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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Moving on up: from early career to... what?

Later this month, the MA will host it's fantastic Moving on Up one-day conference for early career museum professionals. We think it's a pretty great initiative - and not just because we spoke at the first ever one held in Manchester way back in 2013. 2018 marks 5 years since that conference, 6 years since we started the Ministry and a few measly months until we each hit the big 3-0. So that begs the question... when do we stop being early career professionals?!

Ah, so young, so fresh-faced in 2013. 
Maybe its the weight of the big birthday hanging over our heads, but we've spent a lot of time reflecting on where we are actually at in our careers these days. Moving on Up (MOU) is aimed at museum people in the first 5 years of their careers - and we have clocked up more like 7 or 8. Bother. When we started the Ministry in 2012, it was all about being early career professionals trying to make sense of the industry, get ahead, and have some fun. And you know what - we did all those things. We both now have managerial jobs in our respective museums - set programmes, balance budgets, hire staff. Are we the gatekeepers that we went to MOU to try and talk to?


Kristin looking very professional in her current role
It's an uneasy line between early and mid-career in museums - how are you meant to define that crucial shift? Is it years in work? Or is it age? Is it level of responsibility? Or, as one person suggested, having achieved something substantial or innovative (which sounds a terrifying measure of success by the way). I think the challenging thing about museums is that the workforce does tend to be quite young. You will often meet full curators at museums or other quite high level collections workers who are in the late twenties, having been working their way up since about the age of 22. Isn't it possible to be both an early career person and someone in a position of power?

Giving a keynote for the UKRG in 2014

Moving on in your museum career can be quite a scary thing. No longer identifying as early and emerging is scary for, well, the very human reason that aging is quite scary (or disorienting at least). But also, being in more responsible positions means you have an opportunity and an obligation to try and put some of the things you pushed for earlier in your career into practice - valuing the opinions of your junior staff, being more supportive of social media, being risk taking, encouraging diversity in the workplace and in exhibitions - and trying to improve canape provision at openings. And you know what? When it's your budget on the line, you dealing with organisational politics - you kind of get why it was so hard for your boss back in the day. 

Terri repping purple glove club, 2017.
If the goal was to move on up, I think we are on our way. If there's one thing that MOU is absolutely crucial for, it's networking. Networks are a lifeline in museums - partially because its a very unique field and you need to have people around you you can vent to, but also because we are really one small industry, and who you know can be very helpful. Particularly in collections roles (and for some reason especially with registrars) and can feel like there's about 10 people just swapping jobs in different institutions. But, being a closely-knit community is half the fun. 



But there are some things we wish all the early and emerging conferences and workshops had prepared us better for - like leadership skills, decision making, and budgets. These are tasks inherent to more senior roles, and not ones which you often learn before you need to just start doing them. You can be a really really good curator, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can balance a budget or manage a project. Fortunately, there are some good leadership programmes you can go on - the MA Transformers and the Clore Fellowships look particularly exciting. 

MA Transformers session
So what can we say to those of you heading to Moving on Up in a few weeks time - stay enthusiastic, stay curious, stay angry (as there are still many things in the field which need to change), but do what you can to build up not only your networks and social media presence as well as your skill sets. Volunteer to help with project and grant applications, shadow others when you can, take any leadership courses available to you, and for your own good, learn excel and all its mysteries (because it will come for you eventually). 

If you want to read more about our journey check out a few of our advice pieces here: 

Getting into Museums
Pay and the museum sector
Thoughts on museum blogging 
The story so far

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