Thank you submitting your questions to our 2018 Ask a Curator Day on Wednesday, September 12!
Below, we have all your questions and answers compiled for your reference at any time.
How can I shift my career to work in a museum if I have a non-museum background (like Marketing) and can't afford to go back to school for a new degree?
Cultural institutions backgrounds, volunteering, and networking all help. Or if you want to utilize your non-museum specific degree, museums have Marketing, HR, Accounting, etc departments just like any other organization!
Did you have to move to Milwaukee to be able to work for MPM?
Most (six) did move to Milwaukee or move back to Milwaukee!
I have a Public History degree but do not want to move to find a job. How can I stay abreast of trends in the industry and maintain a level of experience until I find a position?
Get a MBA - Milwaukee, for example, is very limited in curator jobs. Volunteer for hands-on experience. Make contacts at state and local associations, such as the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), and the Association of Midwest Museums.
What is your favorite part of the collections?
@MPMZoology loves the parasitology slides. Alyssa loves the human stories and love of learning that come with collecting objects. Patti's is the trilobites and dinosaurs. @ZaspelLab's fav is the lepidoptera collection, and collections specimens of which original habitats are gone.
How did you get involved with MPM and becoming a curator?
@MPMBotany was a Forestry major who took a plant I.D. course. Since the most accurate identification info comes from museums, he knew that’s where he wanted to end up. @MPMZoology got into museum work after her masters and fell in love. Alyssa, our collections digitization manager, had an internship, then one job led to another, and before she knew it she had been working in museums for 17 years!
If someone is interested in this career, how would you suggest they find if it's a match (before going back to school)?
Get experience! Whether that be via an internship or volunteering, and develop your skills. Small museums are a good place to start; there you will be able to see and do a lot more within the museum. Smaller organizations also need you more!
Do you feel like you make a difference in the world with what you do?
Yes -- through research; by studying the past we can learn about the present. Making a difference is what all curators strive for!
Could you please let me know if you've ever found out what happened to Gertie the Duck's nest and wooden piling?
There are no records of the nest or piling in MPM’s collections. Therefore, who knows what could have really happened?
About what year did MPM receive its first ever object into its collections?
Since MPM began as the German-English academy, the first object was likely received in the 1840-50s. Most likely, 1882 was when the first “technically MPM" objects were received. It's difficult to pinpoint the one object that “started it all.”
What is your most exciting piece of fiber art?
Woodland feather capes from the turn of the century.
If you could add or edit a part of the Streets of Old Milwaukee, what would you do?
Reimagine the very early section featuring Solomon and Juneau and the fur trade. The case is currently empty, it would be a great opportunity to take something old and reinterpret it .
What are some of the most bizarre collections objects the curators have cared for?
Death masks (Al, History Curator); Borneo hair shield, alligator skin knives, human remains (Dawn, Anthropology Curator); Extinct Organisms @ZaspelLab
What kind of education should I have to become a curator?
Many of our curators agreed that a focused PhD is the preferred level of education!
What is your favorite activity in your daily routine as a curator?
Dawn - Working with interns. Patti - Identifying fossils (duh!). @ZaspelLab - community outreach i.e firefly and butterfly walks.
How much of your job requires travel?
@MPMBotany - Not very much but would love the chance to travel more. @ZaspelLab - Not a lot, but going to conferences is important, especially for building grants.
What’s the most challenging item you’ve had to restore?
Dawn, Anthropology Curator, doesn't do actual restorations, but rather a lot of preventative care.
What do you consider to be the most underrated part of your job and/or your museum's collections?
@MPMZoology - Data. Data is a large part of my job. I also think all of our collections are underrated.
@MPMBotany - We have items in our collections that only exist at MPM. @ZaspelLab - Grant writing, budgeting, and spreadsheets take up one-third of day. Patti - The effort that we put into the collections including digitizing and creating 3D models, and getting the collections out to the public.
Al - Curators do more than sit at a desk; there’s a lot of data, programming, interdepartmental work, creating donor interest, teaching and working with docents… working with collections is only 25% of job.
What is the most fascinating piece of MPM's collections we will never see?
@ZaspelLab - 30,000 specimens of butterflies from the Eastern Atlantic seaboard.
Patti - the Burgess shale collection.
How do you decide which items go on display in a museum?
Al Muchka says he chooses the item based on the theme of the exhibit and condition. If it's in better shape, it is more likely to be placed on display!
Meet the Curators!
Ellen Censky, Ph.D. - Senior Vice President and Academic Dean
Alyssa Caywood - Collections Digitization Project Manager
Julia Colby - Zoology Collection Manager
Patricia Coorough-Burke - Curator of Geology Collections/Senior Collections Manager
Sara Podejko - Registrar
Al Muchka - Curator of History Collections/Senior Collections Manager
Dawn Scher Thomae - Curator of Anthropology Collections/Senior Collections Manager
Christopher Tyrrell, Ph.D. - Research Curator, Botany
Jennifer Zaspel, Ph.D. - Research Curator, Zoology and Director of Puelicher Butterfly Wing