During my fifteen years at the UAMN, I’ve been lucky enough to be on both sides of the “student assistant” job title. Starting in 1996 as a fresh MA student at UAF, I managed to get hired for student wages in the Ethnology & History department at UAMN. My curator and MA committee chair, Dr. Molly Lee, saw my enthusiasm and educational background combined with a strong baseline of collections work experience and gave me a chance to contribute to our mission.
During the three years of grad school, my responsibilities in the collections lab went from being a “curatorial assistant’s assistant” to being the primary collections representative under our curator. After I graduated, I was lucky enough to get hired on as permanent staff, a position I am lucky enough to still hold today, despite budget cuts and economic downturns.
As a student employee, I had the opportunity to learn from senior staff in MANY different museum departments who were generous enough to act as mentor to me. As those long-term staff retired, I have suddenly found myself in the position of being one of those holding the institutional memory and mentoring all new students who are navigating their way through the uncertain days of their undergraduate and graduate careers.
Each school year (depending on the economy), I am able to hire at least one student to work in my lab to undertake basic collections management work. In addition, each summer I take on a student intern for an intense 6-week period of collections management and exhibition development.
Since Molly retired in 2008, I’ve found that I have less and less time to do the work I truly love, the hands-on lab work, cataloging, making boxes, and fine-tuning of collections organization. More often than not, I have to delegate this good stuff to my students.
It takes time to train new students every year and to continue to provide them with support during the day for answering questions and keeping them moving in the right direction. But what a fulfilling way to add to the academic training of our students! Talk about a win-win scenario! We are achieving our mission of education and preservation all in one activity!
Museums with connections to universities are positioned to provide such a unique on-the-job training opportunity for students, I am thankful every day of my career. Had I not been exposed to this kind of work while studying at the University of Iowa, I never would have known about the options available to me at UAF. Each year I have new personalities to learn about and new generations to “understand.”
These young people help keep me connected to our popular culture when it’s so easy to become disassociated while working in the basement all day… the new music and celebrity icons are just the start!
Young people are our new audience for the public side of our museums and it’s critical that we in the collections world stay connected to what is happening out there in our cultures… changes are occurring every day and those changes have a major influence on how our exhibits and public programs are received. I guess this is one of the small ways I have found to stay connected, while getting work done at the same time.
To all of the students who I’ve been so lucky to work with over the past 15 years, I tell you again, thank you for a job well done!
It’s been a pleasure to laugh and share hot-glue-gun burns with you. Some of you have gone on to work in museums while others have taken a different path. What is really important is the enrichment of one’s academic life that we can help provide, in addition to that paycheck (however meager!).