What’s your background?
I started my research career being a bit of an outsider – and found a discipline which welcomed that. I had studied history at BA and MA level in Canada, focusing primarily on gender and sexuality histories in the 17th and 18th centuries. It wasn’t until late in my Master’s degree that I found the subject areas that would shape the rest of my career – the history of science and history of photography.
I was very lucky to have mentors who encouraged me to continue into grad school, and follow a research subject – the use of photography in 19th century scientific communication – in which I had no foundational disciplinary training.
Completing my PhD in the history and philosophy of science gave me the flexibility to follow my research interests, while at the same time develop the experience working in museums that would be key to moving beyond academia later in my career. While studying for my PhD I had the chance to do two internships in museums – the first at the Science Museum and the second at the National Maritime Museum.
Later, when I was a postdoc on a large and collaborative Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Project, I was able to gain more experience working at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London studying the use of images in the 19th century natural history periodicals.
All of my research and experience ultimately lead me towards working as a museum professional – where I have the opportunity to combine research and public engagement.
Why did you move beyond academia?
By 2017 I had been working as a postdoctoral researcher for five years. I had been able to work in the US and the UK on two large and collaborative research projects – the first at Harvard coordinating a branch of the Darwin Correspondence Project, and the second at the NHM and University of Leicester on the AHRC large cluster project ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries.’
During this time, I was able to research and write a book and articles, teach some courses and establish myself within my disciplinary research communities.
At the same time, however, I was able to gain experience in a number of different museums, and better understand how to effectively communicate research to public audiences. When I came to the job market at the end of my postdoc, I was already starting to think about moving into the museum sector.