A museum career offers variety, creativity and flexibility. But it isn’t for everyone. Here are some things to consider before you sign up for that master’s degree in museum studies.
1. Don’t expect to get rich. Unless you work for a large museum in a big city, the salaries in the museum field are notoriously low. There are many benefits to working in a museum, but the paycheck is not one of them!
2. A museum job is not a 9 to 5 gig. You WILL work nights and you WILL work weekends. Salary employees usually receive comp time for additional hours. Hourly positions might make extra money for extra work. However, many times hourly employees are expected to adjust their workweek to stay within their contracted number of hours. For example, if an exhibit opening requires an hourly employee to work late on a Friday evening, he or she may be expected to come in later that day or leave early the day before.
3. A museum is a creative place. It is important to keep things fresh and new to attract visitors to your site, which means brainstorming, thinking outside the box and creating new exhibits and programs. Sometimes you have to use your creativity in unexpected ways to keep the budget in check. At a smaller museum you might have to improvise rather than flipping through a catalog and buying what you need.
4. It might take awhile to find a museum job. The stark reality is there are more freshly minted museum studies graduates than there are jobs out there. And once a museum person lands that “perfect” job, they are not likely to give it up for awhile. You may have to work outside the museum field and volunteer for awhile instead.
5. Most museums are understaffed, especially during a recession. It seems like there are never enough employees to do everything that has to be done. There are tours to cover, exhibits to put up, artifacts to process, grant applications to write, programs to give, loans to prepare, paperwork to be done, budgets to balance, research to do, articles to write, conferences to attend, fundraisers to work and special events to plan. Stress levels can reach a fever pitch sometimes.
6. Museum work really is rewarding! In spite of its challenges, bringing art or history to life for your visitors is worth the hard work, low pay and stress on the job. It is thrilling to hold an artifact that is more than a century old, to see a child’s face light up when you make a connection between them and the past, to sell out a special event, to put on a successful fundraiser, to land a grant for that important project. The only reason to embark on this wonderful career is because you truly love it. If you think that describes you, then GO FOR IT!