I am a recent graduate of the public history graduate program at Rutgers University. I currently serve as the digital media coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, where I wrangle bloggers and tackle our social media platforms.
In the last two years I've created an oral history database using StoriesMatter for the Salem County Historical Society, collected data on school group attendance for the education department at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I've digitized the Balch Institute Ethnic Images in Advertising Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I volunteer at the Alice Paul Institute in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and the Digital Center at HSP.
In my spare time I am often silly and irreverent.
you have absolutely no idea how wonderful this tumblr is! i’m an undergrad majoring in history and minoring in arts administration, going to grad school soon for history and museum studies,and i just can’t tell you how much confidence you’ve given me! i’ve gotten such a hard time for family and friends who think a career in museum work is a horrible waste of time and money. i’ve spent countless nights crying over the future. but this shows me that a career in museums CAN happen. thank you!!
I’ve let this ask sit for a few days, because it made me feel some notion of sadness to read. I think I owe you an apology, because I do not want to be misleading in the content of this blog.
I am a junior BA in Museum Studies/Art History. I am thousands of dollars in debt going into a highly competitive non-profit field that almost always necessitates further schooling. I can’t say honestly that majoring in, for example, business would be much wiser with the amount of debt I have, but I certainly can’t think of anything more precarious in terms of a manageable future. Your friends and family aren’t wrong - going into an industry that almost always means you will make very little money relative to your education, despite having spent massive amounts on the education necessary to obtain your job (if you get one at all) is unwise at best.
Going over the stats in my Museum Education class only compounded the points further in my mind — the people who get into the field of museums are mostly rich and (by extension) mostly white. I am not at all rich, and latina, so from the beginning I knew things would be “different” for me. If you’re very rich, more power to you! But I think you should be honest with yourself if you are not. The field of Museums is a horrible waste of your money if you don’t have any. You have no way of getting it back - you just have to hope that working for a non-profit and paying loans on time for long enough (I think it’s something like 13 years…?) means the government will forgive your loans. Eventually. Grad school that is unfunded is the definition of a waste of your money. Or your parent’s money. They’re not reminding you of this to be mean, they’re trying to help you.
I am not telling you it’s impossible, I’m telling you it’s difficult at best. I’m telling you that I have been passed over for an internship (despite prior experience) in favor of someone who had absolutely no experience related whatsoever, and said she got the job for showing enough enthusiasm. I’m telling you that will happen. People who have nothing prior will get the job. People will apply for jobs they’re not at all qualified in, and massive amounts of other qualified people will also apply. I’m telling you, that my brutally honest professor’s “pep” talk was that I needed a 3.8 GPA for Graduate school, that I shouldn’t bother applying to top schools because I go to a massive non-elite state school (I can’t afford elsewhere), and that a Master’s in Museum Studies would be pointless. I need a PhD in Art History. I’m telling you my less brutally honest professor informed us she had a complete breakdown six weeks into Grad School and had to remember to start doing things that weren’t studying for Grad School again (things like functioning at a healthy livable level).
You need to be brutally honest about why you’re doing this. It’s not to make money. And it’s not because you think the mass public thinks what you want to do is a necessity to society the same way a Civil Engineer or a Firefighter or a Doctor might be. Hell, most people know what a lawyer does, you’re lucky if people even know what “Museum Studies” does - besides the hesitant “Do you want to be a curator?” So if not for recognition (worth), or money (unlikely), why do you do this?
It’s because you really, really love doing it.
But please don’t bear false hopes based on this blog - not when I purposefully reblog things like this. I’ve only had one person in the field insist that the outlook isn’t so dismal as I believe it to be, but most every grad student or young professional appears concerned at best.
Frankly, as passionate as I am, as much as I want to work in this field, I have started considering what my back up plans and abilities could be. All my experience is in the Arts field right now, save for some minor temp-work. Frankly, I’ve been looking at everything from teaching english abroad for a year to continuing temp and maybe secretarial work. I have no promise of a job in the field or a grad school acceptance (that I can afford.) I just lined up an internship for my next semester at a great little gallery, but I understand that all the internships in the world won’t assure me a career in the field.
I’m not trying to caution you away from this, or your Graduate degree. But I do think you should be honest about what the realities of it are.
The Museologist is legit.
Ah, the eternal debate: glass half full versus glass half empty. Perhaps it’s: Dude, where’s my glass? Friends in the field assure me that I will “get something,” that the BA in history, the MA in Public History, and three unpaid internships serve as a good foundation for many entry-level positions. I agree. I have developed some pretty strong skills, but so have any number of people in my classes, my region, my profession. So on and so forth.
It’s hard. It’s hard because growing up I was told to should do something I love for a so that I would always love going to work. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve realized that’s not always possible; sometimes you just get a job so that you can keep living. There’s no shame in that, sometimes those second or even third choices can be fun, but man… it hurts.
It hurts to know things and work at a place that doesn’t care, or at the very least, can’t find a purpose for the things you know. So of course we keep trying. The Museologist is right, be enthusiastic, but respect yourself enough to keep your eyes open.
Unsolicited Advice Warning: What I have found to be beneficial is expanding the circle of people you know. Keep going to events if you can, and not just museum conferences but lectures by public humanists, THATCamps, workshops or graduate student conferences. Many of these will be free, dirt cheap, or perhaps even subsidized, check to see if your department offers travel scholarships. Once you hit these events talk to the people. Ask questions. Introduce yourself or kindly ask a person to introduce you around. All three of my internships came about from personal relationships and networking.
A caveat: Getting to work for free is SO MUCH EASIER than convincing someone to let you work for them for money. When I figure out the magic combination of skills, intellect and charisma that conjures careers, I’m going to patent it and retire.
That’s the most important question.