University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

“Truly unique jobs and people”… work experience at the 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 another museum in Cambridge – this week it was the turn of the Museum of Cambridge and Museum of Technology. The students 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.

Daniel Lowe, Alex Moss, Anna Gordon and Robin Perry

Daniel Lowe, Alex Moss, Anna Gordon and Robin Perry

Here Anna Gordon, a student from The Perse School, Daniel Lowe from Impington International Sixth Form, Alex Moss from Ipswich School and Robin Perry from Minster School share highlights from their week at the museums.

“Arriving at The Fitzwilliam Museum on Monday, I was both nervous and excited for what was to come. Immediately as we arrived through the back entrance of the Museum we introduced ourselves to the other members of the group, lifting the nerves and leaving just excitement.

My favourite thing we did during our time at the museum was object handling. On two occasions we were allowed to hold and examine objects which I personally found fascinating. The first of these occasions was on the Tuesday with Anastasia, where we were looking at ancient objects; two pots and a mirror. My favourite item of these was the Etruscan pot with its neutral tones and exact patterns. We were told how the Etruscans would have formed the pattern of exact concentric circles using a compass.

Later in the week we looked at objects from the applied arts collection with Andrew, one of the technicians. While looking at the swords and weaponry in the armoury filled me with a sense of power and self-importance, I especially loved looking at the Japanese Netsuke – small intricately carved ornaments which Japanese men wore to attach a small pocket to the obi (or sash) on their robes. The tiny detailed sculptures were all so precise and beautiful and interesting to look at. It was difficult to choose a favourite but I eventually settled on a small egg shaped piece with a floral design on the outside which opened up to reveal a tiny man attached to the bottom of the Netsuke.

Presenting my project at the end of the week was daunting but it also allowed my to do my own research into some fascinating objects around the Museum, and as everyone was so friendly there was no need to be nervous in the end! Overall my time at the Fitzwilliam was extremely interesting and I would strongly encourage anyone thinking about a career in museums or anyone simply interested in the exhibits to apply for such a great experience.”
Anna Gordon

“My week of work experience at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Technology is certainly one I will remember. It has been fascinating to experience and witness the quantity and variety of jobs in just one museum, as well as being able to compare two completely different museums. The Museum of Technology showed the necessity of volunteers in smaller museums, and I was also able to see the need for volunteers in bigger museums – such as the Fitzwilliam.

I most enjoyed our time looking at paper conservation in the Fitzwilliam with Richard Farleigh. The session, as well as being extremely fun, was very informative and showed me the perfectionist detail needed for conservation; we were shown how to frame a postcard which I now have as a tangible reminder of my week of work experience.

The middle of the week gave me a taster of what work is like at a smaller, volunteer run museum, experiencing yet another side to museum work. At the Museum of Technology I created a map for directions between their steampunk event and the festival across the river and we also researched how the museum could further use social media. It was very satisfying to know that my work and research has, and will, help the museum.

Just when I thought when I’d seen everything, we were given a two hour tour around the Applied Arts collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum on the last morning. It wasn’t a joke when we were told that the Applied Arts section includes “everything else” – with a collection ranging from medieval weaponry from Asia, to antique jewellery and watches. I was intrigued that there was all of this extra beauty behind the scenes in storage.”
Daniel Lowe

“Completing work experience at the Fitzwilliam Museum has been a huge revelation for me. In particular, it showed me that working at a museum is a job where things are constantly evolving. With a change in the collections or a new exhibition, all the guidebooks and information sheets need to be updated. A person may pass away and bequeath their collection of artefacts to the museum, the staff then have to sort, label and find the space to store it all.

I discovered how museums work together, and that the Fitzwilliam has multiple works on loan from other museums, just as items from their collection can be on loan in places such as New York.

Finally I saw how important volunteer work is to a museum. At the Museum of Cambridge, in which I spent a day and a half, volunteers come in daily to help it run. Even at the Fitzwilliam, volunteer work has enabled it to undertake projects that it simply would not have the manpower to do otherwise. An example of this is that, right now with the help of volunteers, the Fitzwilliam is transferring all the minutes of meetings from paper to digital, and in doing so has learnt how key world events such as WWI had a huge effect on the museum at the time.  This is something that I did not expect.”
Alex Moss

“Throughout my life I have visited a grand variety of museums and galleries, with some highlights including ‘L’Orangerie’ in Paris, the MOMA in New York as well as a range of smaller, independent museums in the UK and Europe. However, I have never thought particularly hard about the actual workings and running of such museums; I have only ever seen the end result. Having spent what will be 4 days at the Fitzwilliam Museum, as well as just over a day at the Museum of Technology, the ‘goings-on’ of a museum are a lot more familiar to me and I have had the opportunity to find out about and meet, some truly unique jobs and people.

Having spent time with Manuscript and Printed Books Conservators, Pest Managers, Mount makers and Curators, we have been able to explore what is behind the beautiful curtain that is the artwork and objects in the Fitzwilliam. Perhaps the greatest highlight for me this week was seeing a Degas work right before my eyes, unframed in the workshop; stemming from a pure coincidence. Having bought a postcard of Degas’ ‘Female dancers in violet skirts, their arms raised’, to mount in this workshop, the Museum’s paper conservator Richard Farleigh revealed that he in fact had this exact work in the studio, and proceeded to showing us; a real one- off opportunity!

I did not know what to expect at all from this work experience week, as most opportunities merely involve filing in offices, however what I have had the opportunity to do and see has completely changed my perspective and appreciation of people who work in museums and their skilled and specialist jobs.”
Robin Perry

The University of Cambridge Museums are unable to accommodate any further work experience placements in 2016. Find out more about other ways of getting involved with the University of Cambridge Museums online.

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