This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the September/October 2015 issue of Dimensions magazine.
Before my first nonprofit management position (in England), I wish I could have coached my newbie self: learn about spreadsheets, practice daily meditation and stretching, and schedule physical exercise and play time like your life depends upon it—it does. Don’t fall prey to what I call “nonprofit-itis”—the belief that your organization’s mission is so important that you overcommit and exhaust your valuable resources: money, things, time, people. Overcommit any of these for long and you’ll jeopardize your organization’s ability to deliver quality products and services. Know when to stand up for something versus when to let it go. Embrace positive changes. One person who believes in a mission with passion can change the world. Really. I have seen it happen, and it is a beautiful, powerful thing! People will give more than you imagine when they realize you really care. Love trumps fear. Every time.
Amy Carr, publications manager, Explora, Albuquerque, New Mexico
I would have told myself a couple of things. First, don’t listen to the people who say “no” all the time, and don’t let them slow you down or change your direction. They either don’t care, haven’t tried hard enough, or are in the wrong workplace. Second, every institution you visit and every person in the field you meet has a great lesson to teach you. If it’s simply a cool exhibit or program, how staff dress and talk, how their work has changed over the years, or how they operate their museum, there is always a lesson to discover.
Jeff Rosenblatt, director, Kansas City’s Science Center, Science City & Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium, Missouri
I wish I had found informal science learning earlier! It wasn’t until 2001 that I realized it existed as a “thing.” So I would tell my younger, fresh-faced self to continue with the traveling—but to visit every science center and quirky museum I could find. And I would still recommend a stint in the commercial world as a software trainer, because they were the toughest audience to crack with the toughest content. But I would tell myself to soak up every variant of informal learning I could—the talks, the galleries, the shows—so that each evening out I was adding to my thought database about what worked.
Emma Cook, exhibition manager, At-Bristol Science Centre, Bristol, England, United Kingdom
Don’t believe any board member who tells you that all you need to do is run the museum and that you won’t need to do any fundraising because the board will take care of providing the resources.
Charlie Trautmann, executive director, Sciencenter, Ithaca, New York
I started my career in science museums as a mechanical engineer responsible primarily for developing exhibits. Looking back, I strongly feel that I should have learned to critically evaluate my creations (exhibits and related activities) for their communication ability from the very beginning. I would really like to have started with more emphasis on evaluation of the exhibits. After all, the value of our service to our communities greatly depends on how efficiently we communicate science to the visitors. The exhibits and activities—the core elements of a functional science center or museum—are to be designed with good didactic as well as product values. I wish I were more trained and equipped to achieve that in the early days of my career.
Ingit Mukhopadhyay, former director general, National Council of Science Museums, India
My father, who was a certified public accountant, may he rest in peace, always told me, “Be on the income side of the ledger.” When I first started, I was a business manager, but I got myself involved in the public funding process and throughout my career have worked to follow my dad’s advice. I teach it to all my museum studies students, too, but I am not sure they believe me.
Eric Siegel, former director and chief content officer, New York Hall of Science, Queens
The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their institutions or of ASTC.