Skip to main content

Mary Cavanagh

Mary Cavanagh
Senior Content Developer, Science Museum Group

How many years have you been working in this sector?

1.5 years.

What do you like the most about your job?

The people I work with are great, but beyond that the thing I like most about the job itself is probably the tangibility of producing an exhibition or an event. I also enjoy the creativity involved in producing an exhibition combined with the logical structure required to ensure it delivers a fun and engaging experience along with some robust science.

What led you into your current role or career?

I began by teaching within universities (as a PhD student and postdoc), then volunteered with local schools and museums. I began looking for a job in museums when I moved back to the UK and was fortunate to find a role within the Contemporary Science team at the Science Museum. My background in science along with my volunteer experience fit well with what the museum was looking for.

What are the career progression options in this role?

There is scope for progression within the museum and beyond. The sector is competitive, but there seem to be plenty of opportunities for jobs in London and outside. Examples of career paths in the museum sector include:

  • Curation: looking after museum collections, acquiring objects and putting together exhibitions in your specialist area – often requires advanced study in specialist areas
  • Conservation: preserving and restoring museum objects – this one requires specialist qualification.
  • Exhibition development: researching and developing exhibitions – more generalist role, qualifications will depend on the museum

Job titles and duties vary from museum to museum and will depend on a number of factors. For example, large, relatively well-funded museums tend to have specialist roles, while staff in smaller museums tend to have broader remits. Leicester University’s Museum Studies department has a great, up-to-date jobs board where you can find examples of the kinds of jobs available:

What are the most important skills and experiences that have got you where you are today?

My experiences during my PhD and postdoc were very useful. Research skills are necessary in my job, as is the ability to think critically. Effective time management and teamwork are essential and I developed all of these skills during my time in academia.

Any tips or advice you would give to someone thinking of going into this type of career?

Don’t go into it for the money! If you are interested in working in museums or in science communication, see if you can pick up some hands-on experience. Working with schools, community groups, or local museums is a good place to start. Try writing for a non-specialist audience; produce a blog or podcast to give yourself a deadline, and as a way of showcasing your work.