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 museums in Cambridge – this week it was the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Polar Museum.

The week from Tuesday 30 May to Friday 2 June was the first 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?

I’ve always had a love for history and archaeology since being introduced to it in primary school and taking it at A level. For an aspiring historian a work experience opportunity at an amazing museum such as the Fitzwilliam was an ideal and rare opportunity that I just had to take. While the idea of working within a university as prestigious as Cambridge was rather intimidating, I knew I would have an amazing experience and get to learn a range of skills and gain knowledge nowhere else could give me. History and the subjects surrounding it, such as anthropology and archaeology, are topics I’d love to learn more about in the future at university and hopefully as part of my career. Naturally, the opportunity to take part in a work experience that would open so many doors into those fields seemed like a great step in the right direction.

Lucy Fox. Chellaston Academy

What has surprised you about working at the museums?

My week at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) has been absolutely packed with experiences a museum-lover like me could only wish for – passing through a corridor and seeing an Egyptian sarcophagus in a research room, watching the restoration of an 8th century manuscript, and even visiting the roof of the Fitzwilliam itself. However, what’s really surprised me the most is the inter-connectivity of the museums, and the fluidity with which staff move between museums to work and conduct research. I think that people often believe a museum worker will spend all of their time in one room at one site, all day every day, but it’s really not the case with University of Cambridge Museums.

Another surprising aspect of working at the museums was the fact that, although each site varies in the way they do things, it’s just like any other job. You’ll meet new people, chat about nonsense in the staff room over tea and biscuits, and even organise out-of-work events to bring the community together. One event that really intrigued me was the Bake Off between the museums and their staff, each competing to make their baked goods look exactly like an ancient artefact (my personal favourite was Sconehenge at MAA; can’t wait to see what they do next). This week really opened my eyes, and I definitely have a different view of museums to when I started.

Oliver Hancock. Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge.

What was your favourite part of the work experience?

We’ve managed to do a lot of amazing things on this work experience, which makes it very difficult to choose. I enjoyed going up onto the roof of the Fitzwilliam Museum, for which we filled out a risk assessment (of course). We also had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at various museums, and visit the Manuscripts Conservator at the Fitzwilliam, Edward Cheese. This was a particularly special visit, as we were able to see an 8th century book in the midst of conservation. My favourite thing overall, was the opportunity to sit in on a meeting between the curator of the Polar Museum, and various curators from Birmingham. Their passion for equality and representation was inspirational, and it was incredibly interesting to learn about the sheer time and effort that goes into many temporary exhibitions.

Rebecca Sheng. The Perse.

Why should other students take part in work experience at the University of Cambridge Museums?

The work experience gives you a behind the scenes look into museum life and shows you what sort of jobs are available. You have the opportunity to speak to and question all the different people who work there doing a variety of jobs. It covers a wide range of interests, for example if you are interested in history, science or museums in general then this work experience gives you a real insight into the type of career that you could do in this area. Whether you’re interested in conservation, archaeology, the classics or general curating there’s someone you can talk to and ask them how they got their job and what it involves. So, you have more of an idea of whether or not you want to do that when you’re older. As well as looking at the jobs, you get to look around the museums and learn about how museums need to consider the ethical, political and practical impact of their displays, which is very interesting and something most people wouldn’t have ever thought of. You see how the arrangement of objects on display has to be well thought out to make sure it not only has the perfect conditions to prevent damage, but also that it’s presented in a factual, un-opinionated way. So, if you are intrigued by what goes on in museums or just love history then this work experience is a great opportunity to find out more.

Elizabeth Haslam. Leventhorpe, Sawbridgeworth

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.