Am I Doing This Right? (Fear and Worrying in My Career Path)

ImageI know I’m not the only student in a museum studies degree program who finds herself occasionally worrying: “am I doing this right?” I as myself this question about once a month, to be completely honest. In these moments of overwhelming fear, buried under piles of notes from class and work (both paid and unpaid), looking for a moment of peace in this chaotic world I’ve created for myself, I find myself wondering if I’m going about this whole career path the right way. I start to ask:¬†am I volunteering enough? Am I honing my skillset the right way? Am I staying relevant in this growing, expanding, dynamic ecosystem of museums that I’ve decided to enter? What else could I be doing? How much less free time am I willing to have to get the skills I need? How competitive am I? Why do I feel so insignificant?

These are the moments when I have to truly take a step back and look at everything that I’m doing. I’ve taken every opportunity I can get, to the point of exhaustion. I’m constantly looking for ways to learn new skills, and prove that they’re relevant to the museum world. I went from being semi-engaged, to eating/sleeping/breathing museums. I might as well walk around with a tattoo on my forehead that says “ask me about my museum”.

But there are things that I think about doing, that others in my position have taken up, that I wonder if it’s important for me to pursue. Many of us EMPs appear to be starting YouTube series about museums. I’ve seriously thought about doing this a few times, and I just can’t. Guys, I can’t do it. Not only do I hate seeing myself on camera (note the lack of #museumselfies on my Instagram), but I find myself so overly engaged on Twitter and interacting with real people at events like Drinking About Museums that I think making another series to add to the miasma is just unnecessary. Am I wrong? Maybe. But I’m too involved with other projects to consider it at this point.

I’m worried about my thesis, mostly because I haven’t done any research on it. I decided not to take a summer class, not only to give myself some time away from being in a classroom, but also to volunteer at HMNH as an assistant for Summer Science Weeks (which hopefully HR will approve!). I have no idea whether or not I will enjoy museum education, but this opportunity has been presented and you can sure as hell bet I’m going to take it. This is the only way I can find out if I want to be an educator. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, my thesis. I have ideas; I think I have a really great idea, actually. And I’m looking forward to sitting down and doing the research prior to going to my program advisor and saying, “This is my idea, this is the research I’ve already done that supports my idea, this is where I want to do my internship.” It’s just getting to the point of having enough time to sit down and comb through the last few years of TrendsWatch or looking at ASTC statistics. On top of that, I still haven’t cracked open the book on the history of the institution I would ideally like to do my internship at.

On top of all this worrying, I occasionally suffer from self-doubt. Ed Rodley, bless you sir, thinks I would be perfect for running a Boston edition of Invasioni Digitali, a grassroots effort sparked in Italy to “mob” cultural heritage and historic sites and share these visits via social media, therefore creating conversation about preservation, heritage, etc. I love the idea. I think it’s a perfect idea, in fact. But am I really the best person for the job? Maybe I just don’t want to brag about myself; maybe for all my confidence and enthusiasm, I really don’t like being the person that says, “Oh, I KNOW I’m the best person for the job.” I’d rather say, “Really? You think so?” And then prove it with actions. So I guess I’m issuing a call with this post as well: if you’re interested in invading some museums and cultural sites with me at some point this summer, holla at me. Ed is going to MW2014 in April and meeting up with them, so he’ll bring me back a better idea of how it works. But even just writing this paragraph, I’ve got some ideas….

My last concern is my resume. Guys, how the hell do I write something like THE WORLD IS AWESOME AND I WANT TO LEARN MORE on my resume? I can’t! I hate writing resumes and I hate writing cover letters. I don’t know how to convey my enthusiasm for what I do in three paragraphs. I want people to see my cover letter and resume and think “wow, this girl has a spark, let’s interview her”, so I can get into that interview and blow them away. I’m stupidly enthusiastic about my work; you should see me at the Waterworks Museum. I’m about to draft an email to the MWRA about visiting the Deer Island Treatment Facility (where Boston’s wastewater is treated!) so I can live-tweet my visit for the Waterworks Museum, and also learn more. Are there any water departments that need a historian on staff? I think I might fit the bill perfectly after my stint at the Waterworks is over. Yesterday I almost went over to talk to some MWRA employees while they were fixing the emergency backup pumps. How ridiculous is that? Anyway back to my point. How do I write all of this? How to I say, “enthusiastic about the world”?

These are the questions and concerns that plague me. But I’m sure they haunt my peers just as much. I’m sure all of you established museum professionals that glance at this post will understand my fears. If you have advice, tips, suggestions, etc., I’d love to hear it. Comment below or email me. Get coffee with me. Visit me at work. Something.

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Am I Doing This Right? (Fear and Worrying in My Career Path)

#MuseumShowoff Boston!

ImageHey guys! Sorry for not updating as frequently, but I’ve had a lot going on and minimal time to conceive of blog posts!

Let’s get right to it: Museum Showoff. Sitting through a 2 hour class before having to watch five other people showoff before me was possibly the most nervewracking thing ever. George Hein came in to talk about constructivist learning, and we did this really cool group activity where we had to choose a thing to teach someone, and figure out how we could teach that thing using the four main methods of learning and teaching. It was actually pretty hard, but I think our group also chose a difficult concept to teach (the earth goes around the sun). The activity took my mind off my nerves, but only for ten or fifteen minutes. By 6:45, I hate to admit, I was constantly looking at the clock, and feeling very anxious to get out of the classroom and over to Hong Kong. Not too many classmates came, but the ones that did, I really appreciate you coming! It was also great to be reunited with some folks I met at the Story Collider back in September (Becky gave a talk on what it was like being an art history major; and it was Claire’s first time at a DAM/MSO BOS event). I saw a lot of familiar faces, and I’m pretty stoked that my face was familiar to them as well!

The showoffs that I saw were great. (I’m bummed I missed Jeff Steward’s talk about the Harvard Art Museums!) Diana gave a great talk about the HMNH Hack from last month, with some lessons learned from the hack. Emily Oswald’s discussion of the different ways the old Charlesview apartments on North Harvard St could be utilized as pop-up museum space/historic space was incredible, and I totally want to see if that plan can work at all, because that corner is in desperate need of some artistic therapy. Meg Winikates¬†shared what it’s like to have the “From Here to Ear” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, a space not traditionally designed for live animal exhibitions. The video she showed and the way she described the exhibit made me really want to hop on the next commuter rail and go see it (and hopefully sometime next month, I will!). Susan Timberlake’s talk about museum badging for the Center for the Future of Museums was really cool, and I am definitely going to learn more about badging now! Becky’s talk definitely hit home for me; as a history major, I was constantly asked what I wanted to do when I graduated, and most people assumed that the answer to that question was teaching.

I went dead last, and I’m not going to lie about how nervous I was. I was shaking when I plugged my USB into the computer. I had a plan for this talk: I was going to introduce the Waterworks Museum, and basically give everyone a virtual tour of the museum, with a handy PowerPoint and everything. And then, the day before the showoff, I realized what an utterly stupid idea that was. I didn’t want to give people a virtual tour, that would give them absolutely no reason to visit (unless the tour piqued their interest, which I’m sure it would have), and I would have been boring and droned on for 9 minutes citing facts about the building, dates of construction, and basically sounding like a history textbook on legs. I didn’t want that. I wanted people to know what I know, and feel how I feel when I walk in to the Waterworks Museum. (to use an awful analogy, the Waterworks Museum is to me what the Millennium Falcon is to Han Solo) I used photos I took from my time there and put them in to a movie that I had playing on the TV behind me the whole time I was talking. No music, just photos; of the building, of the collection, of the engines, of little things I found that fascinate me. I talked about what I do, and why I’m scared, and why I’m proud. I shamelessly plugged our February Vacation Open House. I wanted my presentation to be a call to arms; to rally people to not only visit the Waterworks Museum, but to take an interest in small historic museums and houses that sometimes get ignored, especially when their cultural competition is a place like the MFA or the Museum of Science.

I’d say I was successful.

The next day, walking up an icy sidewalk to the Waterworks Museum, I was bombarded by tweets from Ed Rodley, about the InvasioniDigita initiative that has started in Italy. It’s an incredible #musesocial initiative, where “mobs” of people “invade” cultural institutions and share their experiences via social media. Instead of solo visits to museums, you have groups of people, starting conversations about art and culture and society, and it looks like an amazing experience. And now they want me to participate in their second edition in April! Hopefully I’ll be able to rally the troops at the next Drinking¬†About Museums: Boston, and¬†in class on Wednesday after I attempt to explain the concept to my classmates.

I know¬†I’ve said this in previous posts, but it needs to be said again: I love the museum community here in Boston. Wednesday night made me feel like I really can do this; that the field I’ve chosen is actually limitless as long as you have passion and determination. I have to thank Ed (again) for making¬†me feel welcome¬†in this community, but I also have to thank everyone else who came up to me after my showoff to say hello. Diana,¬†I totally want to collaborate with you on¬†anything and everything; your vision and creativity blow me away. Emily, I want to help you get Charlesview a makeover. Claire Hopkins just¬†started her museum studies degree, and has a fantastic¬†YouTube channel called Brilliant Botany that I suggest everyone check out (she wrote her undergrad thesis on¬†MAPLE SUGARING, how awesome is that??). Dan Yaeger and Heather Riggs from NEMA, it was so awesome seeing you both there, and thank you so so much for letting me come to the office once a month to volunteer. To the entire museum community: you rock.

I should probably go do homework now…

#MuseumShowoff Boston!

Drinking About Museums!

Wednesday night I had the opportunity to participate in my first-ever Drinking About Museums. I had heard about Museums Show-Off via Twitter, but Drinking About Museums was a new setting for me. I follow quite a few museum professionals on Twitter, and learned about the event through that.

Not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous when I showed up at the bar. I had no idea what to expect. Would we be sitting down? Hanging out at the bar? Who was going to be there? Was there a format involved? Did I need to know some secret handshake to get in?

Luckily, I knew a few people that were attending, and was swiftly shown to the table where 20 fellow museum professionals were sitting, enjoyinig a beer and some food, and chatting enthusiastically about work and play. Several of the people there were employees at the Peabody Essex Museum, where I was an intern in 2009, so I felt a bit more comfortable knowing people I could talk to. It was a great time! I was kinda quiet at first, mostly because I had no idea what to say. But eventually I was asked what my profession was, how I was involved in museums, and the conversation moved on from there. I was told I could come back to intern at PEM (I might take you up on that, Ed Rodley!) and met some new PEM employees that I had never known during my time as an intern.

The best conversations I had were with a woman from the Museum of Science (Caroline, but I can’t remember her last name, dang it!), and with Juliette, who works in Public Programs at the PEM. With both of them I talked about where I was in my program and what I wanted to accomplish out of it, and how hard it is to get in to the field nowadays. Juliette reminded me that in this field, it really is all about who you know and who you network with, but that because the field is so small and tight-knit,everyone ends up knowing everybody, somehow. Caroline and I talked about how she got into the field, and I was surprised to learn that she didn’t start out in exhibits, but in education. We talked about how so many people start out working in one department and eventually find themselves doing projects for other departments and becoming a jack-of-all-trades in their museum. Which is also incredibly thrilling to hear! I am head over heels for all things collections-related, but if I can have the opportunity to work with education or public programs or development, that makes things even better. Right now I’m working in Collections and Marketing at the Waterworks Museum, but I’m trying to see if its possible to help the Education dept at HMNH with the next Family Day event.

This experience has only increased my love of the tight-knit community of museum professionals I already know, and makes me want to meet more individuals who share my passions. I want to meet more emerging professionals my own age, but learning from those who have been through the motions of working in museums is always an amazing opportunity that I hope to someday participate in from the other end (I wanna mentor people too!).

Until next time, cheers!

Drinking About Museums!

#ITweetMuseums

Last week I received my #ITweetMuseums sticker from Mark Schlemmer! It was quite an exciting moment for me. I think more museums need to engage with their Twitter followers by posting some sort of hashtag on exhibit entrance panels or at least in their maps and handouts. Or just use their name as a hashtag! Something! Anyway, I was torn on how I was going to put my sticker to use. I work at one museum (HMNH) and volunteer at another (Waterworks Museum), but I only had one sticker. What to do?

I decided to affix my sticker to my name tag at HMNH. I figured none of my supervisors would have a problem with it, since it doesn’t pose any risk of a conflict of interest. I hoped that the blue speech bubble that I purposefully put right next to my engraved name would spark conversation among the visitors I encountered while working in the gift shop all weekend. They all look at my name tag and a lot of them call me by my name if they had a good experience, so hey, maybe they would ask me about it!

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Not one visitor this weekend commented on my sticker. Many of my coworkers did, though, and that was great! The sticker sparked conversation amongst staff about interacting with the internet and our online visitors. A coworker who is the volunteer coordinator was very impressed and thought it would be a great way to engage a younger crowd of visitor who wants to tweet their experiences wherever they go. I’m still running off the high I got from getting to talk to Emily Graslie of the Brain Scoop, so my enthusiasm for getting the word out and making more people aware of our museum is chugging along and I hope is quite infectious!

Anyway, hopefully this weekend more coworkers and some visitors will be interested in the sticker. Eventually I’m hoping to suggest to our PR department that we choose a hashtag to use on Twitter, so we can track it and see what our visitors are up to. We allow people to take photos, so it would be great to see what people are tweeting about. If you visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History this weekend, please stop by the gift shop and say hello, and make sure to tweet!

#ITweetMuseums