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. 

Gregg French’s Story: The History of His Story

As told to Brandon Pedersen, WorkStory Ambassador


I suppose that I could argue that my life as a historian has been far from linear.  I began my Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Western Ontario in September of 2005 with the full intentions of finishing my degree, entering law school, and practicing law for the remainder of my career.  The problem was, I didn’t know why I wanted to practice law; heck, I didn’t even know what type of law I wanted to practice.  All I knew was that some lawyers made a lot of money, they got to wear fancy dress clothes, and they held a position of power in society.  So, like most individuals that aspire to go to law school, I took the advice of my guidance counsellors and I enrolled in a program that I was interested in, and I knew I would excel in.  Luckily for me, the program was History.

From a young age, I have been interested in the past.  My grandparents were my first history teachers and at the age of eighty-seven, my lone remaining grandmother is still my oldest history teacher.  Growing up, I was inundated with a broad range of historical stories ranging from life in rural Ontario during the Great Depression, to the legendary stories of the Portuguese discovery of India in the late fifteenth century.  However, at the time, these were just stories from the past, not a possible lifelong career.

I guess that you could say that the cliché of “finding yourself” at university applies to me.  By the time that I had completed my third year of my undergraduate degree, I knew that I no longer wanted to become a lawyer (Side note: Spending a bit too much time with my friends, instead of studying for my LSAT, may have played a role in this decisions but I think that things like this happen for a reason).  However, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.  I enjoyed studying history and I enjoyed interacting with fellow students but I still didn’t think that studying history was a realistic or viable career goal.

I really enjoyed my undergraduate years at Western, so when I was faced with the decision of either coming back and doing my Masters or entering a job market that had recently been hit by the recession of 2008, it was a no brainer for me.  Essentially, I was forced to ask myself, “Let me get this straight, you’re going to pay me to study history and I get to teach undergraduate students in a tutorial setting, where do I sign?”  Little did I know, conducting my Masters research at the University of Western Ontario was going to introduce me to several influential people that were willing to show me that a career as a historian was both a realistic and a viable career that I could excel in.

I guess that brings us to today.  Presently, I am a fourth year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario.  Under the supervision of Professor Frank Schumacher, my dissertation examines American perceptions of Spain and the Spanish Empire from 1776 to 1914 (For more information, check out my website  Sound like a bunch of theory and historical jargon?  Well, to a certain degree, it is.  However, at the root of the narrative is a story about the past. Historians are story tellers, and it is important for us all to remember that.

At the moment, I just returned from three months in Washington, DC, where, on behalf of a Doctoral Research Fellowship from the German Historical Institute and a Harris Steele Travel Fund Award from the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario, I was conducting research at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress.  Currently, I am working on a body chapter of my dissertation, applying for future fellowships, working on a few publications, and preparing to teach my first course during the Winter Semester of 2015.  So life is busy but that keeps things exciting. 

I hope to finish my dissertation by the Fall of 2015 and at that time, I hope to either acquire a post-doctoral fellowship or be teaching at a post-secondary institution.  My career goal is to acquire a tenured position at a post-secondary institution that will allow me to continue to conduct research, as well as continue to teach university students.

Advice for an individual that is interested in becoming a historian? 

Surround yourself with a strong support group.  Friends, family, and mentors help with the long hours of solitary work. 

If you intend to do a Ph.D., be prepared that your friends will be getting married, buying houses, having children, and making more money than you until you finish your dissertation, and perhaps for several years after.

Block out the noise.  Not a day goes by where I don’t see an article where a Ph.D. candidate or a recent graduate is writing about his/her difficulties in finding gainful employment.  Yes, I feel for these individuals; heck, I’m in the same boat as them but reading too many of those articles will often cloud you mind with negative thoughts.  My advice is keep your head down, get your own work done, help other people as much as you can, and remember that you volunteered for this.  Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor gave me that advice when I started my Ph.D. work and now I’m passing it on.

Be organized and focused. 

Remember that every day is not going to be filled with sunshine and roses.  Sometimes, you’re going to have a lecture that doesn’t go well or you’re going to have a day where you can’t find what you’re looking for in the archives.  Don’t block those days out, learn from them.  Also, make sure to remember the day when you saw that light bulb go off over one of your student’s heads or remember the day when you found exactly what you were looking for in the archives.  Those days keep me going; hopefully they will keep you going too.