Publications

The Job Search (Outside Academia) 

Edited and expanded by Lindsay Bilodeau, PhD Candidate, Victoria University of Wellington and Jenny Ellison, PhD, Curator, Sports and Leisure, Canadian Museum of History with contributions from Gillian Leitch, PhD, CDCI Research and Michael Eamon, PhD, Principal, Catherine Parr Traill College, Trent University

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Today’s history graduates are far more likely to work outside of universities. As such, this chapter presents information about job searches for positions where you’re most likely to employ history – the public and private sector, galleries, libraries, archives, museums, as a freelancer or research administrator. If you’re looking for resources on academic job searches, you’ll find that in the next chapter.

History and other Arts degrees provide you with several important and transferrable skills that will carry you forward in your career. Talking about skills as they relate to graduate school is a relatively recent phenomenon. For some, it implies that university training is meant to prepare you for work and in focusing on the question we devalue education in the humanities. This isn’t true. Every job requires a skill set and capacities which are applied to different projects and challenges.

For the last few years, “academic” has been the frame around which historians have described the job search. In numerous articles, jobs are categorized as “alt ac” (alternative academic) or “post-ac” (post academic), “non-academic) or academic. Do you notice a trend there? Employing History moves beyond this classification of jobs solely in relation to the academy. Talking this way contributes to the erroneous idea that we can understand jobs in history only in relation to the academy. There’s a lot of meaningful work out there as the profiles in this section show.

Starting Your Search

As you think about your career goals and prepare for a job search, it is useful to think about what drew you to graduate school in the first place. Was it a desire for social change, a love of research or passion for teaching? You might also reflect on your strengths and preferences. Do you like a structured 9-to-5 workday? Are you better at long or short deadlines? What makes you feel exhilarated and drains your energy? Your answers to these questions are potential starting points for a reflection on where to put your energy and focus during a job search. You might find you have multiple answers to this question. That’s okay! Just remember to tailor your documents and approach for different career tracks. Resources for this can be found in the sections below.

Research is another big part of the job search. Look around and see what kinds of jobs are out there. Along with this guide, numerous organizations (including the CHA), universities and private consultants offer “job profiles” showcasing the work of people with history degrees. These are created to give people a sense of how history is practiced in different settings. In graduate school, you may or may not get many opportunities to learn from or about work in other fields. Profiles and guides give you a glimpse of the kinds of work available. Professors reading this manual should also take this information to heart. Consider whether and how you can include assignments, guest lectures or other in-class work that supports your students’ understanding of diverse career paths.

You can also do research online through LinkedIn or websites for public and private organizations, to get a sense of what kinds of jobs are available. Look at job titles, job postings and, when possible, examples of work that the organization or institution you’re applying for does. If you can see yourself in these roles, try reaching out for informational interviews. If you don’t know anyone working in these roles, a short email or LinkedIn request is sufficient. Explain who you are, why you’re reaching out, and ask if you can have 30 minutes to discuss their experiences with work. Not everyone will answer, but some people will. Keep in mind these conversations are informational only. They’re not intended to ask for work or as a mini interview. Ask what a typical workday look like, what kind of projects they do and on what timelines, are their opportunities for training and advancement, how often they hire and what process to candidates go through?

Tailoring Your Job Search

Below you’ll find different areas where people ‘employ history.’ We’ve eschewed labels like “public history” and “GLAM sector” (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums). The focus here is on places you’re most likely to “employ history.” It isn’t a comprehensive list, but a broad resource aligned along the following categories:

1.    Museums, Galleries and Cultural Centres

2.    Public Sector

3.    Archives

4.    Private Sector

5.    Community-Based

6.    Freelance/Contract

7.    University and Research Administration

For each category, you’ll find a summary of the field and types of work you might do in the area, job search tools and career profiles. At the end of this section, there are some general tips on Resumes/CVs and cover letters and preparing for interviews.

1.     Museums, Galleries and Cultural Centres

a.    The Field

Museums and Galleries in Canada range from large, publicly funded and research-focused institutions to small, locally or artist specific institutions. Within Museums there are multiple potential roles for people with history degrees: Curators, Educators, Creative Developers (who help translate research for a wide audience), Marketing, Collections Managers (who catalogue and move objects in museums and galleries) and Conservation specialists (who preserve artifacts.

At large, federally, and provincially funded institutions (i.e. the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, The Royal B.C. Museum) these are discrete roles. Curators don’t handle collections, and marketing doesn’t engage in research.  In smaller Museums and Galleries, staff tend to take on multiple roles, i.e. curator and fundraiser, collections and exhibitions manager, gallery director and marketer.  French-English bilingualism will be required (or an asset) and many large Museums and Galleries. In Cultural Centres focused on Indigenous groups and regional institutions, other languages may also be an asset.

Working in a gallery or museum, you’ll draw on your knowledge of history very broadly. If you work in a curatorial or education role, you’ll be focusing on a broader area that your thesis – likely an entire region, country, or sub-field of history. Work in Creative Development, Collections Management and Conservation can require more specialized training, and you may need to pursue a certificate, diploma, or degree to secure work in these areas. Even then, a history background will provide meaningful context or skills for your work.

If you are under 30, you qualify for the “Young Canada Works” administered by the Canadian Museums Association. These paid roles provide work experience in Museums and Galleries across the country. Such programs give you a chance to try different types of work and to network with museum and gallery professionals. Keep in mind, as well, that some graduate programs will offer you the opportunity for in-class experience or co-ops in these spaces. Check with your graduate director to see if there are course options like directed readings that would allow you to explore this field. Some institutions may also employ students during the summer, you’ll need to check their websites for these listings.

If you’re interested in work in this area, familiarize yourself with current issues and debates specific to the field. You can find information on the webpages or social media channels of organizations like the Canadian Museums Association, provincial museum associations, Museum Computing Network (mcn.edu) and Museum Next (https://www.museumnext.com/), among others.

b.    Job Search Tools

·      Canadian Museums Association Job Board and Young Canada Works listings: https://museums.ca/site/aboutthecma/careersheritageycw 

·      Work in Culture: https://workinculture.ca/ 

c.    Profile: Laurie Dalton

What is your current role?

I'm the director/curator of a university art gallery. I research/curate from 4-6 exhibitions a year, oversee and develop a permanent collection of over 2,500 works of art; and implement marketing and social media. I also plan outreach programming varying from schools, community groups, and university classes. I am also an Adjunct Professor in a department of history/classics. On average, I teach 1-2 courses a year. I also am active in my research, which broadly looks at transnational connections within Canadian culture and museums narratives.

What degree(s) do you have?

I have a BA (hons) in Art History, an MA in Art History, and a PhD in Canadian Studies

Did you work during your degree(s), if so, were your jobs related to your degree?

Yes, I worked through every degree. Some jobs were directly related to my studies (I was a gallery assistant), however others (working in coffee shops, bookstores etc.) though not directly related helped to instil a good work ethic and public relations skills – which is also an important skill to have as a curator in a public museum.

When did you start applying for after graduation jobs during your last degree?

I started to apply after I completed my comprehensive examinations. There are not a lot of jobs in curating/museums/teaching, so I applied as I saw them. I got the job I currently have while completing my PhD.

What is one search tool or university job support program that you found useful in your job search?

The Canadian Heritage Information Network is a good source. H-Net is a good source for employment and research opportunities.

What is one skill that helped you succeed in your application for your current role?

Determination, it’s important to have a strong research skill set, but being approachable and engaging in your interviews is also key.

If you teach or have remained part of academia, please describe the process of applying for and beginning this career. Can you provide advice from your experiences with contract negotiation and committee work?

Contract negotiation is tricky, as usually you are just happy to have gotten the job! I would suggest talking to others at the institution and ask them for advice. Committee work is important, but you should be careful to balance it with your work if you have a temporary contract. I also strongly suggest serving on committees outside your organization: at either the local, provincial, or national level. These are important opportunities to build your skill set and network. My position is a curator at a university art gallery and is a part of the collective bargaining unit (same as professor and librarians). However, each place is different. My general advice is that I suggest working throughout your degree – it helps the transition much better and it is a key skill in time management and keeps you within the ‘outside’ world from academia. More and more studies show how companies value the skills from ‘arts degrees’ – so tailor the language in your resume to highlight these strengths. Also, there should be no pressure that an ‘academic’ job is the only job – there are many exciting and fulfilling paths you can do with your graduate degree.

How did you balance your personal preferences, for example cities you did or didn’t want to live, institutions or companies you did or didn’t want to work for, with the need to get a job and build experience?

That is a very personal choice, however I think success in your work also connects to your quality of life. My core advice is to choose what is best for you, not what others expect you to do: your career, while fulfilling should not be your only focus. I know that when I am 100 years old I will not think that I should have written one more paper/gone to one more conference, instead I hope that I will have had a well-balanced life: the people that I met, the places I travelled, the connections made.

What do you wish you had known about the job search when you finished your graduate studies?

I would say to not take things personally: sometimes the person for the position has already been pre-selected even with the job posting. There can be a lot of internal politics at play that have nothing to do with your skill set but stay the course and you will find a good fit.

d.    Profile: Elizabeth Scott

What is your current role?

I am the Curator of the Western Development Museum, which is the provincially mandated human-history museum of Saskatchewan. I am also appointed as Adjunct Professor in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. I lead a Curatorial Department of 8 staff members. Our responsibility is to care for the 75,000+ artifacts in our Collection and stimulate interest in the history of Saskatchewan through exhibits, research, writing, outreach, and education. As a generalist museum, we cover a wide range of social, cultural, and economic topics.

What degree(s) do you have?

BA (Hons.) History and Indigenous Studies, MA History, PhD History

Did you work during your degree(s), if so, were your jobs related to your degree?

During my undergraduate years I worked part-time in two jobs that helped further my administrative skills. Neither of these experiences were directly related to my degrees, but they gave me invaluable experience that led to later jobs with more progressive responsibility and eventually an alt-ac job in my field. I also worked in retail for a year after my first year of study. It gave me a lot of customer service experience. I also volunteered through my undergrad and MA for my political party. I worked in my field during my MA as a teaching assistant. 

I worked in my field during my PhD as a teaching assistant and a sessional lecturer. I also had one research assistant job. During my PhD I was elected to the Board of Directors of my primary-health community clinic, which gave me a great deal of experience in policy governance.

When did you start applying for after graduation jobs during your last degree?

I was not actively looking to get back into work toward the end of my PhD because I was on maternity leave. 

In brief, can you tell us about a search tool or university job support program (if any) that you found useful in your job search?

I found out about my current job on Facebook by sheer luck! I was not searching for work.

Can you briefly describe one skill that helped you succeed in your application for your current role?

The skill that stands out the most for me is the progressive responsibility I’d been tasked with in each of my roles and degrees prior. Administrative experience is seen as an important asset in any public service job. For example, I was able to meet the requirement for budgeting in my current role because I had overseen a budget as a Citizenship Officer and also when I was a Board Director of my primary-health community clinic.

Can you provide advice from your experiences with transitioning from life as a graduate student to a full or part-time member of the workforce?

This one is harder. Going back to 9-5, full-time hours is a huge adjustment, especially as a parent with small children. I had way more time and flexibility as a graduate student and post-doctoral fellow. After three years, I still haven’t found a balance I’m happy with between work and home. Instead I’m trying to be clearer about my boundaries. I’m learning to say “no thank you” more often. The other thing that is very different is working on a team. Academia is largely geared towards individual achievement. Alt-ac workplaces are far more relationship-driven places. Networking is essential, as are organizational values like teamwork and service. Finally, the role of a public servant is to work for the public stakeholders the organization exists to serve. You must learn to shift your focus outward more of the time and let go of the inward reflection that academic study demands and encourages. 

How did you balance your personal preferences, for example cities you did or didn’t want to live, institutions or companies you did or didn’t want to work for, with the need to get a job and build experience?

Staying in Saskatoon was a non-negotiable for me. So, whatever I was going to be doing after the postdocs ran out was going to be in Saskatoon. I was ready to be flexible and look at other areas of interest, maybe go back to the Federal Public Service. 

What do you wish you had known about the job search when you finished your graduate studies?

For parents - the only regret I have is that I went back to work very soon after my second child. I always say I got my dream job five years too early! But we try as a family to make it work because it’s a huge privilege to do this work for the people of Saskatchewan and work in my field. 

2.    Public Sector

a.    The Field

Public sector work can be for federal, provincial, or local governments, non-profits, and unions. Within these areas, you can find work as a historian, researcher, policy analyst or lobbyist, among other jobs. Your experience working with historical documents, researching, analysing, and writing will be applied to specific issues and policy projects in these roles. As a public sector worker, you’ll be asked to synthesize information, offer recommendations, write policies and guidelines. A second language will may be an asset in this area, French if you are working with federal/provincial governments and Indigenous languages if you’re working with a community group or non-profit.

As with any field, you should network and learn as much as you can in your desired field. Making personal connections, whether through someone you know or someone with an interesting career, will be essential. People already working in the field can give you a sense of the day to day work of their department or ministry. From these connections you may also learn about job openings in the field. Contracts and student work in these areas can lead to meaningful future work.

Historians working in government stress the importance of tailoring your job documents to the competencies outlined in job postings. Address each of the essential qualifications in your letters and resume. You may find that government postings ask you to fill out a questionnaire rather than provide a cover letter. Here, you provide a detailed and specific accounting of your experiences and how it applies to the work. Examples from research, teaching, conference organizing, union committee work, and other work will have value here. Your challenge will be to narrate these experiences: tell a story that demonstrates a thoughtful reflection on the role and what you bring to the position. Julien Labrosse kindly provided his responses to such a questionnaire, and you can find that in the Resume/CV section of the guide.

During the interview process, you may also be asked to do a language test. Language requirements will be listed in the job posting according to a letter code (CBC, BBB, etc). A guide to this process, sample tests and an explanation of the codes are on the Public Service Commission website. Language training may be offered on the job. It varies across institutions and departments.

b.    Job Search Tools

·      Federal Public Service Recruitment: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-service-commission/jobs/services/recruitment.html 

·      Federal Hiring Programs for Students: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/jobs/opportunities/student.html 

·      For provincial and territorial programs, search “public service” and your province/territory.

·      Charity Village: https://charityvillage.com/ 

·      Work in Non-Profits: https://workinnonprofits.ca/ 

c.    Profile: Alison Norman

What is your current role?

I’m a historian for the province of Ontario. I provide historical advice and answer questions about Ontario’s Indigenous history for staff working across government. Much of my core work relates to conducting research for land claims, as well as educating government staff in Indigenous history. There is a huge need for this work, and a growing interest on the part of staff who want to learn more, which makes my work so rewarding. I also manage my ministry’s library. 

What degree(s) do you have?

BA (history major), MA (history), BEd (intermediate/senior, history and geography), PhD (history)

Did you work during your degree(s), if so, were your jobs related to your degree?

I worked at several jobs, both unrelated and related to my degree. Some of the most important work I did was: federally funded summer work experience program, at a historical society; as the grievance officer at my university’s union for TAs and sessional staff; and sitting on the board of directors at a provincial historical society. (Along with TA work, RA work and sessional work).

When did you start applying for after graduation jobs during your last degree?

I started applying for jobs during my postdoctoral fellowship. I applied for a few academic jobs, but mostly for jobs beyond the academy, and I looked at organizations and government.

In brief, can you tell us about a search tool or university job support program (if any) that you found useful in your job search?

Honestly, the best tool is networking, connections are really how I navigated the job market.

Can you briefly describe one skill that helped you succeed in your application for your current role?

Less a skill than an honest desire to use my historical knowledge and research skills to contribute to the resolution of historic grievances (as part of the land claims process in Ontario). I really, really wanted my knowledge to be useful when I was looking for work beyond the academy.

Can you provide advice from your experiences with transferring your skill set from your degree(s) to work outside academia?

Following the standard advice about a changing a CV to a resume, condensing all of your publishing and teaching etc., but also to be clear about results on the resume. Don’t just list that you did research assistantship for a professor. Say that you conducted research that led to publications and conference papers. Outcomes are important to hiring managers. 

How did you balance your personal preferences, for example cities you did or didn’t want to live, institutions or companies you did or didn’t want to work for, with the need to get a job and build experience?

I personally decided that I would not leave my city, although was lucky in that it’s a huge city with lots of opportunities. Geography was primary. I applied for all sorts of jobs here where I thought I could use my skills and my knowledge, and where the employer would see value in my resume.

What do you wish you had known about the job search when you finished your graduate studies?

How necessary it is to collect work experience beyond the university. Assume from day one that you may not end up with an academic job and plan accordingly. Also, I had no idea that jobs like I now have existed. No idea that I could use history to make a real impact in the world, that I could continue my work to educate people in Indigenous history, but government staff instead of university students, and that I could continue my research, publishing and conferencing on the side of my government job. I’m thrilled with where I ended up!

3.    Archives and Libraries

a.    The Field

By the end of their degrees, most historians are familiar with the essential work of libraries and archives in collecting, preserving, and circulating information. While your knowledge of history and research experience will provide insight into this field, be aware that many jobs in this area require a specialized degree, the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS). On the job sites listed below, you’ll also find numerous job postings in this field for work in education, public programs and outreach, curation, research, data management and copyright management.

As with Museums and Galleries, large federal, provincial and municipal institutions can be more specialized, with staff assigned to a particular area (i.e. children’s literature, public records), theme (economics, sport) and even type of asset (i.e. digital, books, artifacts). Smaller organizations may require you to work on different parts of the records management and public outreach process.

Archival and collections management jobs are included under the umbrella of the “Young Canada Works” program administered by the Canadian Museums Association. These paid roles provide work experience in archives and don’t usually require an MLIS. Such programs give you a chance to try different types of work and to network with professionals. If you are interested in this field, you should check with your graduate director to see if there are course options like directed readings that would allow you to work with a librarian or archivist.

If you’re interested in work in this area, familiarize yourself with current issues and debates specific to the field. You can find information on the webpages or social media channels of organizations like the Association of Canadian Archivists (https://archivists.ca/), provincial archives associations, the National Council for Public History (https://ncph.org/) and The American Archivist journal: https://americanarchivist.org.

b.    Job Search Tools

·      Partnership Job Board: https://partnershipjobs.ca/jobs 

·      Canadian Association of Archivists Job Board: https://archivists.ca/Job-Opportunities 

·      iSchool Job Site: https://ischool.utoronto.ca/job-site/ 

c.    Profile: Sarah Glassford

What is your current role?

I’m in charge of the small Archives and Special Collections unit at a university library, which houses collections relating to the history of the university and its region. My work is self-directed and revolves around preserving records and making them accessible. I liaise with donors to acquire records, then select, arrange, and preserve them. I devise ways to make our records discoverable, ensure our physical space is secure and climate-controlled, and help researchers find what they need. I also sit on committees related to archival and heritage work, serve as the public face of the archives, and advocate for resources the archives needs.

What degree(s) do you have?

BA Honours (History & English), MA (History), PhD (History), Master of Library and Information Science

Did you work during your degree(s), if so, were your jobs related to your degree? 

I spent a co-op term working in an archive, which was directly relevant to my goal of becoming an archivist. I did volunteer work in archives both before and during my MLIS studies, which was equally important. Volunteer work is highly valued in the Library and Information Science (LIS) field.

When did you start applying for after graduation jobs during your last degree?

I began applying to full-time archives jobs in my final semester of the MLIS program.

In brief, can you tell us about a search tool or university job support program (if any) that you found useful in your job search?

In Canada, two great search tools for jobs in the LIS field are The Partnership Job Board (https://partnershipjobs.ca/) – this one covers Canada as a whole – and the University of Toronto iSchool Job Site (https://ischool.utoronto.ca/job-site), which is more Ontario-centric but still covers Canada. 

Can you briefly describe one skill that helped you succeed in your application for your current role?

Organization and the ability to manage large projects with little or no supervision are requirements for being a successful archivist. Having History graduate degrees set me apart from other job applicants because it meant I understood and valued the past and the scholars who study it.

If you teach or have remained part of academia, please describe the process of applying for and beginning this career. 

For my current job as archivist in an academic library I submitted a 2-page cover letter and 6-page CV, plus three letters of reference. My interview included a public presentation on a set topic, meetings with library administrators, an around-the-table formal interview, and lunch with the hiring committee. (It is not uncommon for there to also be a practical component, such as submitting an archival finding aid conforming to the Canadian Rules for Archival Description (RAD), but that was not part of this job application/interview.) Once hired, I was left alone to acquaint myself with the archives and set my own priorities. I put my history skills to work by interviewing retired staff about the origins and evolution of my archives, to inform my plans going forward. 

Can you provide advice from your experience transitioning from working in academia to working in the private or public sectors?

Shortening my scholarly CV into a LIS-style resume was hard because it seemed to erase those years and experiences. I focused my applications on archival skills but signalled the existence of my scholarly achievements by framing myself as a “value-added” candidate for the position, given my previous career as a historian.

How did you balance your personal preferences, for example cities you did or didn’t want to live, institutions or companies you did or didn’t want to work for, with the need to get a job and build experience?

I did not have family obligations to consider, so I applied only to jobs I could imagine being happy doing and put very few limits on location or type of institution. 

What do you wish you had known about the job search when you finished your graduate studies?

I wish I had known that a lot of people go through a major career change at some point in their life (as I eventually did). We’re inundated with cultural messages about following your dreams and never giving up, and don’t talk enough about the fact that although you may not be able to earn a living doing the thing you love most, it’s never the only thing you can do and enjoy. Smart, creative, well-educated people (I’m looking at you, History grads!) usually have more options than they realize.

4.    Private Sector

a.    The Field

It might surprise you to know that there are private sector jobs in history. Private companies hire historians to conduct archival research for legal cases, for public history projects, and to do ethnographic and market research on human behaviour.  In these roles, you’ll employ archival research, data management, oral history and technical skills built in graduate school for purposes like land claims, to develop public-facing work for communities and institutions, and for consumer insights. You don’t have to be afraid of the private sector! There’s meaningful work being done to apply historical methods to contemporary projects. You can have an impact on the public’s understanding of the past, explore your curiosity about human experiences and work with a team to craft case studies, legal briefs, websites, books, films, and exhibitions.

Searching job work in this area will require research on different firms, their methodological approaches, and clients. Some companies will specialize in Indigenous special claims, others might do ethnographic work on health care experiences. You may want to seek work with a strong connection to your research expertise. Pay attention, too, to job titles. The words used to describe work in this field will vary: ethnographer, associate or research associate, analyst, strategist. Look carefully at the skills listed in the job posting and fine parallels with your experience. Just like in universities, different companies use different words to describe similar methodologies.

You’re likely to work on teams with other researchers in the private sector and your work will be applied to a specific project. Your research parameters will be set according to the needs of your client, the deliverables required and budget. As with government roles, writing for private sector clients will be different. You’ll likely be preparing documents and products for the public and legal experts and will have to tailor your writing for these audiences. There may also be space for creativity in these roles, in that you could be translating historical insights for a documentary, digital project, or exhibition. Finding new ways to bring history to life can be exciting work!

Historians working in the private sector engage with different professional networks. The National Council of Public History has a resources section dedicated to consultants and practitioners for history.  This is a good place to start if you want to better understand the field. The Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals is another resource you can consult for information on this type of work. Here, as with every field, it is important to approach the job search with an understanding of the priorities, methods, and protocols of the company to which you are applying. Show that you’ve done the work to understand how you can contribute to the team

b.    Job Search Tools

·      Postings in this area are not centralized in one space:

o   Check the websites of specific firms or approach their HR department about how to apply for work.

o   Review LinkedIn and other job search sites for specific job titles.

o   Reach out to people working in the field to learn about their experiences finding work.

c.    Profile: Ryan Shackleton

What is your current role?

I'm the director of Know History. My biggest roles are business development, i.e. finding clients that want to pay for history. And then managing the financing, the accounting, operations, and staffing. I don't do as much history, except on a very high level to say this is where we want to go, this is the kind of project plan that we're going to implement, this is what the client needs. That comes from 20 years of experience in doing projects. I've done probably, in my lifetime, 400 projects. Each one is different, but you start to see similarities between them and what a project needs.

What degree(s) do you have?

B.A. and M.A. in History from Carleton University

How did you get started in history consulting?

In University, I started doing research contracts and really enjoyed it. After I graduated, I worked for a number of big research consultancies where I eventually started to do business development. Eventually I decided ‘I think I'll start my own firm.’ I wanted a company that was really focused on its employees. With that in mind, I started Know History in 2011. The company has really grown since its inception. We never intended it to get to 50+ people. We had always thought if we could get to 20, that would be the ideal size. Then it just kind of blew up. Now we have two offices, one in Ottawa and one in Calgary, as well as one staff member in Toronto. The costs are so expensive in Toronto we’re in a co-working space right now. We're currently trying not to grow anymore we're trying to stay around 50 employees.

Can you describe a skill you gained or perfected in graduate school that is relevant to your success?

I wasn’t a very good student. I could barely write. I'm not saying that jokingly or disparagingly. I spent a lot of time working on writing and taking courses in plain language writing and getting my writing to a level where it wasn't terrible. One of the things I learned from a mentor was to be meticulous about reports. When my mentor sent reports out, they were absolutely perfect every time.  That’s something that has been carried forward to Know History. The ability to write clearly and in plain language is more important than anything else. The other hard skill that I think is really necessary, and it's being lost, is the ability to go into an archive. It’s a skill to know how to use a finding aid and not just a keyword search. 

Can you learn public history in school or is that something that you must necessarily learn by immersing yourself in the workplace?

Getting out of University with a PhD or an MA, that's your minimum requirement now. Then you start the on-the-job learning. When we look for staff, we look for someone that's willing to learn, that's passionate about history, and has the ability to work in a team. Unlike academia where you go off and write a book by yourself, or you finish your PhD over four years by yourself, in a history consultancy you’re having weekly meetings and are constantly collaborating with people. So, the most important skill that all of our staff has is their ability to work on a team - and be supportive at times to be a leader at times. 

I think that the other thing that academia does is give people a more flexible schedule. Sitting at a desk for eight hours a day takes a lot of effort to really focus in and do great work. I think that some of those hard skills, such as being in front of a computer, being all day “on” and even just knowing how to write a proper email, dealing with situations like that. It's all immersive and I don't think we're doing a very good job in universities teaching that. Some programs are definitely better than others. And some individuals just have it more naturally. 

How can historians working in universities (and the CHA) be more inclusive of different approaches to doing/working in history? 

I have a lot of thoughts on that. I think the CHA is irrelevant for public historians in Canada. Know History has 50 employees and we do $5 million dollars a year in business. Our typical project size ranges from $60k to $500k. Those are numbers that the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) looks for from organizations. We also published three books this year. What I mean to say is, history happens outside of academia just as much as it happens within it. Often, I think, academia needs a reminder that history happens all across sectors. Museum exhibitions, for example, can expose thousands of people to history. I do think that there's a place for academic history, but we need to give training outside of that.

To that point, Western’s public history department is a great example of the kind of work I’d like to see across academic institutions. We actually set up a scholarship there, just so we can get their best student every single year. They actually put students into the field to give them training on historical GIS information, they give them database training. So, all of the Western students—and we have quite a few graduates that come with these hard skills that can be used. I don't think that's happening in regular stream History. There is employment out there and I think that you can make a very successful living at it. You can do some amazing projects. You can travel throughout Canada or the United States doing it and still be involved. Academia is not the only option, and in fact, there seem to be more history/public history career options outside of that insulated bubble. 

What are you looking for in a Know History team member?

One skill that I think that we look for in all of our team members is attention to detail because you’ve got to get things right when you’re working on the sorts of contracts we get offered. I noticed that that’s not always taught when you're writing a big theoretical piece. They’re looking at big ideas in many academic settings but for us, it’s about getting the facts and footnotes right, especially if the research is supporting a legal case that will be used in court. 

How will the field of historical consulting change in the next ten years?

History is definitely going digital, in fact, we just promoted someone to our digital history lead. We even work with a company out of Vancouver to design specific software for our clients. So, history really is going digital and whether it is the digital workflow, producing documentaries, or working with oral histories, that's where everything is going.  But historians also need the personality to get into the community and do oral history and be aware of what they're doing. 

5.    Community-Based Research

a.    The Field

Community-based research (CBR) work is driven by communities and communities participate in every stage of the research process. This work often addresses social issues and is undertaken with the goal of improving communities, addressing inequity, and advancing policy. Often, this field brings together academics, communities, businesses and/or government. Research developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities is a major area for CBR. Projects with Indigenous communities require awareness of, and sensitivity to, histories of colonialism and past practices of abuse and extractive research. In this field, you’ll likely use methods honed in graduate school (archival research, oral history, CBR) alongside other skills, like outreach, writing, and project management.

Job titles to look for when exploring this field might include: community-based researcher, research coordinator, researcher, policy analyst or policy development specialist. Since such projects are often the result of partnerships between communities, academics, and other organizations, you should check the websites of organizations connected to your areas of interest, i.e. health equity, housing, Indigenous communities, food security.

If you’re still in graduate school, check to see if your university has a CBR office. Many institutions have a research office dedicated to this area of work. There, you may find connections to your graduate research, work-study opportunities, and information about local organizations that used community-based research methods. While this is a specialized type of research, it is an approach that is already built into the university system. If you can tap into resources while you are still in school, it will help you to learn more about work available in this field.

Since CBR is specific to communities and particular issues, to familiarize yourself with professional standards and current debates in the field, consider checking out the work of researchers and organizations working in the area of interest and expertise. Here, you can identify common research methods, terminology, case studies and events that will help you to better understand the field.

b.    Job Search Tools

·      Postings in this area are not centralized in one space:

o   Check to see if your university has a CBR office.

o   Keyword search jobsites like https://workinnonprofits.ca/, https://charityvillage.com/, or LinkedIn.

o   Identify advocacy organizations, non-profits, and research institutes in the field to identify networking opportunities and job sites.

c.    Profile: Jess Dunkin

In 100 words or less can you describe your current role to us?

I worked for 4.5 years as the Director of On the Land Programs at the NWT Recreation and Parks Association before being appointed Director of Research and Innovation in August 2019. In my new role, I am responsible for enhancing the capacity of the NWTRPA to engage in research, while also managing and participating in research projects that are relevant to the organization, the sector, and NWT communities.

What degree(s) do you have?

B.A. and B.Ed. (Trent University), M.A. and Ph.D. (Carleton University)

Did you work during your degree(s), if so, were your jobs related to your degree?

During my graduate degrees, I worked as a teaching assistant, research assistant, an editorial assistant, and a contract instructor. While at teacher’s college, I worked for Trails Youth Initiatives, an outdoor program that works year-round with vulnerable youth from the metro Toronto area.

When did you start applying for after graduation jobs during your last degree?

My intention throughout graduate school was to secure a tenure-track position. I started applying for academic jobs during the third year of my doctorate. I graduated at the tail end of year four, still jobless. I was fortunate to be awarded a SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship the year after I graduated, which “bought me some time,” so to speak.

In brief, can you tell us about a search tool or university job support program (if any) that you found useful in your job search?

At the time (which was almost a decade ago!), I primarily relied on H-Net and University Affairs to learn about academic job opportunities. Faculty in my department were supportive and reviewed job applications.

Can you briefly describe one skill that helped you succeed in your application for your current role?

Here again, I have been very fortunate. I didn’t apply for my current role; it was created for me. Thanks to my experiences as a researcher, my appointments as adjunct faculty at Aurora College and the University of Alberta, and the relationships I had with the communities from my time supporting land-based programs, the Executive Director thought I could help build the NWTRPA’s research capacity and facilitate the development of a research agenda that was relevant to the association, the sector, and NWT communities.

Can you provide advice from your experiences with marketing yourself and your degree(s) to companies and non-academic institutions?

As my postdoc came to an end and my appetite for an academic position waned, for the first time, I seriously considered work beyond the professoriate. I applied for positions with NGOs; I rarely received an acknowledgement of receipt, let alone an invitation to interview. I was finally hired on a short-term, end-of-fiscal contract with an accessibility organization. Though I had little subject matter knowledge, the person who hired me recognized, from my degrees and experience, that I had good research and writing skills, which were useful for proposal and report writing, but also facilitation and curriculum development experience from my time as a teaching assistant and instructor, which helped me to run community meetings and develop resources.

How did you balance your personal preferences, for example cities you did or didn’t want to live, institutions or companies you did or didn’t want to work for, with the need to get a job and build experience?

After attending graduate school in a city that I liked, but did not choose, I decided to prioritize place. I was fortunate to find meaningful employment in my chosen home, Yellowknife.

What do you wish you had known about the job search when you finished your graduate studies?

I wish that as a graduate student, I had been exposed to a wider range of career paths. Carleton has a strong public history program, so I was aware of job opportunities beyond the professoriate, but most of them were still within the realm of history proper, such as museums and archives. I work in recreation now, and I use my training as a historian every day. I don’t think I could have imagined that to be true when I was a doctoral candidate.

6.    Freelance and Contract Work

a.    The Field

In the Job Documents section, you’ll find sample material from historians who work full-time or supplement teaching work with freelance contracts. Necessarily, this type of work is diverse. It is often short-term research and writing support for a larger project, but it can also include genealogical work, research, documentation, data entry and consulting.

b.    Job Search Tools

You must market yourself in this field. To start, build a short CV and a pitch letter to introduce yourself to potential clients.

·      Talk to graduate supervisors, co-op term supervisors and other contacts to see if they know of anyone offering work.

·      Register your services in online directories. The Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, Library and Archives Canada, and other websites keep listings of freelance researchers.

·      Pitch people working in your areas of interest or expertise. A short, polite email with a PDF resume will suffice. Introduce yourself, note your work experience and specific skills, languages, and contact information.

c.    Profile: Lindsay Bilodeau

What is your current role?

I am a consultant/contractor for between two to four organizations at a time. I undertake research projects, liaise on Indigenous related-topics, and create sections of guides and other documents for public use. Contracts vary in length and complexity; sometimes I write a single grant application in a few hours, other times I work with an organization for months at a time.

What degree(s) do you have?

BA in History with a minor in psychology, M.A. in museum studies, and I am a PhD candidate in Museum and Heritage Studies.

Did you work during your degree(s), if so, were your jobs related to your degree? 

Yes, I worked at my university’s art gallery, and I work on contract for heritage organizations and other history-adjacent organizations. I have been lucky to work in areas that complement(ed) my studies.

When did you start applying for after graduation jobs during your last degree?

I have worked all through my degrees, so I’ve never really stopped applying for jobs.

In brief, can you tell us about a search tool or university job support program (if any) that you found useful in your job search?

I started seriously applying for jobs in the last four months of my M.A. Good resources include: Young Canada Works, the Leicester Jobs Desk, and the Government of Canada jobs website.

Can you briefly describe one skill that helped you succeed in your application for your current role?

Interpersonal skills have really helped me in all of my roles. The connections I have made in my early career have been invaluable in supporting me moving forward. I receive contracts based on my previous work with organizations or individual people.

Can you provide advice from your experiences with transitioning from life as a graduate student to a full or part-time member of the workforce?

Honestly, the transition isn’t always easy. When you are working on a degree, you have very specific deliverables, a schedule for your coursework, you tend to work alone, and you have the luxury of concrete deadlines--not to mention some of the built-in social life. I struggled with my transition, but over time you learn how to manage your own schedule and to create blocks of time in the day to work on each task. Lists have become my best friend.

How did you balance your personal preferences, for example cities you did or didn’t want to live, institutions or companies you did or didn’t want to work for, with the need to get a job and build experience?

I had a list of cities I would happily move to and could afford, and honestly got lucky to find work in one of those cities. I was willing to move to any English-speaking country (or French) or to move around Canada a bit, with the exception of Toronto and Vancouver, since living costs are too high in those cities.

What do you wish you had known about the job search when you finished your graduate studies?

I wish I could go back and tell myself to have patience. I wanted a very specific kind of museum job and was struggling with the idea that I would have to work somewhere else for a while first. I ended up loving my “somewhere else” job and they supported me taking on museum contracts. So, in this case, patience is definitely important.

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