Interview with a photographer and film maker


I think the question every postgraduate reading this will want me to ask is 'how did you get the job?'

As the college graduation approached, I had been trying almost everything to get a job. The opportunity that led to my current position came with an intern recruitment email sent to my department. As a long-time museum and natural history documentary maniac, I found it a perfect fit for my skillset and my career goal. After three rounds of competition, I was lucky enough to stand out and thus got the job.

What was the competition like to progress from an internship to a permanent position?

It is extremely hard to get a permanent position at the Smithsonian, due to its high prestige and federal-affiliated status. I don’t have a permanent position now, and half of the staff in my department is on contract. The federal budget cut has influenced us in many different ways, and the decrease of available permanent positions is one of them.

On the other hand, I know people who have been extending their short-term contract for up to nine years and the fluidity of staff adds to the institution’s diversity and dynamics. Overall, it’s still a great place for new graduates to set their foot in the door.

What is it like working for such a prestigious institution?

As a video producer, I keep it in mind that everything I make is going to represent the whole institution. For example, I made all of the activity videos in the National Museum of Natural History’s new education space, Q?rius, which means up to 7 million visitors could potentially see my work in each year. It’s both a high honour and a huge responsibility. It is not the visitors’ job to understand the difficulties you met during the making of the videos, while their expectation for the Smithsonian falls on my shoulders.

With that heavy responsibility though, the work environment at the NMNH is rather fun and chill. Imagine going to a museum to work – it’s like a field trip every day! There are new exhibits and IMAX movies coming up constantly, and the staff get to see some of the exclusive behind-the-scenes. This place is also full of passionate professionals and academics with profound knowledge, open minds and diverse backgrounds. I feel like I have found my herd here.

How would you describe the day-to-day aspects of your job?

I learn something new almost every day. I didn’t start off doing everything I do now – I learned how to do them through time, and sometimes I even have to search for tutorials right on the spot. For example, the logo animation of Q?rius was done as my first complete After Effects project, and it’s now showing up in every video made for Q?rius. This gives me a great sense of achievement as well as significant improvements in my skills. As for something more regular, like taking photos for the Smithsonian Science How? Webcast, I try to explore new approaches every time I do it, pushing myself for a higher level of creativity and techniques. So my job both excites me and challenges me from day to day.

Film-making and photography in the USA