University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

“much more than meets the eye”… work experience at the museums

Tom Goodwin, Oliver Jones, Sophie King, Katie Bearcroft

Tom Goodwin, Oliver Jones, Sophie King, Katie Bearcroft

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 their time at our museums – this week they were at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and also attended the SHARE Museums East Front of House Forum. They undertake a short project ‘Curating a Personal Story’ where they are required to select two objects from each of their host museum 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 Sophie King, a student from Saffron Walden County High School, Oliver Jones from St Columba’s College, Katie Bearcroft from Stephen Perse Senior School and Tom Goodwin from King Edward VI Grammar School share highlights from their week at the museums.

“Before starting my work experience week at the Fitzwilliam Museum I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered how there would be enough to do to fill up a whole five days at the museum, but I have now realised that there is a huge amount of behind the scenes work that I hadn’t even considered before. For example on my first day at the museum we met a conservator, front-of-house staff, preventative conservators and keepers of the collections. This week has therefore really opened my eyes to the opportunities available in a museum.

The highlight of my week was spending time with a technician in applied arts, having the opportunity to see fascinating objects close up and handle them. I was particularly amazed by the jewellery collections – the piece of jewellery holding a lock of Charles I’s hair was something I will always remember seeing. As I absolutely love history having the opportunity to work in a museum with such a vast collection of artefacts has been so interesting.

The presentations every work experience student makes at the end of the week is another thing I have gained from this experience – as public speaking is something I have not done much of, having the chance to practice this is hugely beneficial for me. After meeting so many interesting and lovely people at the museum and seeing the varieties of jobs in museums, I am definitely keen to get involved in museums in the future, if not as a job then through volunteering. After this experience the next time I visit a museum I will definitely see it in a different way as now I realise that there is much more than meets the eye.”
Sophie King

“My work experience at the Fitzwilliam Museum has been truly amazing. Prior to my placement I thought the priorities of running a museum were in conservation and the effective display of artwork and artefacts. However, I now realise that running a museum embraces many more areas than I first imagined – risk assessment, careful monitoring of environment conditions and pest control to name a few.

My week included the opportunity to attend the Share Front of House Forum at the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket. This gave me a great insight into how museums in the South East work together and share ideas. Talks were given about Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, the challenges of merging Handel house and Jimi Hendrix’s old flat into the recently launched Handle and Hendrix museum and an overview of the new National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art. It was great to be able to listen to senior curators sharing common ideas and themes.

My most memorable experience was the opportunity to handle Ancient Greek artefacts. It was truly fantastic to be able to handle these objects.

A big thank to everyone at the museum who made my work experience so enjoyable. I loved every minute and it has certainly encouraged me to pursue studying archaeology at university.”
Oliver Jones

“I have massively enjoyed my week at the Fitzwilliam Museum and have gained a new understanding as to what goes on in a museum. I am beginning to appreciate quite how much work goes into running a museum, and have acquired great knowledge about different roles that people have as well as learning about different artefacts that the museum has in its collection.

One of my favourite experiences while here was learning about the restoration and conservation of paperwork and parchment. I found it very interesting to see how they save the binding of books to allow for preservation of the object, so that it can go back on display for the public to see. I also found the conservation of letters very interesting, using Japanese paper and glues which are non-acidic. It was interesting that what they do is not permanent, so if in the future other methods of conservation are discovered, most of the work that they have done can be reversed.

I also really enjoyed the trip to the Botanic Garden. We had a chance to look at the tallest trees in their collection as well as the rarest ones, with a guide telling us what they were and where they came from. I was surprised to see quite how much the Garden was like a museum like the Fitzwilliam. Trees and plants were categorised into sections, and there were archives of plants which they can swap round with plants on show, much like at the Fitzwilliam. Overall, I found it very interesting to learn about the running of different types of museums and enjoyed looking and learning about everything in the collections.”
Katie Bearcroft

“This work experience has been so brilliant for me, as it has immersed me in a diverse range of subjects. It has been so different from the stereotypical image of work experience where repetitive jobs are delegated to the students – instead we have gained great insight into what working in the museums sector is like.

This subject was the focus of the SHARE Front of House Forum that we attended, which was held at the site of the soon to open National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket.

Here those that work ‘front of house’ at their respective museums met and discussed a variety of different projects. There was not just diversity in the scope of the projects being attempted, but also in the museums that had delegates attending the event- from Handel and Hendrix in London, a museum that includes the homes of both of these very contrasting musicians, to Gainsborough’s House museum. This variety allowed those attending to enrich their knowledge of the museum sector, due to the contrast between the attendees and where they represented.

We were able to learn about the exciting developments that were being undertaken by the museums as they looked to either expand or improve customer experience. We also were given insight on how to be successful when undertaking a project.

The event was very beneficial for all those that attended as we were able to see how the museum community as a whole was very close knit and worked together to improve. This event, like the entirety of the week has been incredibly instructive for me in developing my understanding of the museum sector as a whole.”
Tom Goodwin

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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