Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
Work experience at the University of Cambridge Museums
The University of Cambridge Museums offer work experience placements for school-aged participants, providing the opportunity to spend a week learning new skills and developing their self-confidence, timekeeping and communication.
During their placement work experience students spend half their time at the Fitzwilliam Museum and half their time at one of the other University museums. They undertake a short project ‘Curating a Personal Story’ where they are required to select two objects from each of their host museums and two from home, bringing them together in a mini exhibition which tells a story about themselves. At the end of the week the students present their mini exhibition to a small group of museum staff.
Here Emily Graham-Campbell, a student at the Perse Upper School, Isabel Deards from Simon Ball School and Felicity Miles from Hills Road Sixth Form College, share highlights from their week at the museums.
“Having worked at both the Fitzwilliam Museum and Kettle’s Yard this week I’ve discovered the infrastructure of the museums and how they work behind the scenes. In particular, at the Fitzwilliam I noticed the importance of working together to make projects and exhibitions happen within the museum.
On my first day I thoroughly enjoyed the hands on approach of being shown the role of a conservator and how skilled the process is of preserving the collection of manuscripts at the museum. Another highlight was going onto the roof of one of the galleries, which is a unique opportunity to see a different view of Cambridge!
During my time at Kettle’s Yard I helped out with visits to the gallery from a local primary school as well as sitting in on a talk about the current Henri Gaudier-Brzeska exhibition. These were all an interesting insight into what working at a museum is like. I also found the contrast between the two museums surprising as they are both different in size, but their work environment is similar as being part of a team is so important for the smooth running of each museum.
As I’m currently studying subjects closely related to the classical world (Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation). The talk on the Greek and Roman section at the Fitzwilliam for a group of school children was particularly interesting as I wanted to further my knowledge of the background to their cultures, as well as immersing myself into exploring all the items on display. This also showed me how passionate all the staff are about their jobs and knowledge of the collection.
I have had an amazing week at both museums and I feel inspired to perhaps pursue a career in the museum sector. Thank you all very much for making my time at The Fitzwilliam and Kettle’s Yard so enjoyable!”
“The first thing that I have taken from this week is the sheer size of the museum “behind the scenes”- there were so many jobs and procedures that I had never considered, and by being exposed to this side of the Fitzwilliam and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, I feel I now have a much better insight into the world of museums and the opportunities attached to them. I have also seen so many interesting and beautiful artefacts held in storage, which really showed me that museum collections are so much more than what you see on display.
Another thing I had never really considered regarding museums is the amount of effort and time needed to make sure that every single object is safe, either through storage (which the technicians handle) or through the work of Conservators in making sure a manuscript for example is restored in a way that is sustainable for the future. Something else I have taken from the week is the dedication of the staff to make their museum a place that is accessible to everyone. I learnt about specific groups targeted such as “facebook families” and “Commuterland Culturebuffs”, which would never have occurred to me, and experienced the hard work put in by the Whipple Museum staff to make sure their upcoming trail for children is the best it can be.
Throughout the week, I felt inspired by the genuine excitement and interest the staff have in their job, and experiencing this passion is what made a future career in museums a definite option for me.”
“During my weeks work experience at both the Fitzwilliam and Kettle’s Yard, I had my eyes opened to the wealth of roles and positions available in the infrastructure of museums. Originally, I had only considered the roles of curators and floor staff in the functioning of museums, so I was totally inspired to find that there is such a variety of career opportunities available.
In both museums, I was fortunate enough to witness a number of educational outreach sessions, in which young school groups were shown around and given activities to facilitate their engagement with the art works on display.
In Kettle’s Yard, two groups of school children arrived and were given the opportunity to discover the fantastic work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, in addition to seeing some of the works of Alfred Wallis in real-life, an artist whom they had been studying about back at school. Watching the children’s enthusiasm and ingenuity when asked to vocalise their responses to a number of works was truly fascinating; I was in awe of the staff at Kettle’s Yard in their ability to pose serious and challenging questions in a manner that evoked such thought and consideration from such young children.
Art and Literature have always been very important to me, so I was delighted to witness my two favourite subjects united in an educational session at the Fitzwilliam. Firstly, the children were asked to look at a painting by Abraham Storck (1644-1708) of ‘The Four Days Battle’, a vivid seascape depicting the battle between Britain and the Netherlands. Rather than simply looking at the painting, however, the children were asked to draw the stormy weather in the painting, and then annotate their drawings with words that described how they would feel to be on one of the boats. The young children were eager to impress their teachers and classmates with their imaginative vocabulary, with one boy proudly announcing he thought the noise on the ship would be ‘ear-splitting’!
But it was in the 20th Century Art gallery in which the most ingenious responses were vocalised. The children were confronted with an abstract painting, and asked what they thought was being depicted. Answers varied from ‘under the sea’ and ‘in a forest’ to ‘inside a bug’!
The knowledge I have acquired about the working of museums during the week has been invaluable, but what I will take away, above all, is the importance of museums as educational facilities for new generations. I have realised that all children can be willing to engage with art and history, and I feel inspired to pursue a career in museums so that I too can encourage a new generation to foster an enthusiasm and interest in cultural pursuits.”
View the mini exhibitions that our work experience participants presented to museum staff at the end of the week, online.
Timeless Objects – Emily Graham-Campbell
Status and Identity – Isabel Deards
The Art of Words and the Words of Art – Felicity Miles
The University of Cambridge Museums are unable to accommodate any further work experience placements in 2015. Find out more about other ways of getting involved with the University of Cambridge Museums online.