All posts by caitlinemp

About caitlinemp

Hello! My name is Caitlin, and I'm proud to be an emerging museum professional. As former president of the Bay Area EMP group I'm very familiar with the importance of this movement in the museum field. I recently moved to central Illinois, and am excited to spend part of my free time administering the EMP blog. My hope is to foster a dynamic online community, with contributions coming from professionals at all stages in their career, with the goal of supporting the next generation of museum professionals. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to participate. We welcome suggestions for topics, as well as full posts!

Professional Development: Dressing for Success at Conferences

Today I’m delighted to introduce Kate Laurel Burgess-Mac Intosh as a guest blogger here at EMP, with a post about how to prepare your wardrobe for a conference. Kate is one of the busiest and most experienced EMPs I know, and has been a great acquaintance since we met at the AAM conference last year. She holds a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from Harvard University Extension School, and an Undergraduate Degree in Art History and Fine Arts. Kate is currently an independent museum professional, and her present work includes working for Reach Advisors as a Research Assistant, and facilitating learning about the future of museums and the field as a Teaching Assistant in the Harvard Extension School Museum Studies Program. She also is the one of the Professional Affinity Group Chairs for the New England Museum Association’s Young and Emerging Museum Professionals (NEMA YEPs). Kate is Principal of Revitalizing Historic Sites. She has been researching, writing, and presenting on creative ways to ‘shake up’ historic sites, especially through the introduction contemporary art, and featuring her findings on and Facebook page, “Revitalizing Historic Sites Through Contemporary Art.” Thanks again to Kate for today’s wonderful post!


Dressing for a conference is tricky, especially when one is just starting out in their career. After a conversation at last year’s Emerging Museum Professionals reception at the American Association of Museums Annual Meeting and Conference in Houston, Texas, it became apparent that there was not much out there for guidance on dressing for this type of event. The acronym of KISS comes to mind, slightly shifted for dressing for success at conference: keep it simple and stylish.

In many ways, conferences are like multi-day interviews. Dressing strategically says something to others around you, and you should take getting dressed for the event as seriously as you would take dressing for an interview. You will meet many other professionals, all with various levels of experience; they may be your next co-worker, manager, boss, or executive director, so making the best impression during your first encounter is important.

Everyone travels from somewhere to get to the conference. Point A to point B can be hard on dress clothes. Everything you want to wear has to be packed; finding sturdy and wrinkle-free fabrics is key. Check with your hotel, either by phone or on their website, prior to arriving to verify if laundry services are available, and/or if an iron and ironing board are included in your room amenities; if an accident occurs, or a shirt needs to be ironed, it is good to know what your options are before panic sets in.

Climates vary by where the conference is being held, so check and follow the weather prior to packing. If it seems appropriate, pack layers so as to be prepared for what the weather may become while you are there. A dress or suit jacket makes a huge statement when it comes to your outward appearance, and can be helpful if the building or hotel is air conditioned, or if the weather shifts during the day.

A big question to ask yourself when getting ready for conference is: if you put it on at 7:00 am (or sometimes earlier!) can it make it until 11:00 pm? Even if you hope and think you can dart back to your hotel room in-between sessions and events, it is best to plan that things can (and will) go over time or off schedule. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes that are professional, yet easy on your feet.

When networking and attending sessions, you will be receiving and handing out lots of business cards and other materials. Try to plan to have pockets in each of your outfits throughout the days you are at the conference. Leave your room and realize you don’t have any? Put your business cards in the pocket of your nametag, behind the name plate (this helpful tip was given to me by Leslie Howard, Chair of the Boston EMP group, at my first AAM Conference, and I continue to use and share it).

Short on funds? (Okay, I know, EMERGING professionals in the MUSEUM field, do I even need to ask?!) Below I’ve included a list: “12 Places to Shop Chic on a Museum Professional’s Budget.” Before you head out to shop, sign up for e-blasts from places that have clothes that inspire you; these generally include coupons, discount codes, and inside knowledge of special sales. Mentally plan outfits before shopping, so as not to ‘over-purchase,’ but to head into a store with a clear definition of what you are looking for and the gaps in your wardrobe you are looking to fill to be conference ready. For inspiration, and to help keep you on track, find outfits you like in magazines and/or online, and bring images with you when shopping. One rule of thumb to always remember is that inexpensive clothing always looks more expensive in a neutral color (think black, grey, white, beige).

Remember most importantly to reflect your personality and interests, as your dress is only the first step to conference success.


12 Places to Shop Chic on a Museum Professional’s Budget

An alphabetical list of 12 places to show chic on a museum professional’s budget in honor of the 2012 AAM Conference, for those seeking clothing that reflects their professional persona without leaving them penniless. A combination of in-person and online retailers are listed. If you have a favorite please share it in the comments section, so as to grow the list as a resource for others who want to shop chic on a museum professional’s budget.

1. Bluefly: discounted designer and up-and-coming designer clothing; added deals received via e-blasts

2. Burlington Coat Factory: discounted clearance venue for major retailers; large selection of men’s suits at most locations

3. Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW): wide selection of shoes at discounted prices; rich clearance section with reductions between 30-90% off of original prices

4. Gilt: online designer sales, requires account sign-up

5. H&M: great location to search for accessories and basics at inexpensive prices. Watch for designer collaborations, such as recent ones with the tv show Fashion Star, and designers such as Versace, Lanvin, and Marni, at deep discounts compared to their runway lines.

6. Last Call by Neiman Marcus: clearance venue for the major retailer; additional coupons and discounts available to e-blast email subscribers.

7. Macy’s: sign up for their email and snail-mail list to receive coupons and alerts during major sales, with discounts up to 75% during end-of-season clearance events

8. Marshalls: discounted clearance venue for major retailers

9. My Habit: online designer sales, requires account sign-up

10. Nordstrom Rack: clearance venue for the major retailer; additional discounts available to e-blast email and snail-mail subscribers.

11. Rue La La: online designer sales, requires account sign-up

12. Target: selection varies by store; identify items online, and use search feature to locate at a local Target. Watch for designer collaborations (recent collaborators include Jason Wu, designer to First Lady Michelle Obama), generally priced below $100 per piece from the collection.

Networking at Conferences

This post was contributed by Leslie Howard, president of the Boston EMP group and candidate, M.L.A. in Museum Studies at Harvard University. 


Conferences are wonderful places to network, whether regional or national. Over the past few years I have attended both and have picked up some great tips along the way.

At my first AAM conference in 2009, I didn’t know anyone. I was excited for the night events but a little nervous about to whom I would talk. That’s when I remembered an old party trick. At parties, everyone inevitably hits up the food. If you hang out near the food, you’re bound to find a moment to strike up a conversation with someone.

Now that you’ve found someone, what do you talk about? Luckily, you’re probably surrounded by beautiful art or another conversation piece so you can talk about that instead of old faithful- the weather. Other good topics are asking about a person’s museum, job, or city. You can also ask about interesting session they’ve attended. These are sure to start a conversation that could last five minutes, fifteen minutes, or possibly an hour! You could even leave the event with a new friend!
It is also important to have business cards, even if they are not your official museum ones. These are great to hand out to your new friends from the buffet line, or exchange with people you meet in sessions, speakers, and vendors in the exhibit hall. It’s a good idea to go through the cards you received at the end of the day and write on the back a little note about why you have the card, where you met, or something to jog your memory about the encounter. This will help if you plan to do any follow up after the conference.

Don’t have business cards? There are plenty of places you can have them made on the cheap but still look good. You can buy the paper from an office supply store like Staples, then design and print them yourself. Some websites, like Vistaprint, have offers for 250 FREE business cards, all you pay is shipping.

There are usually questions about what to put on the cards, especially if you’re still a student or job hunting. Your name and contact information are given. If you’re a student, you may want to put your degree and concentration and when you expect to graduate. If you’re job searching, you could simply write “Emerging Museum Professional” for your title. Another option is “Independent Museum Professional.” I have seen QR codes on business cards that link to LinkedIn profiles. If QR codes aren’t your thing, writing the public link to your LinkedIn or other networking site is still a great idea. If you blog or use other social media outlets related to museums and your professional work, feel free to include those links on the card as well.

Another networking tip is to print several copies of your resume and place them individually in envelopes. Should you meet someone with an opening or knows of an opening, you can hand your resume over right then! Also be sure to get the person’s business card so you can follow up with an electronic copy.

With some conferences, you can view a registration list. If you see someone on the list you’d like to meet, be on the lookout for that person and don’t be afraid to just walk up and introduce yourself (as long as you aren’t interrupting a conversation). Chances are this museum rockstar will be flattered that their exhibit, blog, or article made an impression. You have nothing to lose by complimenting a person.

Conferences are a lot of fun but it is easy to get run down. Be sure to take some time off to recharge your batteries. The coffee shop is also a great place for some informal networking (see above!). Attend some sessions, dress in layers, eat some food, bring your business cards, and you’re sure to have a successful conference! Do you have any networking tips to share?