“The Public History Job Search: A One-Day Workshop for Graduate Students” a Success

On October 24, 2014, the public history programs of U of L, Northern Kentucky University, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis hosted “The Public History Job Search: A One-Day Workshop for Graduate Students.”  About fifty students and faculty members from U of L, NKU, IUPUI, and other universities attended the event, which proved a great success.

Three panel sessions addressed topics of perennial concern to graduate students and current job seekers. The first, “Perspectives from New  Professionals: From Student to Employee” featured IUPUI alumna Angela Giacomelli and U of L alumna Kate Sowada. The former is an exhibits researcher at the Indiana Historical Society, while Sowada is the History Mobile specialist at the Kentucky Historical Society.  As current employees of institutions where they previously interned, Giacomelli and Sowada stressed the importance of internships for development of basic skills and knowledge, networking, and demonstrating value to prospective employers. Questions from the audience concerned topics such as paid versus unpaid internships, multi-semester internships, and doing multiple internships while pursuing graduate degrees.

Workshop attendees take notes during Dr. Lowe's session on federal historical programs.

Workshop attendees take notes during Dr. Lowe’s session on federal historical programs.

For the second panel, Jodi Lewis and Brigid Muldoon of the Frazier History Museum and Eloise Batic of the Indiana Historical Society offered “Perspectives from Public History Employers.”  The panelists offered guidance on how students can distinguish themselves through internships. All stressed the importance of working with energy and focus and completing assigned projects. For job applications, the panelists suggested that students craft resumes and cover letters to show a diversity of interests and experiences, tangible examples of their work, and a record of accomplishment with project-based assignments.

Dr. Turkiya Lowe, Chief Historian of the Southeast Regional Office of the National Park Service, delivered the keynote address, “Does the National Park Service Still Hire Historians? From Getting In to Making the Grade.” Dr. Lowe highlighted numerous internship, employment, and research opportunities for historians with the NPS.  She also discussed the job search and application process for federal positions. By the end of her talk, attendees had become thoroughly familiar with www.usajobs.com and some of the lesser-known details of the federal hiring process.

Dr. Turkiya Lowe of the National Park Service speaks about historical careers in her agency.

Dr. Turkiya Lowe of the National Park Service speaks about historical careers in her agency.

The final panel, “Public History Jobs in the Private Sector,” featured Chris Goodlett of the Kentucky Derby Museum, Cynthia Torp of Solid Light, Inc., and Tim Sanford of Videobred, Inc.  These speakers again stressed networking and internships as vital stepping stones for employment.  As employers of team-oriented companies, Torp and Sanford highlighted the necessity of developing strong collaborative skills.  The panel also stressed the importance of doing background research on prospective employers before interviews and showing willingness to participate in business development.

Cynthia Torp, President of Sold Light, Inc., speaks about work performed by historians in developing multimedia productions.

Cynthia Torp, President of Sold Light, Inc., speaks about work performed by historians in developing multimedia productions.

The final session of the day placed public history professionals in small groups to review student resumes. Students received valuable editorial and formatting advice and suggestions for development of skills and experience. The session also provided important opportunities for networking.

Chris Goodlett of the Kentucky Derby Museum advises Tommy Skaggs, U of L public history student, on resume development.

Chris Goodlett of the Kentucky Derby Museum advises Tommy Skaggs, U of L public history student, on resume development.

Overall, the workshop proved highly successful. Attendees commented on the value of the panels and guidance provided by various speakers. Although many of the panelists made similar points, they also showed important differences on key issues, which brought out contrasting viewpoints and opinions. Nonprofit and for-profit employers clearly have different expectations and goals, and hearing how these enter into hiring decisions supplied valuable information. The resume session gave students and alumni with recommendations for highlighting their strongest skills and expertise and developing effective cover letters. With jobs in public history becoming more competitive all the time, students need more than degrees and a smattering of experience to get their foot in the door. Workshops such as this one help students prepare for their job search and think about how coursework, internships, and theses all enter into professional training.

To read what attendees learned from the workshop, see their tweets here: https://twitter.com/hashtag/phjobsearch

– Daniel Vivian, Public History Program Director, and Hannah O’Daniel, Public History Graduate Assistant

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