: l-r: Museum research associates Marie Gurr and Robyn Ewing work on a museum exhibit. Gurr has just graduated with an SFU BA in archaeology while Ewing holds an SFU MA in archaeology.

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SFU museum associates major in career skills

November 11, 2014
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Recent university graduates who are interested in a career as a museum curator or archivist but lack practical experience need look no further than Simon Fraser University’s Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The museum collects, researches and exhibits artifacts from around the world, with a focus on British Columbia.

Three years ago, museum curator Barbara Winter listened to graduates who complained that while they had good academic skills, they didn’t have enough experience to land a job.

That’s when she created the Museum Research Associates Program.

“This is a way of helping to equip them for a career,” says Winter.

Each year, she accepts three recent university graduates to work in the museum as volunteer associates three days a week for one year.

They learn about managing the museum's collections, exhibits and archival materials, as well as its policies and procedures, and basic conservation techniques.

Graduates from any university may apply, but there’s stiff competition. Last year, Winter turned away applicants. Those who are accepted, says Winter, “come out of the program with a good sense of what it’s like to work in a museum.”

Nine associates have so far completed the program. Half of them have since returned to university to obtain further degrees in library science or archival studies, while the other half have obtained jobs.

Former associate Duncan MacLeod, who holds an undergraduate degree in classics from UBC and a one-year master of studies in classical archaeology from Oxford, completed the program in August 2013. He quickly found a contract position as a collections assistant at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

“One of the reasons I was hired was because I’d had experience in the Research Associate Program using a database for collections management,” says MacLeod.

Today, one year later, he is the Maritime museum’s curator of collections.