Dr Robert Symmons AMA, curator at Fishbourne Roman Palace, gives advice on how to get into the industry
One question that curators are asked more than any other is, ‘how do I get to work in museums’.
Often we can avoid answering by describing what working in a museum really involves, at which point the enquirer usually reconsiders their career plans.
For the more persistent aspiring museum professional though, a more considered response is needed.
Unfortunately the days are gone when you can leave school aged 18 and stroll into a museum job that will pay you a wage until you retire 40 or 50 years later.
For many years now, anyone interested in museum work would not get into the interview room without an undergraduate degree.
More recently, even this has not been enough and further qualifications are vital – you usually need a master’s degree in museum studies.
But even paper qualifications won’t guarantee that elusive curatorial job.
Most serious applicants will have several months experience working in their chosen area as a volunteer or unpaid intern.
This can be useful for cash-strapped museums as it provides a supply of willing help at low cost, but it is frustrating for the next generation who have to delay their career while they gain the experience needed.
Finally, you need luck. A lot of luck.
Permanent curatorial positions are very rare and competition for them is fierce.
You need to be in the right place at the right time to be able to land that job that you have worked so hard for.
I was particularly lucky – found myself working in museums with very little experience and no museum qualification. But I am among the last of a dying breed.
Most collections and education staff you meet in your local museum will have been through at least four years of university as well as many months working as a volunteer.
They will still be happy in their job even though it offers little security or financial reward.
They will be there because they love the work and have a passion for museums and collections.
They are there only because they are willing to go the extra mile.
Give them a smile and compliment them on the quality of the museum – it’s all the reward we need.
n For more information about Fishbourne Roman Palace, visit sussexpast.co.uk/properties-to-discover/fishbourne-roman-palace