Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's Next?

What's Next?
Not long ago, a colleague told me she had spoken at a graduate museum studies program and was astonished at how many students envisioned their future as a consultant, rather than working in an institution.  That's a big change from my own graduate school career where we imagined being directors, curators and an educator or two.   I never quite imagined the path that my career has taken,  and this summer, I'm taking the opportunity to join with several other colleagues in a consideration of what's next.

The idea for a consultants' retreat came about from a conversation where I was asked, in an overall conversation about strategic planning, if I had a plan myself.  I laughed, and despite extensive work on strategic and interpretive planning, sheepishly said no.  And then I called four other museum consultants in New York State whose work I value and admire--and guess what--none of them had a plan either.   So we decided to have a little mini-retreat where we all brought our concerns, hopes and ideas to the table to get feedback and assistance from the rest of the group.

We're still working out how our time together will work. We'll do some sort of career review--both the short-term and the long term (as one participant said, "I'm big on overarching narratives).   We'll think about the work we liked best and the work we liked least--and how to generate more of the former and less of the latter.  We'll talk about if and when collaborative consulting works, and how our various frameworks for both organizing and promoting our work serve us.  We may even come out with some frameworks for individual plans.  And I'm sure that we'll have a great time reflecting, talking and laughing over food and drink.

But I want to hear from blog readers out there.  If you're a consultant, what do you wish you had time to think about?  If you want to work as a consultant, why and what do you imagine your career will be like?  And for all of you, what's the next act in your museum life?


CNoe said...

I've just graduated from a museum studies graduate program and I have not considered consulting prior to this post. From what I've observed, I thought I would get more experience under my belt before I became a consultant so I could make connections and relationships that would lead to consulting jobs. Should I be looking into starting a consulting business?

Samantha said...

I'm still a museum studies graduate student and just entered my career as a historian for a corporate archives department. I have heard a few of my fellow classmates discussing consultant work, but I didn't know how that could really work. One student is a photography consultant, but I guess it could work in all areas of the field--esp. for small museums that might only have a few paid staff members and need to hire out.

Mus(eum)ings: Musings from a Museum Intern

Linda Norris said...

Thanks, CNoe and Samantha for your comments--and very interesting to me as you begin your professional life. I think it's important (which I didn't really talk about) to understand the differences between consulting and contract work. Consulting to me is when you have a level of expertise, beyond graduate school, that an organization desires. Contract work is when an organization has a project to complete and needs it completed, but does not want to hire full time staff--and that may be a possibility for some recent entrants into the field. I've watched a number of people enter and leave consulting/contracting--some people are cut out for it, and some not---it requires a willingness to embrace a certain level of uncertainty, risk and entreprenuership that's not for everyone. And I think my consulting life has been greatly helped by the time I spent actually working in or running institutions. Good luck, both of you!

Ann said...

Dear Linda,

To my mind, everything depends on what kind of skills are more present in a person. I've never thought of becoming a curator, because this profession (at least in my country) requires those skills, which are my weak ones: long-term concentration and sitting for a long time in the same place.

What I need are: 1) a job centered on analyzing patterns as "observational skills" are my best side and 2) something dynamic, as I feel uncomfortable after sitting for more than 2 hours (I am highly kinesthetic and think better when I move).

I have already chosen two jobs which allow me not to be in front of a computer all day long, analyze and to move a lot. And I would really like to be a consultant.

I do see what is wrong in a museum work and I know how to change it... the only problem in my country is that if I come and say what should be changed, not only the museum won't pay for it, but museum workers can get offended. The job called “museum consultant” does not exist over here.

And to your question... If I were a consultant, I would expect to a have a career which would motivate me to move on and not to do the same job every day, actually I'm not sure this career could be "planned" as you need to be flexible and open to new ideas... but I am afraid in my country this profession will appear in about 20 years...

Elisabeth Nevins said...

I never considered the consultant role until I was 7 months pregnant and my institution started cutting jobs. Rather than face the uncertainty of working at a severely understaffed and financially unstable historic site and try to raise a child, I opted to negotiate a freelance contract to finish up my major projects. A pretty lucky lemonade from lemons solution. But not anything I was planning.
I got my masters in '02, spent seven years in the trenches, and thought I'd just keep climbing the ladder. Now that I've been consultant for a couple of years, I can see myself continuing even after my daughter is in school. IF I can continue to grow my business. That's the part I really struggle with. Interpretation and education program development? I can do that. Promote myself and get new clients? Not as easy. But I like the flexibility, freedom, and diversity of projects that consulting allows. So if I can make it work, I think I'll stick with it.
As for what I wish I had more time for: thinking bigger picture, being much more thoughtful and proactive about reaching out to others and defining/promoting my business and expertise. Generally staying up-to-date on the field. I'm sure much of it has to do with having a two-year-old, but the thought of sitting down for an hour or two and immersing myself in a book or journal seems positively luxurious.

Linda Norris said...

Ann and Elizabeth--thanks for your comments. Ann, I still remember someone looking at me with a puzzled look when I was in Ukraine the first time saying, "why would a museum need a consultant? They have all the knowledge on staff!" You've got a great analysis of your strengths, and I think one of the things that comes over time, at least it did for me, was the ability to gently steer towards change in an organization, rather than my blunt approach (which, I have to admit, still sometimes comes into play).

Elizabeth--I think lots of museums are treading on very tricky ground about the difference between contract employment and at will employment, particularly as times are tight. But I also think the field, even in less difficult times, will continue to see independent professionals increase in number--I think many of us really do like the freedom it brings (but I agree as well, hard to keep up, even without a two year old, and I do miss colleagues right close by)

Saurabh Deshwar said...

Museums are important place where non formal learning take place.They are important because they supplement the formal education system and also in museums learning is life long.But now a days the falling in the visitor figures of the museums is due to the threats coming from the different organisations like Multiplexes, Big Markets, I-max theaters, Film threats, Parks etc.So that in many developing Countries Museums move to the next generation Science Centre by adapting the modal of Oppenheimer's Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, and the Ontario Science Centre opened Toronto, Canada, because the lack of the Artifacts to conserves, preserve and to show. The Science Centers are based on the theme of working model of Exhibits and after that Science Park came into Existence. Then after the combined experience of Science Centres and Science Parks, the new model called the 4th generation Museums or 3rd generation Science centre which is the hybrid of Science Centres and Science parks, called Science City. In the Science Cities the Exhibits are both outdoor(Like Science Parks) and indoor(like Science Centres), and also Hand-on and Mind-on.Now the question comes what next after Science city.Some professionals suggest that new Science centres shall based on the theme Dream Science i.e. Experience based, where other may focus on different class of Science Centres like Science Cafe in which we use all technologies and they are low in cost and have very low maintenance cost. I am suggesting the Science Cafe because some education professional through their research proved that one day computers plays the part of a teacher.All these are my views. If there is any mistake then please correct me.
Saurabh Deshwar