There are more than 35,000 museums, aquariums, arboretums, botanical gardens, historic houses and sites, nature centers, planetariums, science and technology centers, and zoological parks in the United States. Many museums are located in large, metropolitan areas, but the American Alliance of Museums reports that about 26 percent of museums are located in rural areas with fewer than 20,000 residents.
Institutions with a primary goal to educate the public about their collections hire education directors and teachers. Depending on each institution's monetary resources, most museums, large and small, zoos, botanical gardens, and occasionally, historical societies employ education directors and teachers to ensure public access to their collections. Institutions with small operating budgets or limited visitor access sometimes hire part-time educators or rely on volunteer support.
Professional associations such as the American Alliance of Museums offer job listings and job-search advice at their Web sites. Other job-search strategies include using the resources of your college's career services office, networking in-person and online at social networking sites such as LinkedIn, participating in internships, and contacting museums and related organizations directly regarding employment opportunities.
Your first job in a museum or zoo will likely be as a teacher or resource coordinator working in the education department. With a few years of experience and improved understanding of the institution's collection, you may seek promotion to education director. Many people in the field transfer from one museum to another or from one zoo to another.
Once in the education department, most people learn much of their work on the job. Experience in working with different people and groups becomes very important. Education directors must continually improve their understanding of their own institution's collection so that they can present it to school and other groups in the best way possible. Some education directors work for the federal government in specific subject areas such as aeronautics, science, or technology. They must be proficient in these fields as well as in education. With considerable experience and advanced education, education directors might advance to become curators or work in executive-level positions.
Museum teachers with experience and appropriate academic or teaching credentials may become content specialists in one area of the museum's collection or may become a director of education, assuming responsibility for the departmental budget, educational policies and community outreach programs, and training and supervision of numerous staff and volunteer workers. Advancement may depend on acquisition of an advanced degree in education or in an academic field. Because professional supervisory positions are few in comparison to the number of teacher positions, museum teachers may need to look beyond their home institution for advancement opportunities, perhaps accepting a smaller salary at a smaller museum in return for a supervisory title.
Teachers who leave museum work are well positioned to seek employment elsewhere in the nonprofit sector, especially with grant-funding agencies involved in community-based programs. In the for-profit sector, excellent communication skills and the ability to express an institution's philosophy both in writing and in interviews are skills valued by the public relations departments of corporations.
Join the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and other organizations to take advantage of networking opportunities, continuing education, and other resources.
Visit https://www.aam-us.org/programs/manage-your-career for job listings, or contact museums directly to learn more about job openings.
The AAM offers an Emerging Professionals Group (https://www.aam-us.org/programs/manage-your-career/emerging-professionals) for those who have been in the museum profession for less than five years. The group provides career advice, networking opportunities, and other resources that will help you take your career to the next level.