Museums as a Career Path: A Personal Journey

by Tricia Harris

My step-father often tells me the story of how Steve Jobs began his life with computers. On a whim, Steve took a calligraphy class during his short stint of undergraduate work. The shape of the letters inspired him to create what we know now as fonts, thus igniting the spark of what later became the Macintosh empire. I find this story very relevant to many other young people’s undergraduate experiences, including my own.

As you can see, Sam and Tricia are pretty happy with their career choice.

As an anthropology major well into my junior year of undergraduate studies at the University of Memphis, I realized I should probably start to seriously consider what kind of job I wanted with my degree. Like Mr. Jobs, I randomly selected a Museum Collections course because honestly, it fulfilled some of my credits and I thought it’d be “cool”. Little did I know I just took the first step in my career.

By my senior year I was still uncertain on exactly what I was going to grad school for, but I knew that I wanted to work in a museum. I landed an internship at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa working with the human burials. At that point, I loved bones (and still do) and was considering Physical Anthropology for my masters degree. But as I completed my internship and then remained on staff at the museum as Visitor Services, I began to experience more of daily museum operations and the different facets of the museum staff. Thus I decided to broaden my scope and stay at my beloved University of Memphis in the University College program for Nonprofit and Public Administration and Museum Studies while also still working at Chucalissa as a Graduate Assistant.

So after all that, do I know what I want to be when I grow up? Not exactly. Will I build an empire for myself like Steve Jobs? Probably not. But because of that one class that I took on a notion coupled with my experiences at Chucalissa, I have developed a passion for my future in museums. One way I have channeled my excitement for museums is by creating a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at the University of Memphis called the Museum Studies Student Association. I was very involved on campus during my undergraduate career, so I was thrilled to have to opportunity to remain connected to the University.

A fellow GA, Mallory Bader, and I formed the MSSA with one main goal in mind: networking. Thus far for this semester we have planned a “behind the scenes” tour with a local museum as well as a museum professionals career panel. Both of these events will give students the opportunity to interact with museum professionals and get a glimpse of life in museums. Hopefully these experiences can help students navigate their way to a fulfilling career. And while I am still trying to find my place in the world of museum professionals as well, I am confident I am off to a great start with a good foundation.

Tricia Harris is a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.

About C.H. Nash Museum

The mission of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a division of the University of Memphis, is to protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the Public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities on the landscape’s past and present Native American and traditional cultures.
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