Museology Master of Arts Program

July 20, 2017

A Meandering Journey: Looking Back at My Graduate School Experience

Author: Marina Mayne, Class of 2017

Marina Mayne visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at the Pacific Science Center

Marina Mayne visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at the Pacific Science Center

When I started graduate school, I wasn’t sure exactly how everything would come together but I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to end up. I had worked in collections management positions in undergrad, spent time working in museums before graduate school, and completed an undergraduate minor in museum studies at the University of Michigan. I was on a path and ready to explore all the opportunities in the UW program and Seattle museums. I thought with utmost certainty that I would become a collections manager in archaeological and ethnographic collections, preferably at a university museum, where I could continue working closely with unique, ancient objects and artifacts. Instead of cementing that path for me, my time at UW Museology made me more and more confused until my seemingly straight path towards collections management turned into a winding trail of museum career possibilities.

I did not come into the program with strict expectations for classes, work load, or experiences. I made my decision based on the size of the program, the core faculty I met at the Open House, and Museology’s reputation. I felt secure at the University of Washington the minute I stepped into the Open House. I was less concerned with the class structure and schedule and more with feeling comfortable at the University, with students, and in the city.  I knew that not only was the program a comfortable fit, but the city of Seattle offered unique and varied internship opportunities, which would be one of the most important parts of my time as a masters student.

I got my first work study position in the Burke Museum Archaeology collections lab, where I continue to work today. Although I still enjoy collections work, after my first semester I felt a need to “get out of the basement” and be more involved with the public. The Museum Advocacy class got me thinking about the impact that museums can have beyond storing, caring for, and educating the public about collections. They could ignite discussion, provide spaces for contemplation and consideration, and encourage others to think critically beyond the facts. That’s why I decided to try something new and work towards the museum evaluation certificate.  After my first shift interviewing visitors for a year-long evaluation project at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), I knew evaluation was something I wanted to do. Although it was nerve-wracking at first, visitors were overall excited to talk about MOHAI’s exhibits. Talking with visitors about their ideas was much less scary than I anticipated, and I enjoyed learning what was meaningful to them.

Celebrating the opening of her Renton History Museum exhibit, with (left to right) Sarah Samson, Blair Martin, Molly Winslow, Steffi Terasaki, Marina Mayne.

Celebrating the opening of her Renton History Museum exhibit, with (left to right) Sarah Samson, Blair Martin, Molly Winslow, Steffi Terasaki, Marina Mayne.

Now feeling a little lost about what to do towards the end of my first year, I decided to explore my options a little more. I realized that graduate school can be an opportunity to explore my options, not just get the experience for a specific job. I took an internship doing evaluation in a big art museum, something I didn’t think I would ever do six months earlier. I worked on an evaluation project for the Seattle Art Museum for more than half a year, and enjoyed working with the staff and learning from visitors. Although a very positive experience, I also learned that working in large museums is not for me. I enjoy being hands-on in projects, working closely with the local community, and wearing many hats. This led me to work with the Renton History Museum to install an exhibit with other Museology students during the last Spring term of 2017. There I found my place, a small community museum, where I could do everything from exhibit fabrication, working with collections, and installing pieces. There was an element of exploration that I knew would be important part of my job moving forward.

While I have a better idea of what I enjoy, the “job” I should take is still an open book. I feel I could fit many positions and explore multiple avenues with the skills I gained during my time at UW Museology. Most importantly, I learned here really isn’t one “right” way to do everything. If I were to give advice to incoming students based on my experience, it would be that there are multiple opportunities to try new things in this program. It is up to you, the student, to take the step to pursue those opportunities and dive into something you may not be sure about. The staff and faculty are there to help you think through those decisions and think strategically about what could be a good next step, but don’t be afraid to spend some time doing something very different.