I won’t lie. The museum field isn’t easy to get into. There are many skills you should master before you even apply for that first job.
Among the most important is an ability to research and write.
Why do you need to have these skills? At my job, I research and write almost every day. There are exhibition labels, newsletter articles, press releases, and many other writing projects on my daily to-do list. I have published exhibit reviews, books, and ebooks. If you can’t write, you really won’t succeed as a curator.
Most curators have bachelor’s degrees in a history-related field, which is one of the most intense writing and research majors in any college catalog. I know I spent my undergrad years reading hundreds of books and writing thousands of words. It is the perfect background for a museum career.
Graduate school usually focuses more on the practical end of museum work, with hands-on experiences and “real life” training in internships, although some programs do require a master’s thesis. If you haven’t learned to research and write before you enroll in a master’s program, you may feel like you’re “behind the 8 ball” before you even begin.
If you are still in college and you feel like you haven’t gotten enough research and writing training, ask a professor if you can do an independent study that focuses on research and writing. In my undergraduate work, I had to write a senior thesis. That was a wonderful capstone experience for a history major. If your college doesn’t require such a project, you might want to do one on your own.
Internships and volunteer positions can also help you hone your research and writing skills. Ask your internship sponsor if you can help with the research and writing for the next exhibition. Or maybe there is a small area of the museum where you could do your own exhibit. Or maybe there is a locked case in a library, nursing home, or other public venue where you can do an exhibit. Writing under the guidance of an experienced curator will help you learn how to refine and develop your skills.
Does the museum have a newsletter or journal? Ask to write an article. You will end up with a professionally published clipping for your portfolio, which will demonstrate your writing ability.
For the particularly ambitious, you could consider publishing a local history book. There are several publishers out there to choose from. (See link for Publishing Local History for more information)
The best way to improve your research and writing skills is to research and write. The more you practice, the better you will get.