Conservation interns Margaret and Clara at LACMA after intern orientation in February 2023, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA by Clara Goolsby

A Day in the Life of a Conservation Intern at LACMA

October 3, 2023
Clara Goolsby, Conservation Center Intern

We were fortunate enough to hear from one of LACMA’s interns, Clara Goolsby, who recently completed her internship at the museum’s Conservation Center. Below is a peek into one of her typically busy but engaging days.

My name is Clara Goolsby, and I’m currently a student at Loyola Marymount University, double majoring in biochemistry and classics and archaeology. I’m am one of two interns at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Conservation Center in the Conservation Research Laboratory. I wanted to give a glimpse into what it looks like to intern at LACMA while still pursuing an undergraduate degree as a full-time student and trying to have a healthy social life on the side. Being a full time student double majoring in two (typically) unrelated majors can be a bit of a time commitment, but throw in an internship at LACMA’s Conservation Center and my schedule gets a little more interesting!

On Fridays, I am free from any early morning commitments, so I get to hear my alarm go off at a luxurious 8 am. Once I’m able to convince myself to get out of bed, I choose my outfit and get ready for the day. From there, I’ll usually grab breakfast at one of the coffee carts on campus (usually a croissant and a cappuccino) and settle in somewhere to get a little bit of work done before my morning class. My assignment of the day was reading about ancient Roman property law for my Law and Life of Ancient Rome course. 

At 10:40 am, I head to my advanced biochemistry lecture, giving me 10 minutes to set up for my note-taking before class starts. I’m chronically early so anything less than 10 minutes feels late to me.

At 11:40 am, class ends and I head to the parking garage to begin my commute to LACMA. If you’ve ever wanted to drive in the world’s slowest game of Mario Kart, complete with obstacles, you should definitely try driving in L.A. Typically I spend most of my commute raging against traffic and jamming to my commute playlist of the day.

Once I arrive at LACMA, I say hi to Ronnie, one of our lovely security guards, and head to the Conservation Research labs, where I greet my supervisors, Laura and Ashley, before getting to work on whatever tasks I have for the day. Margaret, my fellow intern, was here this Friday, so I got the privilege of sharing the lab with her!

Margaret and I, as Conservation Center interns, are responsible for performing spectroscopic analysis and creating a database of the materials that have been collected within LACMA’s reference collection. The creation of this database and collection of this data will make it easier for Laura and Ashley in the Conservation Research department to answer conservator questions about the particular materials that they are working on without having to find a reference sample and test it themselves. 

Margaret was already testing plastic samples in the Raman spectrometer when I arrived, so I focused on my pet project for the duration of my internship: using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to analyze a series of dye solutions that I will make using the dyes in the reference collection. This will allow us to better understand the properties and behavior of these dyes and assist with dyes analysis performed at LACMA. 

While Margaret worked with the plastic samples, I opened the inventory file of all of the samples within the reference collection that we created during our first few weeks of our internship. I chose the shelf where we keep most of the natural dyes and began researching their molecular weights and their ideal solvents. This research is the first step to actually testing the samples with the HPLC instrument, we can’t create standard solutions without knowing what is soluble in which solvents and how much to add to get a desired concentration.

My work station for the day. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA by Clara Goolsby

After a few minutes of research Margaret left for her lunch break, so I took over the Raman station for the duration of her absence. I was able to take a few samples before she returned from her lunch and I went back to my dye research.

Our Raman spectrometer, featuring Toothless, our faithful Raman companion. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA by Clara Goolsby

Feedback from our plastic sample. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA by Clara Goolsby

At 4:30 pm, Margaret and I said goodbye to Ashley and Laura for the weekend and we headed towards the parking garage together. I met up with Asha, another LACMA intern who focuses on gallery lighting, outside of the Stark Bar, and we headed to Ray’s for dinner. 

Our meal at Ray’s. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA by Clara Goolsby

We stayed and chatted over food until almost 7. By that time, we had covered everything we had missed since the last time we got a meal together and decided to part ways to head home for the evening. I got back home around 7:30, Asha and I were able to chat for long enough that I completely skipped traffic. To decompress from my long week, I took a stroll around my university campus before settling in on my couch with my current read, Just Kids by Patti Smith (I actually bought my copy at the LACMA Store the first time I ever visited), and calling it a night.

The view from the bluff on LMU campus. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA by Clara Goolsby