How I Ended Up Here: Career Directions and Professional Development


I have been to several career development events for young professionals over the last year or so and have been surprised that most keynote speakers have said that they didn't necessarily plan to be where they are, or they fell into a role and went on to success. There were a lot of comments on how one job led to another and how climbing that ladder of success was not a direct route. While I agree with these sentiments, I am yet to hear someone say that they are exactly where they planned to be.

I am fortunate to not only know what I want to do for a career but also be working in a role that is in line with my career aspirations and keeps me passionate and interested. Having said that, this has not always been the case. While I am exactly where I planned to be, it was not a direct route and I didn't always know exactly what I wanted to do. 

I finished high school with no idea. The only thing I did know was that I did not want to go to university (and incur the debt) unless I knew 100% that I would not only finish the degree, but be interested and passionate about it. I was lucky to apply for and make it into the traineeship program at my local council when I finished school, and was excited to be placed in the library. This sparked my interest in libraries as a place of work and was a great introduction to the workplace in general.

Halfway through my traineeship I started to become interested in photography. This interest guided my decision several years later for further study, which culminated in graduating with distinction from RMIT University with a Bachelor of Arts in commercial photography. I have previously mentioned that I finished with the skills to take a professional photograph but no idea how to make a living out of it, with the lesson learned that one should be working in the industry while studying because ultimately experience is more important. Another point worth mentioning here is that freelance work takes a certain kind of person - and that is not me. I thrive in a structured work environment and those types of photography roles (ie working for a studio) are few and far between.

Like a lot of people, once I finished my undergraduate degree I ended up in a dead end job where I felt under-appreciated and wondered whether all that sweat and tears for a Bachelor of Arts was worth it. After my traineeship, I always had it in the back of my mind that I would return to libraries so I decided it was time to go back to university for postgraduate studies.

I was lucky to begin my Graduate Diploma in Information Management at the same time that I started working in digitisation. Learning from my undergraduate degree, I decided to engage with employment full time and undertake my studies part time. While this dragged out the course to double the amount of time it would have taken to complete full time, this allowed me to work in the industry and target  my studies towards areas I knew would be useful for career progression. I was also excited to be working in a role that utilised my undergraduate degree and that these skills were also useful for my studies.

This is the point where my career planning began. That was only possible because I worked for an organisation that valued professional development. The move from contractor to ongoing staff member was instrumental, with the ability to document my performance and career goals within the organisation and have a structured conversation with my boss. This is also where I learned to be vocal about my career goals. As Adele Walsh said at NLS8 this year when discussing how to shine a light on what you do, "if you don't ask they don't know".

So how did I end up here? I planned, I studied, I asked and I accepted when things did not go my way. I determined what my career aspirations were and asked to be involved in anything even remotely related. I asked to act in other roles when the opportunity arose. Of course you need to be thoughtful and realistic in what you ask for and accept when you are not successful or someone says no, but no one can read your mind and understand your career goals unless you talk about them.

With the guidance of a supportive workplace and support from a loving partner (who helped me get through two degrees!), the last six months has been a big shift in career direction for me. I have gone from working on exciting digitisation projects such as the reconstruction of the Holtermann glass plate negative, to a specialist role in digital preservation with a focus on born-digital collecting and the implementation and management of associated systems, policies and guidelines.

 What comes next? Watch this space...

This post is my contribution to the GLAM Blog Club October theme: 'How I ended Up Here'.

Cover image: my paternal grandfather, part of my family negative collection I have been progressively digitising

Matthew Burgess

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