Collections Manager
Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

"Every day is different and I thrive on feeling like I can affect so many areas."

Dawn Roberts with collectionsWhat do you like most about your current position?
There is a substantial amount of variability in my position with the Academy, which I thoroughly enjoy. Every day is different and I thrive on feeling like I can affect so many areas. The museum collection is diverse and contains zoological specimens, historical artifacts, archives, and photography. That diversity allows me to continue learning about best practices for a full spectrum of material types. In addition to the breadth of our collection, I also work with staff in other departments and participate in public programs, exhibit development, and special events.

What classes or experiences did you enjoy the most while in the Museology Program?
Actually, I enjoyed the majority of the classes in the Museology Program.  Having a solid foundation in the philosophy and theory of museums makes you a stronger advocate for your institution and the profession, no matter what specialty you have. When you understand all the facets of what makes a museum – and what it takes to be an effective museum – you are able to work more effectively with other departments towards that common goal. I chose to focus on collections management and care, particularly of natural history collections and archives. The classes in collections management and conservation provided a solid base, which I supplemented with classes through the Biology Department and many internships.

When I was considering graduate programs, I researched several museum studies programs and one of the features that attracted me to the University of Washington’s Museology Program was that it offered a broad course base that everyone took and then you chose a specialty where you gained more in depth knowledge. In the profession, I see it as highly beneficial for museum staff in any department to have a broad understanding of the museum profession. It helps you connect with the activities of your institution and opens the door for greater collaboration.

Dawn Roberts cleaning a polar bearWhat skills from your museology degree have been most useful in your current position?
As the collection manager for our museum, I oversee natural history collections, archives, photographic collections, and a reference library. The collection management and conservation courses were incredibly valuable. The internships I had with different collections provided me with hands-on experience that built on the course work, so I was ready to hit the ground running with my position. Also, completing a thesis supported my credibility in the scientific field.

What advice do you have for current or future museology students?
If this is the profession you are really passionate about, make the effort to get as much out of the program as you can. Seek out those internships or projects where you can expand your knowledge and skills and challenge yourself! Hands-on experience is incredibly valuable to offer when you are in that interview. Also, connect your specialty to other aspects of the museum. No one functions in a bubble, and especially in this economic climate it is imperative to have staff that understand each other’s positions and can support activities that are beneficial for their institution.

What is your favorite museum, exhibit, or museum experience?
It’s difficult to choose just one! That’s part of why I came into this profession. I visit the Art Institute in Chicago frequently – I actually went into labor with my daughter there! Of course, places like the Getty and the American Natural History Museum are amazing. In Seattle, I enjoyed the Burke Museum and the Museum of Flight in particular. Many museums are developing some amazing online presence as well. For instance, the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle has made accessing their photography collection online easy.