Posts Tagged ‘careers’
For the past two years, I have been a member of Americorps VISTA which is an arm of the American version of the PeaceCorps. I was stationed in a museum where I wrote community outreach programming for inner-city youths. However, my term of service ended in November and I’ve been unemployed ever since. Some folks attempt to reassure me by saying that grad students are expected to be un(der)employed and poor, but being jobless is quickly losing its charms especially since my new landlord has made it clear that he doesn’t accept conference papers in lieu of rent. What does a young public-historian do when she finds herself unemployed and living in a new city? She attempts to network.
A friend once told me that networking is the act of creating and using social interactions to expand professional contacts and opportunities. So, to cope with my unemployment, I have been asking friends, relatives, acquaintances, and strangers about their jobs and I’m calling that networking. For example, last week my roommate and I went to a local brewpub to meet her father and his friend, Walter. Much to her embarrassment, I engaged this Walter character in a conversation about what he does for a living. Shortly after he finished describing his career with excitement in his voice, I suggested in no uncertain terms that he should hire me to help him fly planes to locate the illegal Marijuana farms that dot the Pennsylvania country-side. Apparently, I’m not “qualified” for that position just because I lack a pilot’s license and don’t know what weed looks like.
A few days later at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, I chatted with a uniformed middle-aged park ranger behind the information booth. When I asked her about her position, she replied with a grin and explained that she is retiring in three and a half months. “Can I have your job, please? “That’s not how it works.” “Fine. Whatever lady. Nice hat.”
Maybe grilling people about their careers isn’t exactly networking. For me, the real purpose of asking people what they do for a living is to hear more about jobs I haven’t considered and at the very least it’s a good ice breaker. This morning in the used book store/coffee shop down the street from my apartment, I nonchalantly asked the owner, “is this your dream job?” 25 minutes later our conversation ended with me landing an interview with a friend of hers who owns a used bookstore in a nearby town. Perhaps there is no wrong way to network
Friends and co-workers looking to apply to graduate programs have come to me for advice and it has been satisfying to be able to offer my two cents as a mini-mentor. It is especially important to me to help out where I can because when I first considered applying to graduate school, I really didn’t have any guidance. With a general idea of what I was interested in studying, I relied on a combination of Google searches, graduate student blogs, and blind guessing. Since none of my friends had applyed to graduate school and no one in my family had gone through the process before, who was I supposed to look up to for advice and instruction? It’s not like I could learn from the experiences of reality television role models on programs such as America’s Next Top PhD Candidate, Say Yes to the Stress, Who Never Wants to be a Millionaire, or So You Think You Can Pay off Your Loans. (I hope you’re listening network television producers!) All joking aside, in these planning stages I absolutely would have benefited from having a mentor to guide me through the process.
Relationships between mentor and mentee take different forms, but generally speaking a mentor is a professional who offers encouragement and advice to a younger person looking for direction. These partnerships are invaluable and often teach rewarding lessons that are not covered in a traditional classroom setting.
The large majority of my peers who have meaningful mentor partnerships have linked up with professors with similar research interests but it doesn’t always have to be that way. While professors have guided me through the sometimes murky academic waters, as someone who isn’t primarily concerned with starting a career in academia, I have found professional mentorships to be more valuable. The best lessons I’ve learned have come from job supervisors willing to take me under their wing and teach me how to learn from their mistakes and successes. To me, this is almost a dual mentorship because these folks navigated through similar educational situations, but are also able to offer practical career advice as well.
The first bit of advice I give out to anyone who will listen is to visit the website Freerice.com. It’s an engaging game that tricks people into learning vocabulary, grammar, and math skills. In addition to preparing players for at the very least the GRE, with every right answer the sponsors of the site donate ten grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. Check it out.
Nearly 60 public history students, professionals, and faculty attended an inaugural Public History Community Forum organized to build community and collaboration in the Philadelphia region. Initiated by MARCH and cosponsored by the Temple University Center for Public History, the event on April 29 offered tours and informal roundtable discussions about recent projects, career issues, and opportunities for collaboration. Among the student participants were contingents from Temple, Rutgers-Camden, Villanova, University of the Arts, and West Chester University.
Amid the fellowship, it became clear that aspiring professionals shared a common concern about their career prospects in the current economic climate. Well-prepared by graduate programs, many are finding their opportunities limited to unpaid internships, limited-term grant projects, or part-time positions without benefits. While these may be viewed as reasonable entry-level stepping stones into the field, the next steps are difficult to envision at a time of tight budgets for many potential employers.
Participants in the forum offered suggestions for future collaboration to share information and better prepare new professionals for the realities of public history work today. In an evaluation survey completed after the event, participants advocated highly the creation of an online bulletin board for sharing information about projects and needs. In addition, many supported a proposal to create training seminars on new media skills, grant-writing, and entrepreneurship, to better prepare the next generation of public historians.
MARCH thanks all who helped by staging or participating in this event — watch for further news about our emerging collaboration for public history in and around Philadelphia.
Last December, U.S. News and World Report declared the occupation of curator to be a growth career in the next decade based on U.S Department of Labor reports. Reading through the short article led me to check out the DoL Occupational Outlook Handbook from which this information was gleaned http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos065.htm. A few things struck me which I will expand upon in this and future posts. First, the sense one gets from the article is that the curatorial field will practically explode in the next several years outpacing the growth of other careers. This implies some sort of “golden age” of museums when budgets will be flush with funds allowing them to hire more curators to care for their collections and develop wonderful, thought-provoking exhibits.
As a former curator and currently an administrator of a small historical organization, I haven’t an inkling of these changes for the profession. What wasn’t mentioned in the U.S. News article, though clearly stated in the DoL report, was competition for jobs in the profession will remain fierce as the supply of qualified workers outstrips the demand. Academia has to take some responsibility for this situation.
For those of us with the inclination toward research and education the siren call of an academic life is very strong. When I embarked on my graduate studies there were forecasts of a future demand for history professors with the retirement of the old guard and the coming of the Boomer generation’s children pointed to as the rationale. Fortunately, during my grad school years, even though I was not advised of this by anyone I could see for myself the job prospects were not as rosy as once portrayed and I decided to stick to my original plan of pursuing a career in museums.
As public history programs mature and multiply, professors and career counselors are now more actively directing students eager to study and practice history into public history and museum studies programs. While the professionalization of public history occupations is commendable and needed, students need to know that finding a job will not be easy. And when they find that job, they may not be paid anywhere near the $49,000 median wage or even the $35,000-$50,000 average wage mentioned in the U.S. News article.
The question that confronts us as public history professionals and faculty ( I also teach public history courses occasionally) is how do you make the realities of the job market known to students without discouraging them entirely? It is a tricky proposition. I try to enlighten my students and interns, telling them how competitive the field is while also giving them advice on how to make themselves more marketable. But history departments and public history programs need to work to maximize their students’ success in the field by actively promoting their students to potential employers and by advocating the hiring of trained professionals in public history positions. The latter tactic worked for unions in the 20th century, it can work again now. That way, perhaps the rosy picture U.S. News has painted will have a better chance of becoming reality.