Everyone who works in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) sector has a unique career pathway. However, with the ongoing incredible financial pressures on this industry, and seeing fellow organizations we know and love in Victoria recently closing, we recognize that it can be difficult to see yourself beginning a heritage or museum career.
There is no blueprint for a career, but in this #MeetMMBC series of blog posts, staff at the Maritime Museum of BC want to share how they got into their field of museum work, and what industries, skills, and contacts helped them along the way.
What is your name and what do you do?
Stephanie, School and Public Programs Manager
What was your first museum role?
At 13, I volunteered at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and their summer camps. My first paid employment in museums was at Science World as their first Barbara Brink intern. There, I got my first taste of program design, implementation, and testing! I was addicted and I knew that I wanted to do this kind of work for the rest of my life.
Did you find any degree or diploma programs useful for museum work?
My Masters in Museum Education gave me the confidence and language to understand what I was already intuitively doing and empowered me to seek out new resources.
Have you worked outside the GLAM sector, and has that contributed to your museum work?
After graduation, I did an internship in amphibian husbandry! In addition to day-to-day animal care, I was able to contribute to a conservation / stewardship project working to learn more about and re-populate two native frog species. Through this experience, I was able to share my own and my collaborators’ stories with more authenticity.
Have you completed co-op or intern terms of work? Were they paid or unpaid?
I’ve completed 4 internships –Science World after high school (paid), Georgia Sea Turtle Centre (paid), Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit in Florida (paid), and the Vancouver Aquarium (unpaid).
In the GLAM sector, what has been your breakdown of full-time vs. part-time or casual work, and permanent vs. temporary contract work?
Long story short, I worked multiple part-time jobs for years in the museum industry. The first full-time position that I was offered was quickly retracted because I was still in school; it was turned into a casual, on-call position. It took me 3 years to get the full-time, permanent position that I was originally offered. Restructuring and Covid meant that I lost that job 4 years later. After covering an 18 month parental leave, I will be back on the job hunt. I’m not sure if I will be able to stay in the GLAM sector.
Have you been mentored?
Mentorship has not been a priority for most of the organizations I’ve worked with; most were fast-paced with an emphasis on hitting the ground running as soon as possible. While these experiences were difficult, this has forced me to be creative and seek out the information that I need. As I built relationships with others, some were incredibly generous with their time in unexpected ways. For example, I worked closely with our bookings manager; she explained the processes that she used and the challenges that she had encountered. Using that knowledge, I was able to re-build the booking structures at MMC based on what I learned from her. As a manager now, my experiences drive my interest in mentoring emerging museum professionals.
Why do you do museum and heritage work?
I’m totally addicted to seeing people’s eyes light up when they have that “a ha!” moment. I love that museums provide spaces for people to explore their own curiosity in a way that makes sense to them and to tell stories that don’t fit in our current “status quo.” For me, museums inspire my creativity; I enjoy nothing else than to find an unusual approach to using a space or teaching about something. Where else can I build a role-playing game that combines the fur trade with environmental ethics? Or design our own deep sea creatures while tinkering with circuits?
Do you have any advice for your future colleagues in the GLAM sector?
Get to know the people you work with and those at other organizations. It’s amazing when you can scheme an unexpected solution to a challenge or share a laugh over something ridiculous!