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August 30, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

What should I do after I graduate (museum/non-profit/other)? Where should I live (stay in New York or go elsewhere)?

I'm about to graduate (OK, I'll eventually graduate) with a BA in Philosophy. Halfway through my degree, I decided I don't want to go into academia and I'm pretty sure I don't want to go into philosophy. Also, I currently live in NYC and I'm not really sure about the job market here...I've lived here three months, and I still can't find a part-time job (applied to everything from barista to jewelry designer's assistant). I can't even get a volunteering gig! (They all want experience I don't have.) So I might have to transfer back to my old school (W&M), but in any case, I'd like to start getting an idea of what to do with my life...and, incidentally, which cities would be good to live in to do so.

Basically, my goal is to teach, but not in a school environment. I was thinking about possibly being a "museum educator" at a children's museum, but I don't know much about science, art, or history. I'm planning on applying as a volunteer at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, though. I also might like to work in (the education dept. of?) an arts and/or LGBT non-profit, but I don't really know how well that pays. Not to mention I don't really know the job market for either of these things. Are there any other ideas I might consider?

I can't change my BA, but it's not too late to go to grad school if necessary. I have mediocre grades (cum 3.7, but with an early semester of F's and a track record of four schools), and not many skills or much experience (I had an awesome job at a science museum for eight months, but that was three years ago). I can write pretty well, I guess, but I don't want to be in an office doing editing or data-entry all day long. I'm worried that whether I'm in New York or Virginia, I won't be able to get a lot of volunteer or internship experience (for two different reasons--either no jobs or too many applicants).

Also, are there any cities with a reasonable creative/music (and LGBT) scene with a better job market than New York, or is the job market this bad everywhere? I've been recently sold on Portland, ME, but I'm worried it might be too small and possibly skews middle-aged. I'd like to stay in New England due to my severe allergy to the South (no, really), or the Northwest cause I don't like the sun anyway.

Also, bonus question: How the heck do you get an entry-level job from out-of-state?!?!
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Work & Money (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The job market here is pretty good -- at least as compared to most of the rest of the country, from what I can tell by MetaFilter/Facebook/Twitter -- if you can break into it. More likely than not, you're not getting callbacks because you're a college student (read: unavailable at the whim of management) and possibly because you're applying to things in which you either lack experience, or lack NY experience, specifically. It's a bit of a catch-22, but if you can get your foot in the door for even a few months, it'll open up a lot of opportunities. Bother your employed friends, your professors, and anyone who you know who knows someone in NYC who is in a field that you wouldn't mind working in.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Also, experience doing whatever in NY flies a lot farther in other places than experience in other places flies here.)
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: In terms of how to get a part time job in NY: lie. Or come up with something you have a moderate amount of experience in, and extrapolate wildly. Did a little casual babysitting in high school? You're a nanny now! Spent a summer folding t-shirts at the Gap? Go find yourself a retail job. Unless you're a very good liar, don't start with the job you want, start with the experience you already have.

In terms of career/life goals: I would finish school and see how it all plays out. I was 100% going to move to China to be an ESL teacher. Then, the month before graduation, I got my first film industry job pretty much as a total fluke. Seven years later I still work in film. I've never even been to China on vacation. I've never taught anyone anything more complicated than how to work the fax machine. If you've got two years left of your BA, you're way ahead of yourself.

A friend of mine was a museum educator (or, at least, worked in the education department of a museum) after college. I believe she graduated with a BA totally unrelated to museums, art, libraries/archives, etc. She was a psych major or something fully random. I don't think she had any expertise, but I could be wrong -- we were not in close touch at the time and I'm not sure what her specific job description was.

In college I had a part time job in the Metropolitan Museum's bookshop. The cool thing about this was that you could pop over to the Personnel department at any time and look at job listings (they hired from within), read job descriptions, see what entry level positions led where, what kinds of qualifications were needed, etc. I know I just said that you should find a part time job based mainly on previous experience and not any eventual goal, but it's worth trying to get a job like that.

FWIW it was pretty easy to get my museum bookshop job. The main thing was passing a basic arithmetic test. (I guess for making change? No idea why this was necessary, as we had cash registers and calculators.) I had retail experience, but then, if you've ever had a job before, you probably have retail experience. My primary retail experience before that job was three months working at a small town Old Navy.

Also, a word to the wise about volunteering in museums. While I'm sure there are young student volunteers at museums, the major cultural institutions have the ability to be choosy because volunteering for that stuff is dominated by older people. Often people who have been doing it for decades. Also lots of retired art teachers, gallery folks, collectors, etc. Those kinds of volunteer positions are very sought after. It might be easier if you looked for something a little less flashy, like a small nonprofit.

If you are desperate to volunteer at a museum, I'd find a tiny obscure one that interests you and call them up to see if there's any way to get involved. Like maybe the Studio Museum Of Harlem or the City Reliquary. There are soooooo many museums here beyond the obvious stuff, and a lot of them don't have hordes of retired art history professors clamoring to give tours.

You should also subscribe to the Nonsense List. They have a section of interesting volunteer opportunities that caters to younger people, and going to the events and parties listed in other parts of the list would help you meet people with similar interests who might be able to help you get the right sort of experience to end up where you want to be.
posted by Sara C. at 2:07 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can't even get a volunteering gig! (They all want experience I don't have.)

Are these museum gigs? What kind of volunteering are you applying for? Maybe you could try applying with smaller museums/galleries or lower-level positions OR broaden the kinds of organizations you're looking at. Or even better, apply for internships through your university. Or does your university have its own museum(s) that you could maybe work for as a work-study employee?

Also, are there any cities with a reasonable creative/music (and LGBT) scene with a better job market than New York, or is the job market this bad everywhere?

I don't know much about NYC's job market, but Minneapolis is a very LGBT-friendly city with a thriving cultural scene and a much lower cost of living than NYC. I know a lot of creative types who live there and are able to get by on part-time work that allows them to focus on their art.

Also, for Virginia: not sure how close you'd be to DC, but of course it has a million museums (not just the Smithsonian museums, either) and a thriving LGBT scene, but it's not a super-creative place otherwise.

Generally: I have a friends who work in arts education/administration, and the impression I get from them is that it's possible to make a living in this field, but you have to be willing to hustle for a period of time first (ie, taking a mix of part-time paying gigs and volunteer gigs, teaching a class here or there, doing grunt work to make connections, etc.). I have a friend who, a couple of years out of college, was working literally 6 part time jobs in the arts. She now has a pretty good job with an arts nonprofit, but she had to work her ass off to get there.

And of course, it's easier to find jobs in places like NYC and SF, but easier to get by on arts salaries in less-expensive cities. So, it's a trade-off.
posted by lunasol at 2:23 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay, I have some experience with both the children's museum and the nonprofit things.

1) Children's museum educator - Children's museums typically are not "actual" museums. They usually focus more on learning skills rather than learning an academic subject like history or science. They introduce children to specific content areas but use them to build basic skills like gross motor, cognitive, etc. So you don't need a history degree or anything like that.

Children's museum educator is a position that does exist, but you need to know that they are few and far between. I used to work for one of the largest children's museums in the country and we had five or six full-time educators. Most museums have less than that, and most cities do not have a children's museum. The educators were the folks who developed the programming for the museum floor, though they didn't necessarily do a ton of direct teaching. They also did a lot of professional development work for teachers. Most of them had teaching degrees and some experience working in elementary classrooms. Some had psych/soc backgrounds.

2) Nonprofit - Only some nonprofits have education departments. There a wide variety of LGBT nonprofit organizations. Some may have educators, some may not. If you want to work in the administration of a nonprofit organization, you will need to have administrative experience. This means office work - filing, Excel, mail merges, envelope stuffing, data entry. This is all you will do for the first few years of your career. To get that experience, you will need to be an intern, and most of those internships are unpaid. I did four in undergrad (all unpaid) before getting my first full-time job. I've been in the field for five years now and get paid fairly well for a nonprofit professional, but it took me awhile to get here. I work in fundraising for a human service agency.

By the way, my background is in theatre. If you have any other questions, MeMail me.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:32 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

In terms of career/life goals: I would finish school and see how it all plays out.

This, seriously. It's hard to tell from your question how much time you have left, but I know very few people who graduated with the same career plans they had when they started - and even fewer who have the same plans about a decade after graduation.

For now, take whatever job you end up being able to get (and I forgot to mention earlier that the absolute best way to get retail/coffeeshop/food service jobs is ALWAYS through friends - so definitely try that angle!), get involved with campus arts groups, and just take advantage of whatever opportunities sound good, even if they don't seem in line with your goals, because you never know.

I started college thinking I was going to be a psychologist (and two years earlier, I'd thought I was going to be a journalist or a screenwriter) and then just happened to take a summer job at the last minute after my freshman year that wound up leading me to my current career in campaigns/politics, a field I'd never considered before. You really just never know.
posted by lunasol at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding other cities and the job market for cultural institutions and nonprofits.

I say this as someone who has spent their entire life in NY, and who is originally from a part of the US that is rather poor in terms of cultural institutuions, but seriously, you really can't do better than New York if you want to work in the arts. Especially at an arts nonprofit. Especially especially at a museum.

The only other cities I think you could even look at realistically would be Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Or maybe if you are from a city with a museum that specifically interests you, you could try to find connections there.

You can barely spit without hitting some kind of cultural nonprofit in New York. Meanwhile, the one job opening that might exist in Portland, Maine, is going to go to the best art history student at the local university, or a benefactor's kid, or the like.
posted by Sara C. at 2:44 PM on August 30, 2012

Ugh, that was supposed to be entire adult life. You get the gist, I think?
posted by Sara C. at 2:45 PM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: I have a BA in philosophy and my more-or-less first job out of college was working in a children's museum. I hate working in an office, but if you have to work in one, a children's museum ain't so bad. Lots of nerf fights, art making, general shenanigans. Lots of young and creative types.

I worked in development. Most of the educators who worked there (about 5) had degrees and experience in education or early childhood development. It really is an education job and not just a 'liberal arts' major job. If you want to work in Non-Profits and are a decent writer, you might think about development. It's a job that a liberal arts major person can get. A lot of the field work in non-profits is done by people who are specialties in whatever area that NPO works in -educators, social workers, medical professionals, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:54 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, as someone who reads pretty much all the development job listings for art non-profits across the country daily, NYC has far and away the most openings of any city. Granted, it's a big city with a lot of competition, but Sara C. is totally correct to say that they just have so many arts and culture non-profits that it's ridiculous. We have quite a few here in Portland, but the turnover for jobs at them is very slow and the competition is quite high. It is, I'd bet, a comparatively small pool of jobs for tons of applicants.

Keep in mind that NPOs, while they can be great for many reasons, will not pay you very well. Yes, you could work your way up to the regional director for United Way and make 300k. But a starting salary in the 20-40k range, and then hanging there for quite a while, is likely.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:58 PM on August 30, 2012

It's hard to get a job in museum education, and once you do there's basically no money in it. On the other hand, it is almost as fun as it looks if you're into that kind of thing. Finish your degree for now. Volunteer and apply for internships and jobs and things. It's easier to live on a crappy salary when you're just out of college than it is later. And in many ways it's easier to move when you're young and broke than when you're old and settled.

I think you should just stay flexible for now, and take whatever work you can get that's vaguely related to what you want to do and pays enough for you to make ends meet.
posted by mskyle at 3:05 PM on August 30, 2012

Keep an eye out for internship opportunities at the Smithsonian Institution.
posted by needled at 3:35 PM on August 30, 2012

On the off chance that you come back to W&M, Dewitt Museum in Williamsburg has lots of museum education-type children's programs. I used to volunteer there; feel free to memail if you have any questions about it.
posted by tooloudinhere at 7:28 PM on September 1, 2012

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