Spotlight on Creative Jobs — Part 3

There are so many artistic and original jobs out there, most of which you’d probably never even thought about being a career option. In this series I will be chatting to a wide range of skilled creatives, to find out what their job entails and highlighting the world of possibilities out there!

Emma in the fossil store at The Horniman Museum

NAME Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls

WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE JOB? Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum, London.

WHAT DOES YOUR JOB INVOLVE? My job involves caring for, and facilitating access to, the Horniman Museum’s collection of over 250,000 natural history specimens. The collection includes skeletons, taxidermy mounts, invertebrates, fossils and specimens preserved in fluid.

As a palaeontologist, I mostly work with the skeletal and fossil material. My job is extremely diverse and involves working on collections, exhibitions, online media, public enquiries, to name but a few areas, so a typical day is hard to describe. I suppose my time is primarily spent using a variety of sources to enhance specimen records on the Museum’s collections database. Many specimens have historic location issues, and scientific names and groupings are always changing and need to be updated, but most exciting is when I get to play Sherlock Holmes and try to piece together evidence and uncover new information about a specimen based on historic records.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE JOB? My favourite part of my job is using specialist knowledge to decipher historic records in order to bring new information to light about particular specimens, and then writing a blog article about it to bring the story to a wider audience inclusive of non-specialists.

HOW DID YOU BECOME A PALAEONTOLOGIST AND MUSEUM CURATOR? To become a palaeontologist I studied a BSc/M.Sci in Geology which focussed on researching fossil sharks in the UK, an M.Sc in Palaebiology in which I researched the phylogenetics (evolutionary relationships) of both modern and fossil crocodilians, and a Ph.D in Palaeontology, which looked at how patterns in cohabiting shark species varied across time and in different environments…. (to put a three year Ph.D thesis into a nutshell!).

To become a Museum Curator I started volunteering at museums as soon as I started university. By the time I graduated from my Ph.D I had curatorial experience at seven different museums under my belt and, together with my academic qualifications, and a bit of luck, managed to go straight into a Curatorial Assistant job at one of the top natural history collections in London. It was onwards and upwards from there to the lofty heights of the Horniman.

An ammonite from the fossil collection

WHAT IS THE ONE KEY QUALITY YOU NEED TO DO YOUR JOB? The one key quality you need to get my job is perseverance. Competitors are numerous and highly qualified, and subsequently interviews can be really tough. But to anyone looking for work in the museum world, perseverance is your biggest ally. The one key quality you need to do my job is passion.

TELL US A CREATIVE SECRET… Walking in the rain. The sound of rain drops on your umbrella, the shiny appearance of everything around you, and the un-likelihood of anyone stopping for a chat, make it a great way to clear the mind, solve a problem, or just relax. Unless you don’t like rain, in which case it’s rubbish.

You can visit the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, SE London or pop over to their website:

If you’ve got a creative job and would like to be featured in this series then please drop me an email:

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