How to Become a Museum Curator

In this economy, we all could use some career advice. Here is an interview with a former curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, explaining how he got the job and what it entails. My name is Eli Navant and I am 10 years old. This is my story about my passion for prehistoric life.

My passion for prehistoric life started a long time ago. A while ago I would say the dinosaur alphabet with my mom, and watch Dinosaur Train with my dad. I would also get books about dinosaurs for my birthday. My Grandma Ruth gave me some of the best ones! My passion for prehistoric life has lasted to this very day.

So on November 1, 2012 I had my first official interview. The staff at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science interviewed me for the position of Vice President of Research and Collections. The reason I applied was I heard Dr. Kirk Johnson was leaving the museum to take a similar job at the Smithsonian Institute. My dad gave me the idea to apply for Kirk Johnson’s former job. I applied and was asked to come to the museum for an interview. The interview was not as I expected it to be. The people that interviewed me were Museum President and CEO George Sparks, Head of Human Resources Maria Hannon and Dr. Joe Sertich, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology. I was taken back to George’s office and they asked me all kinds of questions. How would I juggle school and this job? What kind of salary I would need? What is my favorite dinosaur? They asked me some very easy questions and some very hard ones. They were all very nice to me and the interview was shorter than I expected it to be.


Eli wearing a lab coat in Expedition Health. National Park Service.

Over the next few days I was surprised when my parents got a phone call from 9News asking if they could interview me. Obviously I said yes! One day at school Nelson Garcia knocked on the door to my classroom. They entered the room. Seeing the news reporting gear my classmates immediately started mumbling to each other about what was happening. Nelson Garcia videotaped me doing class work. Then I went out to recess. An entire mob of kids started chasing me! Then during lunch Nelson Garcia interviewed my dad and I. Awhile later Nelson Garcia left.

It wasn’t long after Nelson Garcia interviewed me that my dad got a call from CBS News asking the same question, could they interview me. He said yes and Steve Hartman, Les Rose and Miles Doran flew in from New York and California to Colorado to interview me. Unlike Nelson Garcia, Steve Hartman interviewed me at school, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and at my house. Steve Hartman interviewed me near the end of the school day. Then we left my school, Kyffin Elementary and met at the museum. I gave Steve Hartman a tour of the exhibit Prehistoric Journey and we talked about many things like my first book and that I was working on a second book. Then Steve Hartman interviewed George Sparks so my family and I went home to have dinner and do homework until Steve, Miles and Les came to our house. They set all the equipment up and filmed me doing homework, drawing and we talked more about why I wanted this job. After we talked for a little bit my mom and I went out to get frozen yogurt for everyone. When we came back they were interviewing my dad. The guys really liked my room, especially my riding dinosaur Kota. It was getting late so Steve, Miles and Les packed up to start their long journey home.

A few weeks passed after my interview at the museum when I got a call from George Sparks and he said that I did not get the job. I was expecting this because I am only 10. He told me he was happy that I applied for the job and that I needed to continue my education. Keep those passions going! It was a very nice conversation. George also told me that he wanted to make me Head Curator of the entire museum for a day sometime in spring, I said yes! He told me he would be in touch with my parents about the details.

After a few months had passed the museum got in touch with my Dad about the big day, my Curator for the Day!!! The museum spent a lot of time setting it up. My parents and I took some time to prepare as well. I had questions ready for each department head. My Dad and I even made a feather duster out of a telescopic pole pruner so curators Dr. Joe Sertich, Dr. Ian Miller (Curator of Paleontology) and Dr. Scott Sampson (the new Vice President of Research and Collections and Chief Curator) would have to dust the fossils hanging from the ceiling! Time ticked by as my special day came closer and closer.


Eli and Dr. Miller (Curator of Paleontology) cataloging a duck bill dinosaur skull. National Park Service.

It’s here March 22, 2013! My day as Head Curator started when I arrived at the Museum and was led to a hidden room where I got my picture taken for my official badge. Then I met with Joe Sertich and Ian Miller to go over my day. Joe brought me hot chocolate! We looked at a fossil I had brought with me as well. Then we headed for the Paleontology department. Here we went through the collections in the Big Bone Room, all behind the scenes. There I was able to key out one of the fossils I brought. It was a part of the lower jaw of an Archeotherium. I was then able to catalog a duckbill dinosaur, which was really cool. Then we went to the Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit and I got to clean part of a Stegomastodon.

Now I was heading to the auditorium to give a lecture. My lecture was about how I became interested in prehistoric life. It was scary at first standing in front of that many people. When I was done the crowd gave me a standing ovation! Then I went to lunch with, my former First Grade teacher Mrs. Mary Ford-Doherty, Joe Sertich, Ian Miller and my parents. We ate at the T-Rex Café. They serve good food.

After lunch I studied outer space with Dr. Ka Chun Yu (Curator of Space Science), Eddie Goldstein (Senior Educator/Coordinator) and Dr. Steven Lee (Department Chair and Curator of Planetary Science). Eddie Goldstein and I did some experiments with liquid nitrogen. Steven Lee showed me all that Space Odyssey had to offer as well.

Then I met up with Dr. Nicole Garneau (Curator and Department Chair, Health Sciences) to explore the exhibit Expedition Health. There we did an experiment to see the tiny dots on my tongue. We also did a taste experiment to find out what flavors you can sense more than others.


Eli and Dr. Sertich (Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology) gluing a fossil. National Park Service.

Off to the Zoology Department we go. Here I met with Dr. John Demboski (Curator of Vertebrate Zoology and Zoology Department Chair). We looked at dead animal specimens like bats, passenger pigeons and many different mammals. In one room two people were dissecting dead birds. And in another room beetles were cleaning the flesh off of carcasses. Not my favorite part of the day, kind of cool though.

The next stop was to the Anthropology Department. Michele Koons (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Department of Anthropology) was waiting for me. She showed me everything from arrow heads, bowls, statues, teepees, clothing and a really neat telescope from the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

It was getting late and my day in charge was coming to a close. I went back to George’s office and met one last time with the people who made my day so much fun. We gathered around for one last picture and it was time to go home. This experience is one I will never forget, it was extraordinary! I am excited for what will come next!

The past is your future!

NOVEMBER 25, 2013

Postscript: The chief curator job went to Dr. Scott Sampson instead. He didn’t enjoy it as much as Eli did and as of 2017 he had already moved on. Now he is CEO of Science World in Vancouver.

This article is a true story, but should not be taken as career advice. It used to be on the National Park Service website here:

Another article about Eli:

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