Katherine Dunnell

My original passion was medicine, but after a year of university spent touching 'slimy' things, I decided inorganic sciences were much more appealing. Geology really appealed to me because it is the most tactile of all the sciences, so I switched to an undergraduate program in physical geography.

In between academic years, I spent two summers as a junior mapper living in northern Ontario. From my experiences in the 'bush', I gained a better appreciation for the beauty of the unspoiled north, the ability to cook a roast over an open fire, and a huge disdain for black flies. I also worked two summers at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, dredging up mud and sediment samples from Lake Erie and collecting zebra mussels to analyze in the accredited lab.

I realized well into my geology degree that field work was okay, but I didn't want to live in a tent for 3 months every summer. I didn't have the passion for it, as some did. It was completely a fluke when the job at the museum came up. I had just finished my second degree at University and wasn't sure what I was going to do. When I look back I realize my appreciation for museums was instilled during childhood, with frequent visits to the ROM and McLaughlin Planetarium, as well as the Detroit Institute of Art. I joined the ROM in 1997, and since then have participated in the development of several exhibitions. Gems and jewelry remain my focus and passion.

Q: What is the title of your job and what do you do?

A: Mineralogy Technician, Earth Science Collections, Department of Natural History I care for all of the geologic specimens, minerals, meteorites and gems in the Royal Ontario Museum's collections

Q: Who do you work for, and where are you based?

A: I work for the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Q: What kind of hours/shifts do you work?

A: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, unless we have a museum party, talk to give, or are doing fieldwork or travelling on the behalf of the museum at mineral shows etc.

Q: Where do you work?

A: In a museum, in an office and a huge collection room full of priceless and beautiful minerals/gems/ meteorites

Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?

A: We use XRF, XRD, and SEM to identify minerals, and sometimes gemstones.

Q: What education or training is required for your job?

A: Bachelors in Science in Geology is base, then knowledge or schooling in Museum Studies and/or a Gemmology certificate is an asset

Q: What kind of personal traits do you recommend for this profession?

A: Someone who always likes to learn, someone who is neat and likes to keep things organized, and also likes to convey things to the public.

Q: What is the salary range of your job?

A: $35,000 to $50,000

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: The specimens I handle every day! It is neat to think everything in the collection was dug out of the ground with great care, and it is stored in this collection forever.

Q: What are the advantages?

A: Lots of travel, loads of fun people, the opportunity to learn about other disciplines in the museum, and working with the public.

Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?

A: Within this collection, not much but that is not to say I do the same thing every day. The collection is huge 70,000 specimens, most of them identified by sight only. Any interests I develop I explore within the realms of this collection.

Q: How physically demanding is your job?

A: Not really demanding. You need to able to lift an occasional heavy rock and carry a 50 pound backpack in the bush.

Q: Why did you choose this career?

A: I choose this career because I liked academia, and my heart wasn't into exploration geology. Handling beautiful specimens every day and making sure they are in the right conditions for future generations is very rewarding work.

Q: What is your advice to newcomers?

A: If you are interested in museums, volunteer your time to test it out. Most museums need and have a volunteer department.

Q: Any other comments to share?

A: I have a pod cast on the Royal Ontario Museum website talking about sapphires and rubies; www.rom.on.ca/medica/podcasts/display.php?id=22

back to map