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 collections in Cambridge – this week it was the Whipple Museum of the History of Science and the Museum of Technology.
The week from Monday 10 July to Friday 14 July was the last of our four summer Work Experience Weeks. Four students were chosen from those who applied. At the start of the week, we presented them with four questions and asked each of them to answer one. Below are their responses.
Why did you want to do work experience with the University Of Cambridge Museums?
When I was looking for work experience, I wanted to do something that would help give me an experience of working in a museum and seeing a possible career path with a history degree. The University of Cambridge Museums offered me the chance to see a variety of roles in the museum – it’s not just curating! Being able to work in the Fitzwilliam Museum, I could see the complex runnings of the Museum, including the very important financial aspect of a museum.
Rather than just staying in one museum, the work experience allowed me to work in two museums which was a massive bonus. I had the chance to spend a couple of days in the Whipple Museum which is considerably smaller than the Fitzwilliam but gave a completely new insight into a museum. Whilst there, I could experience the life in a museum on a smaller scale and I was able to look at the artefacts in closer detail, which was very exciting.
Therefore, doing my work experience with the University of Cambridge Museums allowed me to explore and learn about the industry from a variety of different viewpoints. Being able to experience two very different museums gave me the opportunity to try a range of activities, including the chance to curate my own collection. This work experience has definitely given me an insight into the different roles within a museum, and an opportunity to discover and see where a degree in history can take you.
Sophia Eaton, Welwyn Garden City.
What has surprised you about working at the museums?
One element that has certainly surprised me is the amount of objects held behind-the-scenes in stores. This occurred to me not only at the Fitzwilliam, where we were able to venture into rooms visitors would have no idea existed, but also at the Whipple Museum.
I really loved having the chance to see parts of the museum you don’t often witness. No doubt it made me realise the scale of collections! Seeing this made me appreciate exhibitions more, especially as I was given the opportunity to co-curate a case at the Whipple. Searching through the vast collections gave me a diverse, enjoyable perspective.
Although the Fitzwilliam and Whipple differ largely in size and scale, both contain a huge amount of collection space. For me the range and differences between museums was definitely brought to light as the week progressed.
Another element that surprised me was the extent of planning that goes into each event and exhibition. We were given the opportunity to imagine and plan our own event, considering all the necessary plans. Events that take place at the University of Cambridge Museums are scheduled very far in advance, and it was intriguing to glimpse all the details being put into place.
Sienna James, Bury St Edmunds.
What was your favourite part of the work experience?
I am a massive enthusiast for organisation and planning and so it is unsurprising, really, that my favourite part of the week was learning about events organisation at the Fitzwilliam Museum with Grace Hadley. I left the room feeling as though I may now have an idea of where my passions lie and what careers I should seek out. It was creative, exciting and it felt very important even though the plans we’d been assigned to make were for fictional events.
Another part of the week I’d say was my favourite was the presentations we made at the end, they were titled “Curating a Personal Story”. It was lovely to hear other students’ knowledge and account of our week. The questions asked by the museum staff were interesting and engaging and it was genuinely a really fun time.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to explore careers in a museum because it gave me another perspective. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t at least enjoy one aspect of a museum because of the variety of positions and roles.
Madeleine Websdale, Ely.
Why should other students take part in work experience at the University of Cambridge Museums?
Quite simply (and I know how very cliché this will sound but) because it’s a fantastic opportunity. Cambridge is one of the leading universities globally in terms of research and prestige and for any potential history, art or science undergraduates, the opportunity to work in any of the UCMs is too good an opportunity to pass up. However, it is not only the prestige and collections of the institutions you will access to but the programme itself which makes the experience so valuable. The scope of the programme will provide any student with a completely new understanding of the range of roles available in a career in museums from conservation and care to finance and marketing.
Over the week you’ll meet with a range of people from a huge range of backgrounds all working within different roles in the museum showing how accessible museum work can be. Not only this, but you’ll gain a number of transferable skills to take away with you even if you decide museums aren’t for you. These skills can be anything from public speaking to completing a risk assessment to how to conduct independent research effectively.
It’s not only about the Fitzwilliam however, as through the programme you gain work experience in not one but two museums under the UCM banner. Therefore, through the placement you essentially gain exposure to two different working environments. I cannot speak highly enough of this placement which provides you with work experience in multiple sectors whilst not even seeming like work!!
Matty Whelan, Cambridge.
The University of Cambridge Museums runs two work experience programmes – taster days throughout the year, and summer work experience weeks. Find out how you can get involved on our website.