This is an extended version of a March/April 2015 Dimensions magazine article in which we asked leaders at all levels within science centers and museums what keeps them awake at night.
My biggest worry is being repetitive and complacent. When you develop exhibits and activities that are successful, it is easy to soak in the congratulations. Yet, the truth is congratulations can fade and interest can dwindle if the experiences we create for our visitors become static and rigid. It is important to consistently improve and innovate. By saying to ourselves, “It can be better,” we give ourselves the allowance to view our endeavors with a critical eye. This allows us to put our best foot forward under any circumstances.
Carlos Romero, Design Lab experience coordinator, New York Hall of Science, Queens
In the current era of always having to do more with less, I worry about how to give the proper amount of attention to all the competing events and projects so that visitors’ and staff’s needs are met at high levels.
Duke Johnson, education/exhibits manager, Clark Planetarium, Salt Lake City, Utah
I worry that we are no longer staying relevant and that visitors no longer value what we offer. I worry, then, that our income diminishes and I can no longer make payroll. I worry about the balance of expenses to income—the ability to provide new exhibits and renovate the building spaces. I worry about the rising cost of everything and the public’s lack of understanding of these costs. I worry about the rising number of things that need to be done and the lack of staff to keep up with the job demands.
Cassandra L. Henry, president, Science Spectrum, Lubbock, Texas
That after 37 years of service I can continue to perform my job at the same, consistent, happy level that has made my career so successful. That my technical skills can keep up with the quickly-changing tide of technology.
Eileen Best, console technician manager/ show presenter, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego
There are very many areas that need attention in our wonderful hands-on science center but my husband reminds me not to try to eat the “elephant” in one bite! In the slower months when schools are not in session, our biggest concern is sustainability, but with an ingenious financial director you can save for those rainy days. We would like to give our staff higher salaries with benefits, but until we receive that sustainability, it becomes impossible. They truly work for their passion to spread the sciences to the community. We would love to attract more volunteers, but it is a never-ending struggle. Our exhibits need upgrading, but without grants, it is a slow process. We would like to add new technology to give our 25-year-old museum the “wow” factor that brings people through the front doors, but that takes more grant money. In short, my dream is to see Congress sign a bill to appropriate funding to all museums in the United States so we can all stop counting the empty dollar signs before we fall asleep.
Arlene S. Hawks, executive director, SciTech Hands On Museum, Aurora, Illinois
Am I engaging the right person on my team for the right job for continuous improvement of quality in service in our targeted missions? Fund flow has not been a major concern so far for the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM), India, as the council receives substantial financial support from the government. However, training and quality improvement of human resources have always been issues in the huge NCSM network functioning under a single administrative umbrella.
Ingit K. Mukhopadhyay, former director general National Council of Science Museums, India
Did I lock the door/turn off the oven? No, I’m kidding (sort of . . . I may have gone back once or twice in pajamas to check). When I’m worried, it’s almost always about people being happy, enjoying what they do, and having what they need to continue doing it.
Lucy Hale, director of school programs Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas
My worries always work backwards from the promise we make to our visitors that they will have an extraordinary experience with us. That requires skilled staff, ongoing resources, new ideas, and stable funding. I’m always looking to find and fill gaps in those areas in ways that are invisible to guests and sustainable for the staff members I support.
Summer Brandon, director of education, ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, Ashland, Oregon
One of the greater concerns for me is making sure that our staff feels appropriately valued. At our small nonprofit, each of us carries a heavy load on a small budget. Because it is simply impossible to pay our staff members their true worth to society, we must find other ways to genuinely express appreciation. Such appreciation comes from the board as well as senior staff. However, it must also be derived from the communities we serve. Although we make every effort to foster such appreciation, it can be difficult to measure the success of these efforts.
Jonathan Feagle, executive director, Explorit Science Center, Davis, California
We are now all so connected electronically. Have you checked your email, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts today? I fear we are losing our thoughtfulness in our connectedness. We are so busy updating our status that we don’t take time to reflect on our status. I worry about the trend toward spending more time in front of a screen and less time face-to-face with people. Yet I also fear that by questioning and not embracing this new connectedness, I am less of a leader than I should be. And even when I am trying to sleep, my smartphone keeps chirping as messages continue to come in. This literally keeps me awake at night.
Charlie Walter, chief operating officer, San Antonio Children’s Museum
Like any other leader, my goals keep me awake, but the most important thing is quality. If you achieve your goals but they are of poor quality, you will lose the trust of the people counting on you. If it is a service for the general public, the same thing will happen.
Carlos Apodaca, education services El Trompo Museo Interactivo, Tijuana, Mexico
Unmet needs. Whether it’s our community, visitors, staff, or others, there will always be constituencies that we can’t satisfy completely. There will always be more to do tomorrow.
Jennifer Rickards, associate director, Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, Vermont