A Conversation with the UAM Interns

Today I sat down to speak with Katja Mueller, Luke Schramm, Zoe Wagner, and Sung Eun Cho, all summer students at the University of Alberta Museums.

Today I sat down to speak with Katja Mueller, Luke Schramm, Zoe Wagner, and Sung Eun Cho, all summer students at the University of Alberta Museums.

Craig: What was your path to becoming involved with museum work?

Zoe: I started off in museums as an undergrad student volunteering and working as a research assistant with the Anne Lambert Clothing and Textiles Collection in early 2021. I enjoyed the work quite a bit, so I applied for a grant to co-curate an online exhibition with collections manager Vlada Blinova. That exhibition helped land me a role as UAM’s 2022 student intern — since then, I’ve completed my practicum at the Royal Alberta Museum and taken contract work within UAM in the Art Collection, Classics Museum, and Dentistry Collection as a collections assistant. In the fall I’ll be pursuing a master’s degree in human ecology to further my career in material culture studies. 

Katja: I have been interested in working in museums for a while, but I was unsure if my education in Clothing & Textiles was suited for it. During my 2023 Winter semester, I met several Clothing, Textiles and Material Culture (CTMC) students who were pursuing a career in museums, which opened my eyes to all the opportunities available to me. Around that time I received an email advertising a summer internship at UAM, and I decided to apply to try and begin my career in museum work. 

Luke: I became really interested in the entire museum, library, and gallery field shortly after starting my English degree. It seemed like an area that demanded broad knowledge and understanding rather than hyperspecialization. Once I became interested, I was able to find a couple of summer jobs through Young Canada Works that have given me a deeper look into those worlds.

Sung Eun: Before my internship at the UAM, I did a practicum at a gallery and fell in love with gallery/museum work. I knew I wanted to pursue a museum-related profession even before that, but it was the in-person experience that confirmed my choice of field.

Craig: What are some specific challenges that have arisen in your position, and how have you worked to overcome them? 

Zoe: My current role as a project assistant overseeing the Dentistry Collection’s move to its new storage space has had many fun challenges. When you undertake a massive months-long project like a collection move, there’s an element of self-teaching that has to happen as you’re faced with completely new problems to solve. For us, making unique mounts and storage boxes for dentistry objects was a major challenge; after a few weeks of trial and error, we were able to establish a consistent process and apply it to our collection. 

With museum work, I find that being a “generalist” can be helpful: constantly reading new publications, paying attention to industry news, and staying in touch with other museum professionals are all ways to accumulate the skills to adapt to new situations. 

Katja: I would say one of the biggest challenges has been adaptability. I have had the opportunity to work in a wide variety of collections, all of which come with their own spaces, handling, etc. I had to quickly adapt to my new environment to ensure that my brief period spent in the collections was as productive as possible. 

Luke: The biggest challenge for me has been finding curators and staff members to work with on outreach programs. At first, I was certain that everyone I contacted would be thrilled about having someone to help them with programming, but I quickly realized that these are extremely busy people who don’t necessarily have the time to work on things like that. Once I knew that, I started to approach conversations differently: I wanted the curators and collections staff to know that (1) I was willing to do the outreach-related jobs that they simply wouldn’t have time for and (2) That I was there to serve them and their collection without creating more burdensome work. Once I changed that approach, I was able to get some responses that allowed me to start working on more interesting projects.

Sung Eun: I would have to say unexpected changes such as an emergency project falling out of the sky, a change of plans due to accidents, etc. Also, having to assess new situations, come up with solutions, adapting as much as possible has been challenging and fun. My key to overcoming challenges is, although it may sound a bit stubborn, keep working at it. Try it, fail at it, accidentally discover a way that works, and keep going.

A smiling man in a green shirt, seated in a cubicle, holds up a dragon’s head crafted from colourful tissue paper.
Luke Schramm, Young Canada Works intern, showcasing a children’s craft he designed for an upcoming Mactaggart Art Collection exhibition.


Craig: What do you think is the role of students within the UAM?

Zoe: As a university service, the purpose of an institution like UAM is literally to serve students and academics: we’re here to facilitate object-based research in over ten different departments on campus, so our primary purpose is to ensure objects and specimens are preserved and accessible for study. Beyond that, the UAM central unit (UAMU) offers some incredible opportunities for student internships and paid work experience throughout the year. Having students around ensures that UAMU always has fresh, innovative voices to weigh in on current projects and initiatives. 

Katja: Since UAM brings in new students every summer, naturally it becomes inviting to new perspectives, opinions, and ideas in museum work. 

Luke: I think that our role is to try and be some of the most adaptable workers in the unit. We don’t have the same formal training or experience as our coworkers, but those people are more than willing to direct and teach us through new projects. I feel that it's important for us to use those opportunities and be willing to say yes to all of them. Learn a new skill, help a coworker with a small task that they don’t have much time for, things like that. From what I’ve seen, we fill those gaps pretty well. Also, I think we keep a fresh perspective; we know what it’s like to be a student in 2023. Universities get criticized for being out of touch sometimes, but the Museums unit has done a great job of letting us be a valued part of the team. 

Sung Eun:  I think we provide the UAM with an extra set of hands to share the workload. They are doing a lot to let us have different experiences, but the training they do for us enables us to become independent workers with various skill sets, which in turn benefits them.

Craig: What have been the most rewarding parts of your job?

Zoe: As a contract staff member, I have the benefit of watching the behind-the-scenes work that goes into updating our collections for a more ethical, accessible, and inclusive era of museums. From digitizing materials for web access to the repatriation of ancestors and relatives, I truly believe that the latest generation of museum professionals is prepared to effect meaningful change in our institutions. The most rewarding part of my job is listening to these complex conversations between my colleagues and appreciating the sensitivity with which they approach the objects and specimens in our care. 

Katja: Being able to aid curators and assistant curators in getting jobs done in their collections that they simply don’t have time for. It is incredibly rewarding knowing that I either completed the task or helped lay the groundwork for future students to continue working to maintain and improve the collections. 

Luke: It’s been a small part of my job, but getting to be a part of the Mactaggart tours has been pretty awesome. Getting to see how enthralled and curious some people are about the artworks, for a variety of reasons, reminds me of just how important museum work is. It affects people to walk into a gallery or exhibition, and it’s cool to play even a small role in that.

Sung Eun: Seeing a completed exhibition come to life; knowing that objects that we made mounts for will be safe and sound, happily at home in storage; completing 30 years of filing!

Craig: What skills or lessons will you take away from this experience? 

Zoe: Patience, flexibility, and resilience are key skills needed for museum work! Having the ability to “go with the flow” and adapt to ever-changing situations is valuable because so much of what we do is tied to environmental monitoring and emergency response. Not to mention the wide range of day-to-day tasks involved in the maintenance of collections, which can look like specimen photography one day and scrubbing outdoor statues the next. All in all, working at UAMU has taught me to embrace the unexpected. I love the freedom that museum work gives me to gain all kinds of hands-on and organizational skills. 

Katja: The museum world is so much broader than I ever could have imagined. I used to think that only curators and conservators could work in museums! It almost seems that any background education could work in museums if they find their niche. 

Luke: There are a handful of museum-specific skills that come to mind, but the biggest thing has been overall communication. It sounds boring, but I’ve gotten so much better at the day-to-day stuff: emails, zoom calls, check-ins, that sort of thing. I’m mostly working with people who I’ve just met, and it’s taught me a lot about how to approach a collaborative project and what the communication needs to look like. I know I’m ready to put in some serious work on group projects this upcoming school year.

Sung Eun: Definitely attention to detail; working with a team of people; double and triple checking before proceeding with anything; asking for help when in need; ... and confidence that I chose a good field for myself. 

Zoe Wagner, summer student at the UAM, carefully handling a set of antique dentures from the Dentistry Museum Collection.



As a student, there is more than one way to learn something. There’s the coursework people traditionally think of: attending lectures, fervently studying, writing exams - all of that fun stuff. And while acquiring a good grasp of the theory is fundamental, at a point it can take you only so far. Often, having a hands-on experience like an internship can teach you things you simply can’t learn from poring over a textbook.

An important thing to note is that bringing students into positions like these at the UAM isn’t just an opportunity for the student - it’s beneficial to the organization as well. In almost every interview I conducted, when asked about the role of students in the UAM, my colleagues emphasized that they are crucial to bringing new perspectives to projects, pointing out how things can be done differently, and ushering in a new era of museum work. Surely, this consistency cannot be a coincidence, but instead a true reflection of the values of this team.

If you’ve ever worked in a low-level retail job before, as I’m sure many young adults, including myself, have done, you’ll know that routine of repetition; that feeling that there is no real purpose to what you’re doing. At the UAM, I’ve experienced the complete opposite of this. Even as an intern, every project I contribute to has clearly defined objectives that fit into the mission of the organization. If I’m cutting foam to make mounts, it’s to leave behind a permanent home for a museum object that will be utilized for decades to come. If I’m making a label for a sculpture, it’s to provide knowledge to the countless people that may admire it, and perhaps even give them a newfound appreciation for art. Everything is meaningful, and at the end of the day, what more can you ask from a career?

If you’re still not convinced by my sales pitch for museum work, consider this: it takes all kinds of people to run a museum. As the other interns mentioned, even if you’re not interested in curation, there are many other positions that must be filled in order for everything to function smoothly. Museums need experts in computers, science, humanities, finance, business, and many other areas. And who knows, your unique background might just allow you to bring something special to the table.

So if you’re curious, why not give it a shot?