UAM Practicum Student Blog 2021: Lessons of a Museum Practicum Student During Covid-19

University of Alberta Museums practicum student, Rhonda Buie, writes about her experience as a practicum student during Covid-19.

Rhonda Buie - 08 June 2021

My name is Rhonda Buie, I am completing my final semester of the Human Ecology undergraduate program at the University of Alberta.This program requires students to complete a 200-hour practicum at a placement site of their choice. I decided to select the University of Alberta Museums (UAM) for my practicum experience. As a Human Ecology student majoring in Clothing, Textiles, and Material Culture I have gained an understanding of the relationships between people and their environments as well as the material objects they interact with. When choosing my placement site, I wanted to work in a museum setting due to my curiosity of how to preserve material culture, such as museum objects, and how the various roles held by museum staff interact and collaborate. The goals of my practicum were to increase my knowledge of conservation techniques, further develop my communication skills, and learn how the UAM unit manages all the collections across campus. 

Working Remotely

Due to COVID-19 most of my practicum was working remotely away from campus. There were some projects I was able to do on campus following strict protocols and procedures. The UAlberta Museums unit is able to facilitate limited essential work on campus in order to ensure museum collections are properly maintained and looked after.  

At the beginning of my practicum at the UAlberta Museums I worked solely from home. I found during this time I had to prioritize tasks and create a strict schedule to follow in order to ensure I was allocating enough of my time to both my course work and practicum activities. The strategies for time management that worked best for me were maintaining regular hours, scheduling breaks, and creating a morning routine.  

When I began my practicum I had hopes of working on site within the UAM unit to better gain an understanding of the UAM staff’s individual roles and responsibilities and how they connect. Because of the pandemic, staff who do not need to be on campus to complete their work are required to work remotely. While I was not able to experience how the UAM team operates in person, I was able to see how museum activities shifted to support remote work. One example of this was adding features to the UAM Search Site that allow for high-quality images to be made zoomable.

Training Opportunities

When completing my remote orientation with the UAlberta Museums unit, I was introduced to the importance of understanding how to use video platforms such as Google Meet and Zoom. I found that being comfortable with creating virtual meeting spaces and sharing information is an important skill that helped me adapt to working remotely. Being able to network via online platforms was useful during the training opportunities I received. 

Remotely, I was able to participate in museum object care and handling training sessions. My key takeaways from these sessions were the importance of taking proper precautions to not damage objects during handling by planning movements and treating every object like it is fragile. I was able to put this training into practice near the end of my practicum as I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work in the UAM Art Collection on a re-housing project. This experience was interesting to me because I learned how to construct mounts to properly store museum objects and I was able to view the UAM Art Collection. 

I also received training on how to use the UAlberta Museum’s collections management database, MimsyXG. The MimsyXG database is a vital part of how the museum collections function and allows for tracking of objects, recording information, and ensuring object data is maintained. I learned how to do basic and advanced searches of objects in the collections to gain contextual information and how to add new objects into the database, which is known as ‘accessioning’. These training opportunities relate to my practicum goals in terms of understanding how the museum staff manages large scale data of objects.  

Independent Project - The Dentistry Museum Collection

As a Human Ecology student I am required to complete one independent project throughout my practicum. With the help of my supervisor and museum staff, I decided to create an exhibition proposal composed of objects from the Dentistry Museum Collection. To connect with the university's strategic plan for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, my exhibition highlights the presence of women in the University of Alberta’s School of Dentistry and what tools they would have worked with during their practice in the early 1900s. When working on the exhibition project I learned how to create a planning document in which to develop the exhibition story line, object information, and takeaways for both the museum and visitors. To complete this project I did research on the dentistry faculty, picked objects from the collection that I thought would represent the exhibition well, and used the MimsyXG database to collect contextual information about the objects. These skills relate to the goals of my practicum in terms of increasing my knowledge of the museum exhibition planning process. 

What I Learned

When reflecting on my experience as a practicum student at the UAM, I feel it fulfilled my professional development goals of increasing my communication skills, and building confidence working in a professional environment. I enjoyed learning about how the UAM uses MimsyXG database to manage 29 collections located in various areas around campus. When learning about how to enter objects into the database I was surprised how much information can be recorded about a single object, and how much effort goes into accessioning each object. I found the process of deaccessioning objects to be intriguing and did not anticipate it being such a lengthy process or the high level of responsibility the UAM takes on when they accept objects into museum collections.  

Overall I have gained a deeper understanding of museum standards and practices, and I have increased interest in working towards a career that aims to preserve material culture, such as museum objects. I hope in the future to continue my learning in the field of preservation and I am thankful for the learning opportunities I have gained during my time at the UAM.

Rehousing project - Before
Rehousing project - After