Career Story: Exhibit Developer For A Science Museum

Exhibit Developer For A Science Museum

Job Title: Exhibit Developer

Type of Company: I work at a science museum. We provide exhibits, programs and events for the public to learn about the natural sciences, especially zoology, paleontology, and geology.

Education: BA, English, Meredith College

Previous Experience: I was an administrative assistant in two different museum departments before being promoted to exhibit developer. I took on development duties while in other positions, showing my competence.

Job Tasks: I develop the content for science museum exhibits, along with other museum staff and curators. Working with committees, I write and edit the text for the graphic panels in the exhibits, and I find and identify photos and illustrations that will be used to convey the principle scientific ideas in the exhibit. For example, we recently developed a new exhibit on poison dart frogs from the New World tropics. This exhibit included a display case and habitat for six different species of frogs, which was built by my department. Working with the museum herpetologist, I wrote the text for the graphic panel and identification tags for the frogs in this exhibit. Other exhibits nearby were affected by the new installation and had to be re-written and retrofitted to accommodate the new dart frog exhibit. I found photos of the frogs to be included in the exhibit and acquired permission from the photographers to use their photos in the graphics. I worked with the graphic designers to be sure the appropriate credit was given to the photographers and that the text was properly presented.

Often exhibits will take months or years to develop, with the help of many contributors both inside the museum and outside. We might work with university professors, like we did for an exhibit on the fungus that caused Irish Potato Famine, or we might work with local research companies, like we did on a recent air quality exhibit. Often this means emailing, conference calling, and visiting various professionals to get their input on what the exhibit should contain, and then trying to make that content as relevant, exciting, and easy to understand as possible. While the fungus that caused the Irish Potato Famine may seem irrelevant to most museum visitors, it is still a cause of concern for farmers today, as the same pathogen affects many different crops grown locally, including potatoes, tomatoes, and other plants.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of my job are working with lots of different people and learning new things every day. Because museum exhibits cover a wide variety of topics, I am always getting to learn about subjects I would otherwise never have read about: how air samples are taken and analyzed to determine what air pollution contains; how certain frogs create and excrete poisons through their skin; how birds fly and how they do it differently than bats; what pterosaurs ate. I enjoy learning new things, so I am always happy to come to work.

The worst parts of my job include having multiple projects at once that all need attention, and scheduling and attending meetings can be very time consuming.

Job Tips: The most important aspect of my job is communication, so clear written and spoken communication is key. Classes in writing, editing and professional communications are important. Museum studies courses are also recommended so that you can learn the specific challenges facing museums today. Interactive exhibits are the most popular, so courses in electrical engineering, audio and visual components, and designing for all populations (hearing and sight impaired, for example) would be extremely helpful.

Additional Thoughts: My job requires great organization skills and the ability to juggle many projects at once. If you like doing the same thing over and over, this is not the job for you. If you like getting something done, completely finished, in the course of one day, this is not the job for you. If you have no patience for other people's ideas and schedules, this is not the job for you. I think of myself as a translator: I try to take complicated scientific material and translate it into a common language for all of our visitors. If you like working with lots of different (and very intelligent) people, and you like having lots of balls in the air at once, then you might enjoy being an exhibit developer.

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