Today’s guest post comes from Cecilia Wichmann, Publicity and Marketing Manager at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Without giving too much of the story away, Cecilia brings us a story of an EMP actively seeking a mentor and the resulting relationship/partnership. I’ve placed this post under the heading of “Career Paths,” as mentorship can have a remarkable impact on the progression of a museum career. You can read more at the blog she and her mentor started to track their progress, Talking About Talking.
When you’re starting out in the museum field, you hear a constant drumbeat of encouragement to intern. Seek internships in museums early (during high school or college), and once that door opens, put your best foot forward. You’ll gain valuable professional skills, build relationships with future colleagues, and learn how a museum operates. In my experience, the very best outcome of an internship is a positive and productive relationship with your supervisor. She may just become your mentor.
My first undergraduate internship was in communications at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I worked with Ann Greer, director of the department, who taught me the fundamentals of media relations, marketing, writing with an institutional voice, navigating sensitive situations, and much more. She trusted me with challenging projects and provided constructive feedback. In short, she mentored me.
Today, Ann continues to be my mentor, and she’s also my boss. After graduating in 2008, I joined her team as Marketing Associate. Over the course of nearly five years, my role has evolved—through her persistent support and my hard work—to Publicity and Marketing Manager. I continue to learn from her daily.
The Phillips fosters professional development for its staff. To this end, the museum recently gave me a series of coaching sessions with Wendy Luke (a name on EMP radars since AAM published A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career, an indispensible guide to the profession that Wendy edited with Greg Stevens). Wendy’s coaching expanded my view of mentorship. Rather than unfolding organically through personal affinity and admiration like my relationship with Ann, our work together was assigned and finite. At the same time, goals were open-ended and defined by me (with Wendy’s guidance), rather than by my job description. Our work together was fun and empowering.
Wendy helped me recognize and commit to one core goal—become more strategic. This direction led me, again, toward mentorship. Wendy challenged me to identify a role model outside of my organization and ask her to mentor me for a discrete amount of time. I reached out to Suzanne Hall, chief communications officer at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with 30 years experience in the field, whose genuine manner, fresh energy, and experimental instincts struck me whenever our paths crossed. I proposed the 6 month-mentor idea in a brief email and, to my surprise and delight, Suzanne said yes right away.
My new mentor wasted no time in modeling strategic thinking—she proposed that we reinvent mentorship for the 21st century. Rather than restrict ourselves to one-on-one confidences, we would blog our work together over six months and invite participation from our social networks. We met in person and identified a series of topics for monthly discussion via Google Hangout, from a nuts and bolts examination of the everyday communications plan to a boot-camp on crisis preparation and response. Topics are shaped to accelerate my learning curve and engage our peers in healthy debate about how we do our jobs now. We built the blog on WordPress right then and there and launched Talking About Talking: A Communications Reality Show three days later. Two-thirds of the way through our project, we have 20 blog subscribers and a small but active group of followers, participating through Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. We’ve surpassed 2,500 page views and published 23 posts, including two guest posts from branding experts in Richmond and New York. While our formal mentorship ends in June, Suzanne and I have forged a bond and will stay in touch.
Each of these relationships has shaped me personally and professionally. I’ve learned that mentorship takes many forms, all of which can be good. I’ve learned to take very seriously that the mentee has an active role to play. Meaningful mentorship doesn’t just happen—it takes nurturing, deliberate effort, and sometimes a bold request. You’ve got to be receptive, self-aware, and willing to grow. For those of us lucky enough to have benefited from supportive mentors, the next step down the line will be to pay it forward, as a mentor to another EMP.
A related article was originally published in A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career, edited by Greg Stevens and Wendy Luke, copyright The AAM Press 2012, www.aam-us.org. Reprinted with permission.