Career Day: Museum Educator

Tell us a little about yourself and about your job. What do you do?

My name is Katy Knight. I’m from Provo, Utah, and I currently live here. I work at the Bean Life Science Museum as the education administrator. My bachelor’s degree is in biology education, my master’s degree is in botany (I studied lichens), and my doctorate is in instructional psychology and technology.

What does your job entail?

My job is fun because I get to do many different things and I have freedom to be creative in how I use my skills and abilities to come up with ideas and programs that will serve the communities of BYU and Utah County in their science (and spiritual) education. My day-to-day responsibilities include supervising, training, and scheduling BYU students who work as museum educators. I also develop the live animal shows and education programs that are implemented by these museum educators. I also serve as the exhibits committee chair, which is similar to a project manager for the development, production, installation, evaluation, and maintenance of exhibits and displays. I also serve on the museum’s executive committee, correlation committee, and the college computer user’s council. I oversee and am usually exclusively responsible for all museum projects related to technology. These projects range from the collection of monthly temperature, humidity, and light readings from 15 locations within the museum to managing the content for the museum’s website and social media sites to all interactive education and exhibit experiences. While my job’s purpose is to provide an emotional, social learning experience for visitors in our life science museum by designing, creating, and evaluating exhibits and programs, I also feel that one of my main responsibilities is to train, mentor, and create a portfolio for the BYU students who work as museum educators. Because of this, I often hire employees based on their career aspirations and potential, and I feel it is a privilege to assist them in reaching their goals.

Why did you want to become a museum educator? What drew you to the profession?

I knew I liked to teach, and I felt I was naturally pretty good at it. I also enjoyed studying science, so I started my college education with the intent of becoming a secondary science teacher. I worked in the lichen collection as a research assistant at the Bean Life Science Museum as an undergraduate, and it was through that experience that I learned more about how museums and collections work to educate and add to the scientific knowledge. After I graduated I had an opportunity to use a lot of the data I collected while working in the lichen collection for my thesis and was able to earn my master’s degree in a year and a half. I thoroughly enjoyed my graduate courses. After exploring and experiencing two different PhD programs (horticulture at Penn State and teaching and learning at the University of Utah) and working four years in the public schools as a junior high science teacher, the education administrator position at the Bean Life Science Museum opened up and I was hired. It was at BYU that I finally found a good fit for a PhD program that incorporated my love of learning, technology, and innovation. I learned in that program the importance of evaluation in my professional and personal life. I also learned and enjoyed practicing the creation of content that could be layered and transferred into many different mediums for a variety of formal and informal learning environments for different backgrounds, learning levels, and interests.

What kind of education/training is required? Any post-graduation requirements? What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?

For this job a postgraduate degree in science, education, or museum studies is required. It is important for someone in my position to be highly organized, innovative, and to be able to communicate clearly and effectively with others in a professional manner. This job has many managerial and supervisory responsibilities.

What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?

Museums, aquariums, and zoos are informal learning environments, and most of them have positions or even departments (depending on size) in education. In a broader sense, there are numberless job opportunities in education and instructional design from a K–12 teaching career to development training and assessment programs in large companies or institutions.

What types of jobs have you had within your profession?

Two secondary science positions, basketball coach, research assistant, and my current job (as a museum education administrator).

What is the best part of your job?

Working with college students who have the same love and passion for education that I do and seeing them develop into lifelong learners who desire to become scientists and inspire others to become scientists.

What is the worst part of your job?

I don’t like when I have to discipline or terminate employment for the student employees who work for me. The constant turnover due to working at a university can become monotonous, but it also gives me the opportunity to work with and get to know many people over the years.

What’s the work/family/life balance like?

I feel like this profession provides a great balance for work and family. Deadlines are usually not hard and fast in the museum, and so there usually isn’t much stress or late-night work. The university environment is flexible with many cultural and beneficial opportunities for families.

What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

Many people think I’m the one who comes to their child’s school to show snakes to students, when in actuality I’m the one who develops the programs and trains students to deliver and implement the programs.

What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?

I’ve been able to attend professional meetings in cities all over the United States and visit many large and small museums. Because of my profession and networking, I’ve been able to see parts of these museums that are typically not open to the public, and I’ve learned many different ways to implement best practices.

What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?

I’ve been told by some of the guys I’ve dated that my education and accomplishments can be intimidating rather than desirable as characteristics they look for in a wife. Other than that, stereotypes or criticisms have been few and of not enough consequence to recall any specific experiences.

What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?

I have received confirmation from the Spirit of my decisions related to my career and education as I have moved forward in faith. In my current job I find many opportunities to learn new things and develop and use my talents. The ability to learn and share my spiritual gifts helps me feel that I am building the Lord’s kingdom in my professional life, even if only to a small degree. While studying in the various academic programs, I thoroughly enjoyed receiving light and knowledge through the Spirit of truth while learning ways of thinking, discovering patterns, making connections, and seeing things from different perspectives.

Any other thoughts, advice, or stories you’d like to share with other women?

You can do anything you want to do. Don’t let cultural expectations or traditions guide your decisions. Your relationship with God is the most important relationship you have, and as long as your decisions please Him and make you happy as you progress in this life, you are on the right track. Work hard. Be believing. Remember to rise to the occasion and work toward your divine and eternal potential. Most of all, remember that our ultimate goal in life is the same as our Heavenly Father’s goal … to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. How you help in this work is up to you!

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