Why Work at the Smithsonian?
The Smithsonian is the guardian of some of our nation’s most valuable scientific, historic, and artistic treasures, and is a leader in research, innovation, and discovery. By working here, you would be making an important contribution to an Institution beloved by the American public and visitors from around the world.
The Smithsonian workforce includes dedicated men and women located in the Washington, D.C., area; New York City; Cambridge, Mass.; several other U.S. states; and the country of Panama. Positions range from astrophysicist to security officer, from art historian to zebra keeper, and from science educator to software developer. The Smithsonian seeks to attract and maintain a creative workforce that is representative of America’s diversity. We are consistently ranked among mid-size agencies as one of the “Best Places to Work.”
Careers at the Smithsonian
Accounting, Budget, and Finance
- The Smithsonian has an annual budget of approximately $ 1.2 billion consisting of Congressional appropriations, grants and contracts and philanthropy and income from our business activities. The Institution, due to these varied funding sources, presents unique challenges in the accounting and finance functions. Our employees have expertise in government as well as nonprofit accounting, tax and financial management.
- Accountants must be degreed. A Bachelor's in Accounting and CPA is certainly a plus. The accounting office also employs Accounting Technicians in accounts receivable /payable, payroll and cash management. Techs should have some experience or education in accounting principles and practices. Our Budget Officers have Business, Finance or Accounting degrees and are responsible for creating and monitoring Trust and Federal budgets for their assigned museums or departments.
- Additionally, there is a risk management (insurance) department and an investment department that manages our endowment investments.
- An organization with the size and diversity of the Smithsonian requires a large, savvy and creative administrative staff to keep things running smoothly. Many of these "office" positions are in work environments unique to the Smithsonian and offer challenging assignments. Administrative positions include everything from entry-level clerical jobs, administrative assistants, program and project managers to administrative officers and associate directors managing multi-million dollar budgets and operations for large departments or museums.
- These positions require high school graduation with additional technical education or degrees for the higher level administrators. Many employees have been promoted from within because of their knowledge of unique and highly specialized aspects of the Smithsonian.
- Keepers perform a range of duties in the care and maintenance of exotic, rare and endangered animals including a daily schedule of cleaning enclosures, preparing and placing food, observing and reporting deviations from normal food consumption and noting unusual behavior or symptoms of illness or injury.
- They train the animals in their care to facilitate testing and medical exams. They also assist veterinary staff with husbandry, medical treatment and data collection.
- Keepers interact regularly with visitors, answering questions, giving educational presentations, and are a major factor in the visitor experience.
- These positions require a real commitment to the job and the animals. Keepers must have knowledge of the handling and behavior of exotic animals. Field or zoo experience involving animal research or medicine as a student, volunteer or employee is a plus.
- The Smithsonian houses a vast collection of archival materials. Photographs alone account for 13 million images in some 700 collections. There are collections of maps, technical drawings, business records, film and video, world music and culture, worlds fair memorabilia and advertising materials housed throughout the Institution.
- The National Anthropological Archives holds important collections of field notes, photographs and correspondence from early scientific expeditions. The Archives of American Art is the world's largest and most widely used resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America.
- Archivists must have a Bachelor’s degree that includes 30 credits in history or related subjects. Archive Technicians should have some knowledge in the subject matter of the archives. Experience or courses in archival work is a plus.
- The collections management (CM) function is responsible for the overall policies, acquisition plans, recordkeeping, care, storage, and accessibility for a museum’s collection.
- The collections are the basis for the museums research, exhibitions and public programs which places the department at the center of the museum’s programs. CM maintains and audits the automated collections management systems to ensure standardization of cataloguing, vocabulary and documentation.
- New programs aimed at digitizing the collections are adding new responsibilities.
- Collections Managers and their staffs have degrees in the subject of the collection and gain knowledge on the job and through seminars and other educational activities to stay abreast of the latest care and recordkeeping practices.
- Conservators are responsible for evaluating the condition of objects, and then treating and repairing them to prevent their deterioration. This has become a very technology driven field involving state of the art imaging, chemical analysis techniques and other analytical tools to assess the state of deterioration and determine conservation methods.
- Historically many people have learned on the job. Today, a background in chemistry is highly desirable along with an artist's skill in a particular medium. Conservators usually have a specialty such as textiles, paintings, photos, wood, books, paper, etc.
- Applicants with advanced degrees in conservation are highly desirable. While there are only a few places in this country to get a Master’s degree in conservation, there are many courses, seminars, symposia, internships and apprenticeships available to develop technical skills.
Contracting and Procurement
- The Office of Contracting provides high quality and efficient preparation, solicitation, negotiation, award, and administration of contracts for the goods and services needed to operate the Institution. It contracts for multi-million dollar construction and renovation projects, architect-engineering services, design and fabrication of museum exhibits, information technology, office equipment and bamboo supplies for the pandas. The unique operations and requirements of the Smithsonian make these positions especially challenging and rewarding.
- The staff that performs these duties includes both contract specialists and attorneys. In addition, the attorneys solicit, negotiate and award various business contracts involving intellectual property, including loan exhibition, publication, product development and licensing, music & image licensing, and film agreements for the Institution. Contract Specialists have business degrees and progress in salary and responsibility as they gain knowledge and experience with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Attorneys have passed the Bar and have experience with Uniform Commercial Code contracts.
- Curators are responsible for the care and interpretation of the artifacts or specimens within their segment of a museum’s collection. They make recommendations for acquisitions, and interpret the collection through published works, public presentations for both scholarly and public audiences and exhibitions.
- They lead exhibit development teams consisting of educators, designers, fabricators, facilities staff and in some cases, on especially large projects, outside contractors to design and/or fabricate all or part of an exhibit. Exhibitions can be multi-million dollar efforts that take years to complete.
- Over time Curators get to know serious collectors and people interested in the subject matter of their collection. These contacts can be the basis for acquiring gifts of artifacts or monetary donations. Curators are occasionally called on to make presentations or give tours to perspective donors and visiting dignitaries.
- There are exhibit departments in each museum as well as a central office. These are multi-disciplinary organizations that focus on how best to present the artifacts and information to our visitors. Aesthetics, visual impact, traffic flow, creating an environment that reflects the exhibit theme and the physical restraints of the venue are all taken into account.
- Designers use the latest computer aided design (CAD) software and usually have a graphic, industrial design or architectural degree and learn the specific discipline on the job.
- We employ specialists in model making, graphics, cabinetmaking, lighting, mount making, art frame restoration and taxidermy to build out an exhibit. We also have specialists who fabricate custom shipping cases for artifacts that are loaned to other museums or are part of a traveling exhibition.
- The Smithsonian has over 660 owned and leased buildings and structures from state-of-the-art museums and historic buildings to remote field stations and astronomical observatories.
- A staff of architects and engineers oversees new construction and major renovations.
- With 30 million visits to the Institution each year our Building Managers, craftspeople (Electricians, Plumbers, HVAC Mechanics, Painters, Locksmiths) and cleaning crews are kept very busy.
- The Safety and Environmental Management staff (Nurses, Fire Protection Engineers, Industrial Hygienists) ensure a healthy workplace and a large force of Security Officers, K- 9 teams, electronic security specialists and disaster recovery experts protect the national treasures in our collections.
- There are also employees who deliver mail, provide audio visual services, drive shuttle buses, and do mechanical work on our vehicles.
- Private philanthropy is critical to the Smithsonian’s mission. Government appropriations keep the doors open to the public and fund infrastructure. Private donations allow us to mount exhibitions, acquire artifacts and present educational and outreach programming. The offices that do fundraising are variously called development or external affairs offices.
- At the Smithsonian there is a development office in each museum and research center as well as a number of programmatic offices. The central Office of Advancement provides support for the unit based offices and raises funds for Institution wide projects. People in the field tend to specialize in a specific aspect of fundraising: major gifts, annual fund, membership, corporate and foundation relations, donor research or development operations.
- Fundraisers typically have a degree and possess outstanding communications, writing and listening skills. Often fundraisers start in the annual fund or research section of a nonprofit organization. There is only one college that offers a bachelor's degree in philanthropy, however, many schools are now adding courses. Professional associations in the field also offer seminars. Fundraising is arguably one of the fastest growing professions in the nonprofit world.
- Smithsonian Gardens designs and maintains the gardens and landscapes that surround the Smithsonian museums. These "outdoor" museums highlight each museums focus and attract millions of visitors each year.
- Smithsonian Gardens develop creative and educational horticultural exhibits and provides decorative flora for special museum events. Much of the plant material is grown in the Smithsonian’s own greenhouses.
- Smithsonian Gardens employs degreed Horticulturalists and highly skilled Gardeners. Staff actively participate in environmentally sound garden design and interact frequently with visitors.
- There are also specialists in entomology, landscape architecture and irrigation systems. Smithsonian Gardens is home to a world-class orchid collection and features thousands of them in an annual exhibition. It is also home to the Archives of American Gardens and a garden furniture collection both of which are heavily used by designers for ideas and inspiration.
- The central IT office is responsible for strategic plans, operating budgets and the design of the systems architecture and the underlying IT infrastructure. It also provides wide-area network and data center services for selected applications; help desk services for wide-area network problems, IT security, VoIP phone services and enterprise-wide systems such as Travel Manager and PeopleSoft© ERP; full desktop support for selected units across the Institution; limited local area network services; and web-hosting services for the approximately 80 public websites of the Institution; and limited application development and maintenance support.
- Some Smithsonian units operate their own application servers and provide desktop and help desk services, which are interconnected through the SInet. Web content and collections information systems are usually managed within each museum.
- The Institution employs Computer Scientists, Programmers, Systems Analysts, Network Administrators, Desktop Support Specialists, Security Specialists, Computer Operators and Web Designers.
- Librarians can be generalists who assist researchers and develop bibliographies or specialists in specific areas such as cataloging, rare books digital collections, acquisitions and systems. Librarian positions require a Masters in Library Science (MLS). Many Librarians also have an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject matter of the library. Library Technicians often have undergraduate degrees in the subject matter of the library and some experience or education in library practice.
- The Smithsonian Libraries comprise 20 branches and house 1.5 million volumes, 40,000 rare books and 2,000 rare manuscript groups including several books from James Smithson’s personal library. The rare book collection is particularly impressive as it contains first books on chemistry, math, physics and natural philosophy printed in the early 15th century – the very beginning of western science.
- There is also an imaging center that creates electronic versions of our rare books and distinctive collections so they can be shared on the internet.
- The libraries maintain an exchange program with 4,000 libraries to allow staff access to periodicals, museum catalogues and professional society publications.
- Museum educators develop a variety of interpretive strategies that are informed by collections-based research as well as educational research and learning theory that enlighten and inspire museum audiences of all ages
- Museum educators foster active engagement with museum collections by creating interactive learning spaces, classes, online conferences, public programs, as well as pre- and post- visit experiences, for learners of all ages. They create programs and products for K-12 teachers and students that include curriculum and professional development opportunities for teachers; and for students, distance learning, on-site programs, games, and diverse offerings of digital and hard copy materials that enhance teaching and learning.
- Museum educators also broker partnerships with schools, community-based organizations, and other cultural institutions in an effort to build diverse audiences while simultaneously maximizing the impact of their work.
- To qualify applicants must have education credits in child and/or adult development or a degree in the subject the subject area of the museum and teaching experience in a formal or informal setting.
- Museum Technicians are entry-level "hands on the collection" positions. They work directly with curators and collection managers and may be involved in a variety of activities such as researching artifacts, assisting visiting scholars, packing and storing artifacts, assisting with registration activities, recordkeeping and answering public inquiries.
- Each technician job is different depending on the nature of the collection. We also employ technicians in horticulture, various types of biological laboratories, as well as mechanical and electronics disciplines.
- Museum Technicians have the opportunity for promotion to Museum Specialist which provides more professional opportunities and challenging research assignments.
Office of Equal Opportunity and Minority Affairs
- The Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs is an executive level office in the Office of the Secretary that serves as the focal point for the Smithsonian’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program and Supplier Diversity Program. It provides leadership, oversight, direction and assistance to ensure Smithsonian’s compliance with all federal EEO laws, rules and regulations, and to promote diversity in the Institution’s workforces and procurement activities.
- The department also employs Attorneys in Employee & Labor Relations. Employee Benefit Specialists come from both the private and federal sectors.
- Staff with expertise in human capital manage our training, employee development and performance Management programs. Knowledge of federal HR policies and procedures is a plus in most positions.
Office of Government Relations
- The Government Relations staff works closely with the Executive branch and Congress as well as various state and local governments. The Office coordinates the Institution’s communications and other interactions with the Executive Branch and Congress, submitting budget justifications, preparing correspondence for senior management, assisting with the development of testimony, responding to requests from the Executive Branch or Congress on the Institution’s view on pending legislation and keeps senior management apprised of congressional activity that may have a bearing in the Smithsonian’s activities.
- Staff have degrees and experience as a staffer on capitol hill, as a lobbyist or in government relations with a federal agency, corporation or nonprofit organization.
Office of Human Resources
- The Smithsonian’s central Human Resources office is located in Washington, DC along with Smithsonian Enterprises' Human Resources Office. There are also two full-service offices in Cambridge, MA and Panama. The HR office is the focal point for all recruiting, employee and labor relations, training and development, benefit administration and human capital projects. Many HR professional staff have Bachelor's degrees. HR assistants use specialized software to maintain and update a variety of recruiting, compensation and position classification records and data. With experience they can move on to higher level Specialist positions.
- The department also employs Attorneys in Employee & Labor Relations and Employee Benefit Specialists that come from both the private and federal sectors.
- Staff with expertise in human capital manage our training, employee development and performance Management programs. Knowledge of federal HR policies and procedures is a plus in most positions.
Smithsonian Organization and Audience Research
- The Smithsonian Organization and Audience Research office provides the Institution with an in-house, independent and objective analytical capability to develop timely and accurate information as an aide in decision making. Studies cover complex topics such as exhibitions, collections, boards and commissions, programs and services as well as surveys of visitor and program participants. Study results and recommendations are used as a basis for strategic and operational planning and to develop performance indicators or measures of progress.
- The office is also involved in professional development and the facilitation of meetings. Staff members have degrees in a social science related discipline with coursework in qualitative and/or quantitative research methods.
Office of Sponsored Projects
- An important portion of the Smithsonian’s revenues come in the form of grants and contracts from foundations, federal and state government agencies, corporations and occasionally international sources to fund specific research, exhibitions, educational programming and other mission critical projects.
- OSP provides the Smithsonian community with administrative, and financial services to support these important resources. The services include identification of external funding sources, proposal development and preparation, negotiations, the administration and financial management of externally funded projects and performance measurement, analysis and reporting. Staff members have expertise in grant and contract administration and financial analysis.
Office of the General Counsel
- Attorneys with the Office of the General Counsel provide legal advice and counsel to the Board of Regents, Secretary and other Smithsonian Staff on various issues including: the legal Nature and administration of the Institution, intellectual property, employment, collections management, contracts, ethics, taxes, tort claims, Freedom of Information Act, etc.
- OGC represents the Smithsonian in litigation and other adversarial proceedings before federal, state and local governments. Attorneys are members of the Bar and usually have years of experience prior to joining the Institution.
Office of the Inspector General
- The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports only to the Board of Regents and Congress which gives the office great latitude to carry on its responsibility to conduct audits and investigations relating to Smithsonian programs and operations, promote economy and efficiency by auditing operating policies and procedures and recommending solutions and for detecting and preventing fraud, waste and abuse in Institutional programs and operations.
- The IG also reviews and makes recommendations regarding existing and proposed legislation and regulations affecting Smithsonian operations. Staff members have backgrounds as financial auditors, criminal investigators and management analysts.
Office of Public Affairs
- Each museum, research center and a number of programmatic offices have public affairs offices. There is also a central Office of Public Affairs. Their main responsibility is to promote exhibitions and public programs and build a positive image or brand for the Institution.
- Staff members develop communications plans and publicity campaigns for events, exhibition openings, fundraising, special events and membership activities. They write and edit press releases, develop story ideas and marketing plans to increase the organizations visibility. Public Affairs offices may also publish newsletters or other informational materials for donors, members, employees or the public.
- They may also prepare reports, talking points or speeches for senior management. It is not unusual for the unit webmaster to be part of the Public Affairs office. Usually the Director of Public Affairs is the chief spokesperson for the organization.
- Public Affairs Specialists often have degrees in Public Relations, Communications, Journalism, English, or Marketing and possess strong writing and communications skills.
- Registrars work very closely with curators, conservators and collections managers. Most have degrees in the field appropriate for the collection and have learned registration procedures on the job.
- They are responsible for organizing and maintaining the records of the artifacts or specimens in a collection.
- The records contain information on provenance (history of origin and ownership), any conservation applied to the artifact, loans, what the artifact is made of and its location in storage. Records are maintained using specialized software to manage the huge databases for our collections that now include digital images.
- Additionally they oversee the loans of artifacts and specimens to museums and researchers including packing, shipping, negotiating insurance coverage, and handling customs procedures. Smithsonian loans approximately 3.5 million artifacts & specimens each year.
- Occasionally a Registrar, accompanied by a Security Officer, will travel with an important artifact when it is being transported to another museum.
- In addition to the vast scientific research performed throughout the Smithsonian there is also a significant research done in areas of History, Art and Culture at the various museums.
- In addition to museums, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage produces the annual Folklife Festival, Folkways Recordings, Global Sound as well as films and videos, and symposia to promote understanding of grass roots cultures from around the world.
The Smithsonian has a significant presence in areas of science and research, both within the museums as well as our research complexes which span a wide array of topics.
- The Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory studies topics such as Astronomy/Astrophysics, Physics, Engineering (EE, ME, Computer), and Engineering Techs; (electrical, electronic, mechanical).
- The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center studies topics such as Biogeochemistry, Photobiology, Biology, and Ecology.
- The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute studies topics such as Anthropology, Genetics, Conservation, Marine Science, Ecology & Paleoecology, and other disciplines of Biology.
- The Museum Conservation Institute studies topics such as Analytical Chemistry, Conservation Research, and Materials Science.
- Additionally the National Zoo, Conservation Research Center, Migratory Bird Center, Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, and the massive National Collections held by the Smithsonian greatly contribute to scientific advancements in a number of diverse ways.
- Smithsonian Enterprises (SE) is a nonprofit division of the Smithsonian Institution. Enterprises was established to generate income that is transferred to the Smithsonian endowment as unrestricted funds to supplement federal funds for programmatic activities throughout the Institution.
- SE is involved in a variety of activities including retail stores, a mail order catalogue, product development and licensing, magazine publishing, an educational travel program, theaters, restaurant and other concessions, business partnerships for book publishing and the Smithsonian TV Channel. All SE employees are nonfederal employees.
- There is a Special Events office in each museum and research center as well as a central office. Special events offices organize a variety of events from festive exhibition openings to donor receptions, dinners for corporate partners, events for professional and trade associations and the occasional Inaugural Ball.
- Special events positions require experience in party or event planning, skills in negotiating with caterers, musicians and other contractors and outstanding organization and decision-making skills.
- Knowledge of protocol is also very useful, as it is not unusual to have members of Congress, celebrities or even Heads of State at an event.
- Employees may occasionally do advance work for a Smithsonian official representing the Institution at an event outside of Washington D.C.
- Writers/Editors can be found throughout the Smithsonian in public affairs, publications, development, exhibits offices, with the magazine staff or doing technical writing in IT or a scientific department. They oversee the creation and production of printed materials, including exhibit labels, brochures, exhibit catalogs, fundraising materials, promotional materials and grant proposals.
- They perform editing, copy editing, proof reading, approval of color separations/proofs and press checks. They are increasingly called on to produce content for websites and other new media.
- A writer/editor must have a great command of the English language including grammar, and style standards. Many Writers/Editors have English degrees.