When I worked for the Smithsonian Institution, I joked with my coworkers, "If I'm not in your department now, just wait. I will be soon." During my five years of service I worked in three different departments (exhibitions scheduling, public relations, and exhibition development) and was considering a fourth (registrar) until a job I realized that I truly wanted (curatorial) opened up at a liberal arts university in Richmond, Virginia. I should confess that prior to the Smithsonian, I gained experience as a fundraiser at a contemporary art museum in Houston.

This type of career zigzagging within the museum profession is common for four reasons: (a) museum jobs are extremely competitive and applicants take what they can find, often in the city they can find it; (b) some applicants, especially those just beginning their careers, don't know what role they will like and excel in until they try various ones; (c) no two museums have the same organizational structure; a curator in one museum may also wear the hat of exhibit designer and educator in another; and (d) increasingly, many museums have downsized budgets and staff, so that employees are assuming jobs that may have once resided in another department all together. While this can be frustrating, the changing museum landscape and the experience and knowledge gained at each kind of position have the potential to form a wise and well-connected museum professional.

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Copyright © 2012 AAM Press. This chapter first appeared in A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career.

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