The museum job market is a tough one. Michelle Burton (pictured below, at right) knows. Even with a fresh master’s degree in historical administration from Eastern Illinois University, she was having a hard time finding a position at a museum. When she saw the summer internship being offered by Beloit College Logan Museum of Anthropology way back in 2008, she took the chance to gain some experience. As an intern she helped to complete the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded collection rehousing project that put new storage furniture in the museum’s basement store rooms.
As the collections rehousing project was wrapping up, the Logan received another grant, this one from the Institute of Museum and Library Service to fund the digitization of the collections for increased access. Michelle stayed on after her internship as part of the staff, becoming the lead data specialist for the project. Since then she’s worked on a number of projects in all areas of the museum, earning promotion to assistant curator. On a daily basis she can be found working closely with students managing the database, digitizing the collections, validating data entry, giving tours like the one depicted below, helping with exhibits, and generally relieving the workload of the Logan’s small staff.
Now Michelle is moving to a museum at the other end of the spectrum. On October 8, she begins an exciting new post as a collections manager in the anthropology department at the Field Museum in Chicago, where she will help facilitate collections moves for the new China Hall permanent exhibit—her dream job.
“The Field Museum has always been at the top of my list,” she says. It wasn’t an easy job to land, considering she had 350 competitors! She credits a good part of her success to her time at Beloit. “It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve built a work history here, and made connections that helped me get the interview at the Field Museum.” The other two collections managers in the Field Museum anthropology department are Beloit alums.
Michelle says she’ll miss Beloit, especially the contact with students and the opportunity to mentor them. At the Field Museum she expects to work more with scholars accessing the collections for their research. What she loves about collections work is the process: the connections made with artifacts, the opportunity to curate them for a short time, to facilitate others’ experiences with them, and helping to preserve them. Yes, she’s a self-admitted museum nerd.
Parting advice from Michelle to Beloit museum studies, anthropology, and other students: Go to the Chicago Field Day on Nov. 2! This year the focus is on museums and the arts. It’s a great networking and exploration opportunity for anyone. And while visiting the Field Museum that day, most likely you’ll also get to see Michelle in her new job.