is to volunteer, sign up for email alerts and get in touch with other museum workers as they have the best advice! Contact your local museum and if you’re a university student, contact your university’s museum (if they have one), I’m sure they would be happy for volunteers – you never know what it could lead to!

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4 comments

  1. This was really interesting! Well done!
    Though I wonder about the ethics of volunteering to get into a career in museums? I often think we take advantage of bright, young aspiring museum professionals, asking them to do jobs for free that should really be paid!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! There are good and bad aspects of volunteering. For many it’s what starts their career but you’re right, some people might be taken advantage of. Also, there are those who can’t afford to volunteer. A key question is why do some museums have to use volunteers instead of paid workers? It’s probably a sign of financial issues

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  2. Great post! I love hearing other museum workers’ stories. As for myself, I started working as a volunteer fossil preparator in 2012 in my university’s Anantomical Sciences department. This lead to an opportunity to do volunteer fossil prep and collections work at the American Museum of Natural History in June of 2013. I’ve been volunteering there ever since, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for how the science of paleontology operates behind the scenes, and I’ve gained valuable experience teaching new volunteers. I had hoped after graduation to find a job in museum work, but unfortunately no opportunities have panned out thus far. In any case, I’m so grateful for the volunteer opportunities I’ve had. They have enriched my life in so many ways!

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