Carla Watson, Museum Manager

By Mariana Hernández-Hernández, WorkStory Ambassador at Memorial University

Have you ever imagined working in a museum?  Ever considered the possibility of working alone in a museum? If so, read Carla’s work story! You’ll learn about the steps she took to reach her goal, and the advice she gives to students seeking a career in museums.

Carla holds the only full-time position at the Admiralty House in Newfoundland, and that’s why her job is to do everything at the museum. This includes exhibitions, drop-in activities, public programming, grant writing, Human Resources work, writing reports to the Board of Directors, etcetera, etcetera.  She’s the Museum Manager.

How did Carla get this position?  Surprisingly, very quickly…and almost immediately after she graduated from a one-year master’s program in Public History from Western University. That’s a huge accomplishment, considering not only how young Carla is, but, especially, how challenging it can be to find a position in a museum.

“But how did she get to be the manager of a whole museum so quickly?” you might be wondering. Here’s how, step-by-step…

When Carla was an undergraduate at the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in History and minoring in Anthropology, she learned from a classmate that she could volunteer at the Museum of Antiquities in Saskatoon. She thought it would be a great opportunity to learn what about museum work, so she decided to get involved.

The before and after of a display created by Carla at Admiralty House.

The before and after of a display created by Carla at Admiralty House.

As a volunteer, Carla assisted with the organization of camps for children.  What she loved about this experience was its educational aspect– and that she could inspire and teach others without being a teacher.  This volunteer experience became a full-time position as an Education Coordinator at the museum so, in the last year of her undergraduate studies, Carla managed to work full-time and study full-time!

During that year, Carla had the opportunity to take a credit course at the museum and to create her own exhibition.  By then, Carla was sure that she wanted to work in a museum.   One of her professors told her about the master’s program in Public History at Western University.  Unlike some two-year programs that focussed only on museums, this compact one-year program covered a wide breadth of topics that could be applied to multiple fields.  Carla applied and was accepted.

As part of Western’s program, Carla had to do a four-month internship.  A professor referred her to an opportunity at The Rooms, the largest museum in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Carla decided to take it. The internship was mainly research based, and was focused on the First World War exhibit, slated to open on July 1, 2016. Through this internship, Carla gained insight into the workings of large institutions with multiple employees who undertook very specific jobs -- and saw what years of experience could lead to.  However, she soon realized that she did not want to only do research and was anxious to find a job, post-internship, that allowed more latitude in her duties and responsibilities.

While doing her internship in St. John’s, Carla had the opportunity to network and become friends with many local people.  Thanks to one of these friends she learned about her current position.   Carla has now been working at the Admiralty House, the only museum in Mount Pearl, for over a year.   What she enjoys the most about her job is developing exhibitions, writing grant proposals, and “public programming” – in other words, getting the community involved in the museum.

Carla’s advice for others interested in a museum career?

“It is difficult to find a job in museums because museums are short-staffed and under-funded. If your ambition is to get into museums, get your foot in as early as you can. How? Join a Board of Directors or volunteer in a museum. Volunteering shows that you really care about an institution and that you want to be there even if you are not paid.

You can build up your resume in many ways. You just need to think outside the box in how to do it. Look for fun opportunities. Don’t assume that the marks are everything. Volunteer and study, and learn to manage your time.

Have a LinkedIn profile and update it regularly just as you would your CV or résumé. Never say ‘no’ to opportunities. For example, if someone offers you a three-month job contract only, don’t get discouraged – take it thinking of the experience and connections that you’re going to get through that job.

Don’t be afraid to take a risk about job opportunities. Sometimes you have to go where the job is.

Finally, remember, you don’t have to wait for the job to come to you. You can be ambitious and ask people about how you can do a job at their institution and pitch positions to potential employers.”

To learn more about what Carla does, visit the Admiralty House website.