October 5, 2011 – On Tuesday, September 7th I did my first guest speaking at my alma mater, California State University, Northridge. It was for an undergraduate seminar titled, “Public History.” The class is taught by my former graduate History professor and friend of mine. This is the first semester for a class such as this one to participate in a joint venture between the History and Anthropology departments. The focus of the class is to explore the theory, methods and practice of history outside the classroom. The class also introduces and broaden students’ awareness of careers for history and anthropology majors besides teaching, such as careers in the museum field, galleries, archives, research and not so obvious careers that utilized the skills and knowledge of the two majors. Majority of the students consisted of 3rd and 4th year undergraduates and a couple of graduate students.
The professor scheduled 5-6 individuals from various professions such as archives, records management and curatorial to guest speak throughout the semester. One of the individuals who will guest speak in two weeks from the time I am writing this is my colleague and supervisor, the Chief Curator at the Norton Simon Museum. As for my role as a guest speaker, I represent someone who is in the process of establishing herself in the museum field. I focused on my experiences in the museum field: Why and how I got into the field; the rewards and challenges in working in the field; the importance and value in networking and forming relationships with colleagues in the field; getting yourself involved (i.e. projects, volunteering, etc) and the importance in always educating yourself to stay updated and aware of what is going in the field you are in. I shared with the class my experiences as a Collections Management and Information Intern at LACMA and how my time at LACMA was my introduction to the museum field and wanting to work in the field. Interning and working with the Registrar and Collections Manager at the Norton Simon Museum further my experience, more hands on, specifically regarding a body of documents and art works. I shared my experiences volunteering at the Pasadena Museum of History and Downtown Art Walk, Los Angeles.
I also shared with the students suggestions and recommendations involving their job search that I learned from a career mentor. One example would be to do your research on the organization and get the names of those you would be interested to work with or work for in a department. Basically, go beyond then just having “Dear Human Resources” on your cover letter. Get an actual name to address your cover letter and resume too. Go on LinkedIn or the company’s website and search for names as well as learn about the company. And take the time to be traditional and mail your resume, in addition to emailing. If there is a particular position opening you’re interested in, state that in your cover letter. If there are no position openings, just “…inquire about a career opportunity in XYZ.” Mail your resumes and cover letters and wait for a response. Most likely, someone will email you saying they received your resume and at this time there is no position open in their department. Once you get a response, reply back thanking them for taking the time to respond. The important thing is that you have a name and contact information. The next thing to do is to connect with the person and get to know them and vice versa.
What I shared with the class is what I’ve been doing this past year or two as my mentor recommended it. Ask the individual to do a Q&A session with you about their profession for your own education. Some questions that you can ask would be: How did they get into the field? What are the rewards and challenges in the work they do? What resources can they recommend for you to read to learn more? You not only learn an aspect of the field and broaden your mind to a few things you didn’t know about the field, but you also get to know your colleague and your colleague gets to know you. After that, maintain your relationship with them. For example, email the individual updates of recent professional endeavors (i.e. projects you’re working on) or maybe you read something that may be of interest to them, etc. In some instances they will respond to your emails, other instance they may not. If they don’t, don’t fret or give up, they are busy with their work but they are reading your emails.
I was honest with the students. It’s not easy to get your foot through the door in the museum field. The experience of established individuals in the field and individuals such as myself working to get started in the field vary. Some have been fortunate in regards to timing. For others, it takes some time and a few tries. In ways you can relate to an actor, artist or musician trying to get recognized, proving and getting themselves establish all the while trying to survive. But that can be applied across the board, irregardless of the profession/field.
Since this was my first experience as a guest speaker, it was rewarding. I’m a shy person when it comes to speaking in front of a group of people, but this experience was a positive one and I enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to share my experiences with the students and hopefully it can help them with their job search and/or career path.