History@Work, the blog of the National Council for Public History, continues its series of interviews with public history professionals. In Part 5, Trina Nelson Thomas of the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis describes what she looks for in a potential public history hire:
1. Can the student do research? Thomas writes:
Gritty, up-to-your-elbows-in-primary-sources research as well as careful, critical secondary source research? What can they tell me about the research process? Can they break the information down into bite size chunks for others? At a minimum, I expect first year graduate interns to be able to do quality research. In a public history setting, we don’t have time to explain the basic process of “doing history.” Undergraduate and graduate history programs are the place to assess and hone those skills.
2. Can the student or applicant think and communicate clearly? Thomas writes:
Do they make a case for themselves by explaining how their academic education and related papers and projects have prepared them to work at our institution?…
Someone may be an excellent communicator in a formal paper or classroom presentation, but not be able to convey historical information through a variety of means–to their grandma and her friends, through an informal presentation, via an exhibition or web site. More important than demonstrable skills in informal communication, however, I look for people who are interested in learning how best to convey historical content in a variety of ways.
3. Can the student/applicant work with other people in a professional and respectful manner?
I suspect for some readers, this post may seem a tad basic. However, I am continually surprised by how often truly smart and engaging people struggle to communicate and work collaboratively in a professional setting…I’d like to encourage you to seek opportunities outside of the classroom to practice and enhance your skills. If you haven’t already, start building a lifelong network of colleagues through student associations, professional associations and service to the field.