ECPN Interview: Pre-Program Internships in Archaeological Conservation

By Keara Teeter posted 05-18-2021 08:14


The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) works to serve ECPs at all levels, from pre-program to early career. This blog series aims to highlight pre-program experiences and opportunities through interviews with internship supervisors from a wide range of specialties. These individuals have been selected for interviews due to their track record as excellent pre-program mentors. In this series, we hope to highlight successful approaches to pre-program internships and mentoring while also providing insight on how pre-program individuals can best prepare to enter the conservation profession. 

As a part of this series, we are promoting the AIC’s Education and Training Committee (ETC) Guidelines for Pre-Program Internships and ECPN Compensation Resources. ETC guidelines are intended to aid internship supervisors and interns in defining goals, parameters, and expectations for pre-program internships. ECPN compensation data was compiled after reviewing public postings of pre-program, graduate, and post-graduate positions. The ECPN spreadsheets are available upon request and can be a valuable tool in compensation negotiations.

For our third interview in the series, ECPN reached out to Kate Morrand (@Kate Morrand), Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory in Washington, DC

Kate Morrand and USS Tulip

Kate Morrand cleaning a brass sextant recovered from USS Tulip
Image Credit: NHHC Communications and Outreach Division

Please tell us about yourself and your organization (type of institution or private practice, geographic region, size, etc). How many other conservators do you work with and what specialties are represented?

I’m the Director of the NHHC Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory which is a part of the NHHC Underwater Archaeology (UA) Branch. Our laboratory is responsible for the documentation, research, conservation, and curation of archaeological materials recovered from sunken and terrestrial military craft under U.S. Navy purview. The collection includes more than 12,000 artifacts dating from the Navy’s earliest engagements in the Revolutionary War to the mid-20th century. Our laboratory is located in Washington, DC on the historical Washington Navy Yard.

The NHHC UA branch employs eight full-time archaeologists, two of which are archaeological conservators. I am an objects conservator specializing in archaeological materials recovered from an underwater environment with a particular focus on metals and other inorganic materials. I received my graduate training at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy. My colleague, Shanna Daniel, is also an objects conservator with a MA in Anthropology from Texas A&M University. She specializes in archaeological materials recovered from  underwater environments with a particular focus on organic materials.

The Navy’s archaeological collections are fascinating and we’ve had the opportunity to work with many unique and complex artifacts. The collection is made up of several different categories of material like ship and aircraft components, weaponry, navigational instruments, tools, and personal effects. All these artifacts have the added challenge of being waterlogged or formerly waterlogged, so we encounter interesting conservation issues pretty frequently. Suffice to say, we are never bored at work!

When creating internships, what resources do you turn to for guidance and what training methods do you utilize?

UA’s internship model is based on our Command’s internship requirements as well as our own previous experiences as both interns and instructors. Shanna and I share supervision of intern projects and administrative support tasks, so interns can expect to work with both of us throughout the course of the internship. Our training methods can be tailored to each intern’s level of experience, but we generally emphasize hands-on learning, cooperative discussion, critical thinking, independent research and the scientific method.

We have a few specific resources that we introduce our interns to during the first week in order to familiarize them with conservation of waterlogged materials. Donny Hamilton’s Basic Methods of Conserving Underwater Archaeological Material Culture and Colin Pearson’s Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects are some of our core reference texts. 

If our interns come in with a bit more experience and more developed skills, we can start them on more advanced treatment tasks with guidance as needed. If our interns come in with less treatment experience, we typically start them on a practice object to get them familiar with specific tools and gauge their manual dexterity. When we introduce interns to a new task, we’ll first describe the process, demonstrate the process, allow the intern to perform the process under supervision, and then, if all parties are comfortable and confident, allow the intern to perform the process independently.

Rachel Vykukal with USS Revenge
Rachel Vykukal (NREIP Intern 2017) using an air scribe to remove concretion from a cannon recovered from USS Revenge. Image Credit: NHHC UA

What skills do you look for in prospective interns?

We certainly appreciate when prospective interns have previous conservation experience in archaeological materials or object conservation. Since we are an official US Navy laboratory and work with hazardous materials, we also value applicants with previous experience in a laboratory environment, like a university science course with a lab component. We train all our interns in basic lab safety and operations, but we find that our interns who come in with previous lab experience tend to pick this up a bit faster. We appreciate when applicants have archaeological field work experience since we do support our colleagues with artifact recovery and field conservation. Applicants with experience in museum studies, photography, drawing, 3D scanning, or CAD processing will also be able to use these skills in our laboratory.

We also take into consideration an applicant’s academic experience, letters of recommendation, and writing samples. We appreciate strong letters of recommendation where applicants are described as hardworking, self-motivated, and able to manage their time well. With a few exceptions, we interview every applicant to our internship program and appreciate when applicants are attentive, listen well, and have thoughtful questions for us.

How often do you accept pre-program interns and how long do their internships usually last? Are these positions paid, given a stipend, or unpaid? If unpaid, are other types of “in kind” payments provided?

We accept graduate and upper-level undergraduate interns at any time throughout the year via the NHHC internship program. NHHC’s internships are unpaid at present, though we are exploring some possible ways to offer housing to out-of-state interns to ease the cost of living in Washington, DC. We endeavor to make each internship a mutually beneficial experience so that interns have an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge, skills, and experience to enhance their academic and professional careers.

When applying through the NHHC internship program, we ask that conservation interns be able to give us 10 weeks full-time or 8 weeks part-time (at least 16 hours per week). More information about the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory internship program may be found on our website:

For those applicants with a scientific background, our laboratory participates in the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP). NREIP applicants may be graduate or undergraduate students and are compensated based on their education level for a 10-week, full-time internship. Application instructions and relevant deadlines for NREIP may be found on the organization’s website:


What are your goals for the intern and how do you convey these expectations? 

Our goal for each intern is to have a fulfilling internship experience while accomplishing projects that support UA’s mission. We generally assign each conservation intern one or two primary treatment projects to be carried out to completion. Each project will ideally allow interns to become proficient in a few different treatment methods, tools, and equipment. In addition, interns help us with preventative conservation tasks such as checking and filling/emptying the humidifiers and de-humidifiers; monitoring and interpreting environmental data; and integrated pest management. Interns may also help us with collections management tasks such as building acid-free containers for artifacts and assisting with artifact inventory and condition assessments.

We first establish a prospective intern’s interests and capabilities during the application process. If we have a project to which we feel the applicant is particularly well suited, we’ll discuss it during the interview to gauge the applicant’s interest. If we extend an internship offer to the applicant, we present a written outline of their projects within the first week; this outline may change during the course of the internship. All conservation interns are expected to follow our laboratory safety protocols, which we provide in writing and discuss on the first day. Our interns are expected to take detailed daily notes and complete a cumulative final report on all their work at the conclusion of the internship; this report is used for our reference and allows us to demonstrate the importance of our internship programs to NHHC leadership. 


Are these goals re-evaluated at some point during the internship? How do you structure the evaluations?

We welcome discussion and feedback at all times throughout the internship, but we have a regular meeting each week with our interns to make sure they have what they need to accomplish their work. We also do an informal progress review about halfway through the internship to make sure our interns are on track to complete their project(s). Following the progress review, we may adjust the scope of the project(s) for the remainder of the internship if needed. At the end of the internship, we also complete a final written evaluation of the intern’s performance (e.g. attendance, communication, work ethic) and do a more formal exit interview. 


What does your organization do to help pre-program interns feel like they are part of your conservation community?

Our interns are competitively selected, and as a result, we afford them considerable responsibility and treat them as members of our staff. We invite interns to observe and participate in other conservation treatments we’re doing, learn how to use our laboratory equipment (e.g. ion chromatograph, FTIR and abrasive media), contribute to our weekly staff meetings, join us in any field work we’re involved in, and sit in on any relevant meetings or other activities we feel will enhance their internship experience.

We also introduce our interns to our colleagues in other branches within the Command and help them become familiar with the different resources available at NHHC HQ (e.g. historical collections, fine art, library and archives). We invite our interns to write about their work on the NHHC website and social media platforms, present their work to NHHC staff and participate in tours of the Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory. 

Since we work for a mission-driven organization, we want our interns to recognize the connection between their projects and the Navy at large, so one of the first things we encourage our interns to do is visit the National Museum of the United States Navy on the Washington Navy Yard. We find that making this connection serves as a perpetual reminder of the responsibility that we have to honor the Navy’s men and women in uniform through our work.


Savannah Kruger and FTIR
Savannah Kruger (NREIP Intern 2018) analyzing leather sole from Revolutionary War vessel Royal Savage using a portable Agilent 4300 HH FTIR. Image Credit: NHHC UA


What are the benefits of mentoring a pre-program intern? Please also share with us some things that past interns have taught you.

There are so many benefits to mentoring pre-program interns. Our interns accomplish important work that supports UA’s mission and often do work that Shanna and I don’t always have the time to do. Throughout the course of their projects, interns frequently discover new information that improves our understanding of a particular artifact or our interpretation of a particular sunken military craft.

One of these discoveries happened a few years ago while we were treating a late-19th century steam-powered Howell torpedo recovered off the coast of San Diego by the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. This torpedo was one of fifty prototypes originally produced by the Navy and distributed throughout the fleet for testing. One of our interns combed through the archives and tracked down which Navy ships received torpedoes and which ships spent time near California. She eventually tracked down the ship’s log for USS Iowa and discovered the exact entry describing the loss of the torpedo during a test run. She single-handedly solved the mystery of how this unusual weapon ended up where it did!

The mentoring process itself is also a benefit to Shanna and me as it helps keep our instruments sharp by addressing questions from interns and explaining different conservation concepts. We are always looking to grow and improve as conservation professionals, and we’ve had some interns bring different skills into the mix that really help us.

Beyond the great work that they do, another benefit is the opportunity to host some really skilled interns that are also wonderful people. They have inspired us with their hard work, keen minds, and warm spirits. We are thrilled when they find academic and professional success. In the eight years I’ve been working with the internship program, we’ve had pre-program conservation interns go on to do graduate work in conservation programs at Winterthur/University of Delaware, UCLA Getty, NYU, and Cardiff University.


Do you have any other advice to share with prospective emerging conservators?

Conservators don’t always take the same path, so we encourage pre-program conservators to keep an open mind when it comes to specialization. Shanna and I began our conservation careers in very different places before we ended up in our coveralls and steel-toe boots at the NHHC UA Archaeology & Conservation Lab. We encourage prospective emerging conservators to take every opportunity to learn new skills and work collaboratively. We hope to meet many of you at future AIC events!


Shanna Daniel with USS Houston

Shanna Daniel cleaning components of a trumpet from USS Houston at the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC)
Underwater Archaeology (UA) Branch Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.
Image Credit: Kate Morrand