Category Archives: Blog

Announcing a new journal: Theory and Practice

Announcing a new journal: Theory and Practice 

The National Emerging Museum Professional Network (NEMPN) partners with The Museum Scholar to coproduce a new peer-reviewed academic journal Theory and Practice. The inaugural issue will feature articles focusing on the future of museums with an emphasis on the role of technology, culture, and politics.

Theory and Practice will help enable emerging museum professionals to make meaningful connections across backgrounds, disciplines, and institutions. This issue is the first of a thematic journal series exploring varied topics related to museums, with articles written by emerging professionals.

Utilizing The Museum Scholar’s Open Access Gold platform, Theory and Practice will be free for readers online, granting broader access to ideas to advance knowledge across the museum field. There is also no fee for authors to participate.

Each article is published in two formats on the journal’s website: as a downloadable academic paper, and as a web-based publication.

                           

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Emerging Op-Eds: How to Find an International Degree Program

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.


How to Find an International Degree Program
By Victoria Gonzalez

It’s no secret that the cost of higher education in the US is a nightmare and that the generation of millennials can be defined by overwhelming student loan debt. A perennial favorite of news outlets is to talk about the cost of education in other countries and how many American students are looking abroad for school. While they always share the success stories, they never tell you exactly how to find an international university for that degree. Eager to further my education and find out more, I went headfirst into the process and created a guide on how to find higher education programs abroad!

I blog about museums, so a future working with museums and cultural heritage was what I wanted. This guide contains my chronicles of the research process as well as helpful resources. I wrote it from my own point of view with my desire to get a Master’s degree, although this guide can easily be adapted when researching an undergraduate program as well. My location focus is on Europe. My research process began in March 2016 and ended exactly a year later around the time of application deadlines. 

1) Research organizations in your field that serve as a network for professionals.

The American Alliance for Museums has a directory of Museum Studies and Related Programs, and the National Council on Public History has their own list.

I used LinkedIn to search and message people that listed the organizations as an affiliation and noted where they went to school to check out those programs. I also made contacts with individuals through various groups, including one individual who became my mentor throughout the process. They directed me to other people, and I began interviewing them about their experiences to get a realistic picture of the field.

After speaking to roughly 15 professionals in varying areas, I felt adequately informed on what to expect after completing an MA.

2) Identify a region you can see yourself living and studying in.

I didn’t want to rule out US schools completely and wanted that data for comparison. I looked at states I could see myself living in and then went to each university’s website to search their departments. I made a spreadsheet with each school’s information, a direct contact, and cost. Additionally, I made a notebook to compare pros and cons for every program.

The listings were generous with US programs, but sparse with international options. I found a global listing on another museum website that gave me the first step in where to look abroad. The US was the easy part, so what followed took weeks of work.

3) Cross check all information and track every detail.

The biggest hurdle in finding a program taught abroad was finding one that was only in English. The problem with many international school listings is that they are never consistent, lack important details, and open up a whole world of new terms and scheduling. Even University websites can be vague about the language.

I used FindaMasters.comMastersPortal.com, and GradSchools.com to search for specific terms and made a list of schools. I even looked up the schools that attended international school recruitment events to see if they were relevant. It didn’t feel complete, so by using this amazing map tool, I manually went through every single country and looked up every single university to catch any I missed and confirm that each had what I wanted.

I discovered that “museum studies” was too vague and limiting of a term; many listings and schools used “cultural heritage”, “heritage studies”, or “heritage preservation.” I also learned of “memory studies” as a field. Expand word choices and if you see a phrase pop up often, write it down and use it in your searches.

4)  Narrow your list by reaching out to universities for practical information.

After dozens of university websites, I finally had a list. By now it was June.

I emailed department heads to ask for more information, hit up students on LinkedIn, and looked through Facebook groups of current students. I narrowed it down again and again, and then moved on to visiting the schools that were local to me in the US. I made appointments and talked to their department directors about the program itself and financial aid opportunities.

When my top US school would have cost triple the amount of an EU program, not including cost of living, the list became smaller. Many programs in the EU are for a year and were significantly more affordable.

Tuition for a Master’s from some my selected schools:
(not including living costs or fees)

2 years in the US: 
$59,680 (Mid Atlantic School)
$47,653 (Northeastern School)
$33,072 (State School)

1/1.5 year(s) in Europe:
$21,015 (United Kingdom)
$14,517 (Netherlands)
$8,783 (Denmark)

Unfortunately many US-based scholarships are not applicable to foreign schools, and the few grants and scholarships available from international schools are usually reserved for top GPA applicants.

The US Department of Education offers this FAQ with details about Federal Funding and a list of international schools that participate (opens as an Excel spreadsheet). You have to fill out a FAFSA and will need your school’s country code because it may not be in their system automatically.

5) Be aware of the university’s standing and relevancy.

It surprised me how often this came up, so I turned to one of the most common resources used by undergraduate students here in the states: US News & World Report issue the “Best College” guidebook. They also have an online Global University Ranking.

In the 2017 guide, their method looked at 1,262 institutions in 65 countries. They included schools based on “academic research and reputation overall” rather than “their separate undergraduate or graduate programs.” It also considered those that “had published the largest number of articles during the most recent five-year period (2010-2014)” (Read more here).

With this data, cross referenced with the rankings here and here, I was able to get a better idea about reputations. The verdict? In some cases, the schools I looked at abroad ranked higher or were comparable to the ones I was considering in the US.

6) Visit!

I thought long and hard, spending weeks to mull every detail over and looked up the cost of living. I researched potential fellowships, the weight of EU degrees in the US, and school accreditation. All of it was a blur and intimidating to make a decision based off websites. By now it was August.

Two of the schools were in the same country within 2 hours distance of the other and they were both having open houses in November. It was the off-season to travel and my local international airport had cheap airfare through Norwegian Airlines. I found myself on a red eye with only a backpack, arriving to the first open house with an hour to spare.

I am SO glad that I went in person to see these places, because I would have made the wrong choice based off my original list!

7) Different countries have different application processes. Renew your passport as you begin it.  

In the end I applied to three programs at only two international schools.

Make sure you have looked each school’s application website because some places require registration in advance. Don’t expect to upload all your docs on the day you are ready to hit submit. Renew your passport before you start the process. Things to prepare ahead of time: a letter of motivation, a certified copy of your diploma via mail (NOT digital!), a transcript, and other documents requested by the institution.

I notified the department heads of the programs to which I applied. I learned that, had I emailed sooner, I would have had my fee waived. They noted my visit as an international student, and I regret not following up.

Each school strictly required a bank transfer to pay your application fee — no credit cards or online payment — and my local banking branch was confused. In addition to the application fee:
1) The bank has a fee to send the money.
2) Some schools have a fee to receive the money.

You must have the exact amount needed and confirmed with the university, and have every detail of their routing numbers correct.

8) Prepare for relocation!

After this long, grueling process, I emerged with an acceptance to my top choice and began the process of working with my future university’s International Student office. It’s wise to purchase a printer with a scanner if you don’t have access to one because of the amount of paperwork that needs to be signed and scanned over on a regular basis. Save phone numbers for specific administrative offices and note the difference in time zones.

If you’re going through with a Federal Loan, the Financial Aid office will be in contact with a series of steps, and more documents, in order to secure it. You need that information completed in order to apply for a visa.

In the Netherlands, students must have health and liability insurance or else you get fined. My American policy (surprise) wasn’t accepted, so I signed up for one through the university.

When the above paperwork has been completed, you can then submit a visa application. By now you should have a renewed passport ready to go, and if you have a recent headshot, save a copy in case you have to upload it for a student ID card.

While all of this is going on, find viable housing either though the university or through outside channels. Join local Facebook groups, communicate with current students, or ask your department head for recommendations.

If you are from the US, this is also a good time to start learning the metric system and military time.


I am now 9 months into living as a graduate student in Amsterdam, and am so happy that I pursued an opportunity abroad for an education. I’ve been able to explore a dynamic program with an international focus that is enhancing the kind of career I wish to pursue, and I’m being exposed to a non-American focus that has changed how I think.

I hope that my experience helps you out with your future plans, and if you’ve got something you want to share or questions, I would love to chat!


 

Processed With DarkroomVictoria Gonzalez is a Colombian-American journalist turned museum professional from the NYC area. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Amsterdam pursuing a dual MA in Heritage and Memory Studies. She is also active with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) in growing the global sport of women’s roller derby. Find, follow, and engage her on Twitter @Victoriaously.

Emerging Op-Eds: Informational Interview Etiquette

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.


Informational Interview Etiquette:
7 Steps for Making the Most of the Meeting
by Elisha Mantegna

Perhaps you’re considering a career change, or you’re completing a degree or educational program and want to get a feel for the museum/non-profit field. In a variety of situations an informational interview is an essential tool that can provide you not only with career-shaping insights but with an increased network of resources on which to draw as you move forward. There are a number of key steps to getting and navigating an informational interview. This is not designed to be a complete guide as situations will vary, but hopefully it can provide a foundation to help you plan your next moves.

1. Initial Research
Setting up an informational interview will take a bit of research. A broad-to-narrow approach is most practical: Start by identifying the company that most interests you, then the department, then look at who in that department does the work most closely related to your background or future goals. There may be a public directory with contact information, but if there isn’t there may be a direct line you can call and specifically mention you are seeking an informational interview.

  • Don’t be vague: “I’m looking for someone in [Department]” may sound as though you are uncertain and unprepared. Instead, be as specific as possible: “I am interested in the work being done within [Institution]’s [Department], and I am hoping to set up an informational interview with someone there to speak more about this work. If you can’t provide that information over the phone I would be happy to leave my contact information.” 
  • Make sure you have a professional (or at least not unprofessional) e-mail and voicemail message. Many sites will allow you to create secondary accounts linked to your primary account. Sticking with initials or first and last names makes it easiest. The same goes for your phone’s answering message. Short, sweet, to the point, and a catch all message is best.

2. Identification and Affiliation
State your intentions early and clearly. If communicating in e-mail form, make the title “Informational Interview Request” or something similarly clear. Make sure you include in the message body your scholastic or professional affiliations or career interests. People in public institutions and non-profits get cold calls from the public frequently. My former professors used to joke about strangers making appointments only to ask about selling antiquities or getting appraisals of “rare” and “mysterious” objects (which were usually neither rare nor mysterious).

3. Dress Accordingly
You are not going to a job interview, but you are meeting with a professional. Avoid jeans and break out the iron. A nice shirt and blazer/jacket, a blouse or sweater, ironed slacks or skirts, etc. If you are a light traveler and aren’t carrying any kind of case or bag you should have a notebook in which to take down interesting points and a business card and resume copy. Do not enter in to the meeting with the intention of giving the resume to the individual, but if they ask about your background or say they know someone who may be interested in your work, be ready with the necessary materials at hand.

4. Secondary Research
Prep like an interview: check social media, read reviews, and think about the organization in larger contexts. Understand that this is an opportunity for you to learn but that you will need to direct the conversation. What is different about this person’s work? This department? This organization? What choices are they making and why? What does this person think is the most valuable skill for this work, the most important goal, or the industry trend? Ask personal questions as well – what has been most challenging for them, or rewarding, or surprising? You should have a list of multiple questions laid out and you can follow up as need be – but on the same hand don’t throw one hundred questions at your interviewee. A list of 4-8 key questions that vary in complexity and topic should be enough to give you a solid platform from which to approach the meeting.

5. BE PROMPT!
The adage “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable” should be your mantra. You are meeting with someone who has taken time out of their work day to speak with you and to assist you in your own professional development. There is a camaraderie in the field and a willingness to cooperate and exchange, but you have no idea what this person’s day looks like. You may be fit between other meetings, met with over lunch, or given a large stretch of an open afternoon. Be early. If you arrive 5-10 minutes early, check in with building security and wait for your interviewee to meet you, or follow any given directions and aim to arrive at their office just prior to the meeting time. If you’re like me and your preparations leave you at the building with half an hour to spare, check in with security and let them know you are there for a meeting but would like to take a look around first as you are a bit early. This gives you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the gallery or building and when you meet with your interviewee and they ask “have you been here before?” you can say “no, but I arrived early and had a look around at ____”. (If it’s an office building and you can’t go anywhere without an escort but have arrived early, I suggest re-reading notes, fine tuning your questions, or walking around the block so that you aren’t inconveniently early).

6. Follow Up
Thank-you cards or follow-up emails are a MUST! Buy a simple pack of blank thank-you cards. Take the blank cards with you with pre-stamped envelopes. Immediately after the interview or within 24 hours fill out the card. Make it personal. “Thank you so much for your time. I am so happy to hear your opinions on ___” or “Your experiences and perspective were greatly valued”. Acknowledge their impact. “I hope we can continue to correspond” or “I look forward to becoming a colleague of yours in the industry/field”. I am personally very British in my approach to messages and typically conclude with “Warmest Regards” or “Sincerest Thanks”. Mail that card as soon as possible so it arrives within 3-4 days. If you interact with someone remotely, ensure that you send a follow-up e-mail with thanks.

7. Moving Forward
These interviews should be set up to build relationships and to seek guidance, and ideally, they will be the start of larger networking efforts and not one-offs. Regular periodic check-ins are good ways to keep lines of communication open. Follow up on topics they mentioned, keep them updated on your progress (briefly!) and always be polite. If you come across an article or piece of news that you think would interest them based on your interactions then forward it along, and in response they will be much more likely to do the same in return. I have had internal contract openings forwarded to me, which have led to jobs or consulting work from individuals I met through informational interviews.

Understand that this is not an opportunity for you to get a job, nor is it a way of sneaking in around the job application process. This is about actively seeking guidance and making yourself known, but also learning about the industry directly in real-world settings. You should view yourself as an industry professional meeting with a potential colleague, and understand that you have valuable resources to contribute to these kinds of meetings. You are speaking with someone whom you likely admire or respect for their work – which you should express – but they are also human and were once starting out in the same fashion as you, so don’t let yourself feel diminished or vastly outranked. In the end it is a conversation, and they will likely be just as interested in your fresh perspective, particularly if your background or base of work is different from their own, as you are regarding their seasoned impressions.

Happy Interviewing!



2018 (2)
Elisha Mantegna is a museum education and conservation professional who has previously worked within institutions such as the Smithsonian and V&A. Her past research has examined the impacts of 3D scanning and digitization within museums, and she is currently a contractor within the Museum of the Bible Education Department in Washington, D.C. Contact Elisha at emmantegna@gmail.com. 

 

 

Emerging Op-Eds: Networking in a New City

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.


Networking in a New City
by Cassandra Cavness

Being an emerging professional often means moving for your first “real” job. Moving can be nerve-wracking and there are many factors to consider, including how to get connected to those in your field. Museum work, much like other fields, relies heavily on networking. Being able to establish yourself in your new city is crucial for becoming an integral part of the field.

Why is networking important?

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Networking is all about how you make people feel. Do they feel comfortable with your personality? Do they feel comfortable with your skill set and knowledge? Do they feel that they can trust your integrity and follow through? These questions often cannot be answered in one meeting but will be answered through a process of relationship building. Networking is important because it shows your ability to handle yourself and adapt to new and unfamiliar situations as you build relationships that could prove fruitful down the line.

Where to network?

Networking in your new city can seem like a daunting task, however, that’s where this blog comes in handy. Below are some great suggestions to get you started in any new city that you move to.

  • Facebook: This is a great place to start because there are plenty of Facebook groups geared toward emerging professionals.
    • NEMPN: We’re a ready-made network of people to talk to about museum related issues and theories.
    • Think local: There are often local emerging professional groups on Facebook that you can join so that you can network with professionals within your state or nearby city. These groups are great for finding out about local events and getting advice on how to handle museum issues within local parameters.
  • Networking Events: There are often local networking events that are not specifically geared toward museum professionals, but they are great opportunities. Use these events to understand how your profession fits into the fabric of the community.
  • Local Affiliation Groups: Although your town might not have local events that are directly related to your field, they will often have events geared toward similar interests. For example, if you work in an art museum, look for arts-related events in the community. These events might be hosted by your local college or non-profits, but regardless, it is a good idea to get to know those in your community that have interests similar to the mission of your museum.  
  • Local Boards: If you have more than one museum or a local art/history guild, you might have local boards that you can join. Try to become familiar with the type of educational opportunities there are for children in your city, because often times those non-profits will have boards that you can join.
  • Alumni Groups: Not every college will have nationwide alumni groups, but for those that do, take advantage of the opportunities that your local chapter gives you.

How to network:

Okay, so now you have moved, you’re all settled in and you’ve begun to find some different networking avenues. But now you’re thinking, “How do I actually network?” Although people tend to think of networking in terms of what it will get them, this isn’t the right approach. Below are 6 simple steps to networking that will get you your desired results in the long run but will also foster relationships in the immediate.

  1. Start to Network Immediately: I cannot stress this enough, do not wait until you have a need to know people in your community. This will make your effort to connect less genuine. Instead, start connecting the minute your foot touches down in your new city.
  2. Forget Your Personal Reasons: Don’t think of networking as a means to further your personal goals. People can tell when others are only there to better themselves and it is off-putting to say the least. Make this a mutual or reciprocal relationship by thinking of what you can do for others.
  3. Have a Plan/Know What You Can Offer: Treat networking like an advertisement of your skills. Don’t boast and brag but go in with the confidence of knowing what you bring to the table. During an event, try to talk to as many people as possible and get a feel for their needs. See how your skills can be an asset and offer to help.
  4. Be Friendly and Open: One of the most important parts of a networking opportunity is interacting with people. Be friendly and open to others’ ideas and suggestions, but also be open by contributing to the conversation with your knowledge and/or advice. Don’t underestimate your worth to a conversation.
  5. Think Collaboratively: Just like you don’t want to underestimate yourself in a conversation, don’t underestimate those around you. Although these people might not have the same educational background as you, that doesn’t mean that their ideas or suggestions don’t have merit. Look for ways that you could integrate what they are saying to fit your needs (whether they are personal, institutional, or academic) and how they could help you in a team-oriented way.
  6. Collect Contact Information: The most important part of networking is collecting the contact information from the people that you meet. What good does it do you to have a great conversation with someone and walk away not remembering who they were or not knowing how to contact them? Also, it is just as important for you to be able to give out your contact information as well.
    • Don’t forget to follow up and follow through! If you say you’re going to follow up with someone with an email or phonecall, do it promptly so that you are still in their mind and to reaffirm that new connection.

 

Remember…

Although these are just a few tips and tricks to networking in a new city, there are a variety of ways to engage in this important task. It is also good to remember that networking can happen anywhere at anytime if you are willing to be friendly and introduce yourself wherever you are. Take every opportunity to create relationships, because you might not get another chance.  Always keep business cards on you to hand out to people because you never know they will come in handy – a new and important relationship could be just around the corner!


nempn cavnessCassandra Cavness serves as Assistant Professor and Humanities Digital Archivist for Alabama State University and currently serves as the co-chair of the Alabama chapter of the National Emerging Professional Network. Her primary research focus is the interpretation of history through a visual lens and she has 4 years of practical experience in the fields of museum studies, public history, and cultural outreach. Previously, she has served as the manager of the Syracuse University Sue & Leon Genet Gallery and an archive and museum consultant for various nonprofit organizations.
Contact Cassandra by email: cassandra.cavness@gmail.com.

CANCELED: Ask an Expert LIVE! with John Luchin from Classic Interactions

NEMPN2017-Luchin_Ask

Join NEMPN for our next “Ask an Expert LIVE!” session on Tuesday August 22nd at 7pm EST.

This session we feature John
 Luchin, the Founder and Principal of Classic Interactions LLC, an interactive development studio based in Columbus, Ohio. Classic Interactions’ client work is focused on education applications for museums. In addition to his work with Classic Interactions, John was a federal employee for over a decade, serving as an exhibit designer and later the Chief of the Exhibits Division for the world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum.

Do you have questions about the intersection of museums, technology, and games? We want to answer them! Send your questions to nationalempnetwork@gmail.com!

Join us and watch the conversation on our National EMP Network YouTube channel.

Attention Potential Museum Studies Students, Current Students, and Recent (and not so recent) Grads!

NEMPN has partnered with Museum Masters Review in an effort to determine what Emerging Museum Professionals are truly seeking in their college/university experience. Your submissions are anonymous, so please be as candid as possible. This is the first step in what we hope will be a long overdue discussion on what Museum Studies programs provide and what students really need in their education to succeed. Any questions/concerns can be directed to NEMPN president Michelle Epps at president@nationalempnetwork.org.

Complete the survey here.

Lunch with a Leader: Tallahassee EMP

Get to know a new NEMPN Chapter Each Month with “Lunch with a Leader”

Watch it below

We ask you to join us on your lunch break for this half hour sessions getting YOU more connected with a different NEMPN group each month. In our first session we will be speaking with Tallahassee EMP leaders Gabrielle Graham and Mary Fernandez! Have questions? Join the conversation for the last 10 minutes of the session to pose your most burning inquires.

You can watch the live stream on our YouTube Channel here.

Ask an Expert LIVE! with Sarah Connors from The International Preservation Studies Center

Join NEMPN for our first ever “Ask an Expert LIVE!”

We will be speaking with Sarah Connors Assistant Director at the International Preservation Studies Center in Mount Carroll, Illinois. She holds an MA in Museum Studies from Western Illinois University and a BA in History from Wartburg College. Her career has provided her with experience in nearly every area in the museum field including, curatorial, exhibition, collections management, visitor services, marketing, and administration.

The International Preservation Studies Center has provided hands-on preservation training workshops to museum and library professionals, conservators, and historic preservationists since 1980. IPSC offers over 75 short courses taught by world-class instructors from around the world.

Special note: IPSC is dedicated to preparing the next generation of museum professionals which is why we offer 50% off all courses to undergraduate and graduate students!

Watch on our National EMP Network YouTube channel and send in your questions to nationalempnetwork@gmail.com https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpQwrySvN8yNBn9Tp5OgjkQ

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Professional Organizations

This month’s question from Erin Murphy asks,”It would be helpful for people to know other professional organizations (aside from NEMPN) for various kinds of staff in museums as well as regional associations.”

Suzanne Hale has over 15 years of experience as Registrar/Collections Manager at two university art museums, Colorado State University and Kansas State University. She has been an active member of the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) since 1999 and is the current Chair of the Registrars Committee of AAM.

Response from Suzanne:

The professional organization that has helped me the most with my career has been the American Alliance of Museum (AAM).  Many NEMPN members may already be familiar with AAM given NEMPN’s origins and past affiliation.  Regardless, I want to mention one of AAM’s major benefits:  serving all museum professionals. AAM provides educational programs and networking opportunities for curators, educators, exhibit designers, website designers, volunteers, preparators, directors, store managers, trustees, and more.  Its encompassing quality proves especially useful for smaller museums where staff members often have multiple job roles.  Staff members working within larger museum institutions where job roles may be more specialized can also benefit from participating in AAM, which encourages career advancement and provides members with an opportunity to investigate new and different roles in the museum field.  In short, AAM fosters professional growth to everyone connected to the museum community, wherever they are in their careers—emerging, mid-career, or senior level.

AAM has a membership of 35,000. Nearly 6,000 people attend the Annual Meeting each year.  But some people find the organization and its annual meeting too large to navigate; others find the cost of conference participation to be a barrier.  For those, I would recommend getting involved with one of AAM’s twenty-two Professional Networks (PN), which are volunteer-run affinity groups organized around job responsibilities and areas of common interest.  Within these groups, museum professionals can build relationships with other professionals with similar needs and concerns, while they grow their expertise, and give back to the field.

Particularly important for NEMPN members is that AAM partners with its Professional Networks to mentor new and emerging leaders and create an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes diversity in all areas of the museum profession.  At the AAM annual meeting, there are networking opportunities targeting EMPs, such as the First-Time Attendee Welcome and Networking Event where AAM staff help direct and guide new attendees through the conference.  Added in 2016, the Getting Started Series presents introductory information to help EMPs get a basic and practical understanding of selected topics. Another opportunity for EMPs at the annual meeting is the Emerging Innovators Forum. This program provides a venue for current graduate students or emerging professionals with less than five years working in the field to present topics related to an area of museum practice.  Another new program is the revamped Peer Mentoring Roundtables for colleagues to discuss career-related issues, a great place for EMPs to learn with and from each other.

For those who do not have the budget to attend the AAM annual meeting, I recommend getting involved in some of AAM’s local programming, or online professional development programs, many of which are offered in collaboration with one or more of the PNs.  And, you certainly do not need to attend the annual meeting to use the many resources found on AAM’s extensive website.  Sample documents are helpful in developing policy and understanding best-practices.  In addition, the website includes links to other sites about various museum related organizations and museum funding agencies.

I also encourage EMPs to get involved with one of the six regional museum groups: Association of Midwest Museums (AMM), Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM), Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA), New England Museum Association (NEMA), Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) and Western Museums Association (WMA).  The six regional groups were started by AAM for the purpose of holding regional conferences. They became independent non-profits in the 1970s.  In addition to the regional groups, many states have state museum associations that serve the needs of the museums and museum professionals in their area, especially those who work in very small institutions.  The six regional organizations and the state associations provide networking and conference attendance opportunities closer to home, which can reduce travel costs and time away from work.  Some museum professionals prefer working within these organizations because they want to build a local network of support.  It is nice to know resourceful museum professionals down the road to collaborate with on projects.  Building connections nearby can assist with various activities, such as coordinating themed community programs, lending and borrowing collection objects, recruiting expert consultants for multi-staff training sessions, and joining together for political advocacy and emergency planning.

In summary, I have found AAM, with its twenty-two Professional Networks, relationships with the regional and state associations, and a wide spectrum of museum colleagues, to be a great place to learn and grow as a museum professional.  AAM strives “to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies” and I have enjoyed being a part of this mission.

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Contract Work in Museums

Charles Zange is an Independent Contractor working in Washington, DC
Charles Zange is an Independent Contractor working in Washington, DC

This month’s question asks, “In DC especially, there are a large number of contractors working within the museum system. What is it like working as a contractor? What are the advantages/disadvantages of contracting, and how do you find out about opportunities?”  
Response from Charles: Contracting is common in DC for many reasons, one of which is hiring efficiency. Contracting with an outside entity can help a federal organization pick up labor quickly without going through the entire HR hiring process. It also gives the flexibility of cutting back the labor force without having to reduce federal positions, as contracts are usually easier to terminate or to let expire than federal positions. A federal organization is also not required to cover things like health insurance for contracted employees, as the contractual relationship is entity-to-entity (company to company) and not organization-to-individual like with traditional hiring.

The complexity of contracting increases sharply when individuals contract independently. Individuals establish their own single entities as sole-proprietor companies using the SAM.gov service, and then take on entity-to-entity contracts with a federal organization. This type of contracting is particularly common in DC. In this way, the individual is a company of one staff member contracting with a larger federal organization. The individual is therefore responsible for paying quarterly taxes on their company’s revenue (their income), allocating funds for health insurance, etc.

The advantage of contracting, in my opinion, is really the speed at which a contract can be acquired. It is generally, but not always, easier to bid on a contract than it is to apply for a traditional federal position.This helps outsiders break into a field, exposing them to critical work without forcing them through the steep uphill climb of the federal hiring process.

Contract work can be very interesting and highly technical too, building considerable professional skill. The disadvantages, however, are very challenging: contractors do not have benefits and do not receive staff credentials. Contracting also tends to be feast or famine, where contracted hours bring in considerable revenue but dry periods without new contracts reduce income to zero. The instability is especially difficult for new entities.

As for finding contracts, this tends to be more art+network than science+Google. Many contracts tend to find their way to listservs through local universities or related interest groups, or even word-of-mouth. Organizations can either open contracts publicly for a bidding period (where entities submit competitive bids to budget a project) or they can go to a single entity and offer a direct contract without bidding. Long story short, some contracts will be widely disseminated, while others may only be discussed with a single entity. Bids are more common, especially for larger projects, as the competition encourages entities to shoot for lower prices in the hopes of winning the bid.