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 Museum of Classical Archaeology and University Library.

The week from Monday 26 to Friday 30 June was the second 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 decided to apply for work experience with the University of Cambridge Museums because of my love of history and the arts. By gaining work experience with the museums I knew that I would be afforded a fantastic opportunity to learn even more about my favourite historical periods and increase my knowledge and awareness of world history, through the extremely unique and varied world-wide collections.

I am considering working as a Curator in a museum as a possible career; therefore I really wanted to explore the more authentic side to museum life, which visitors cannot perceive on a daily basis. Last year I participated in a Work Experience Taster Day at the Fitzwilliam Museum; this day left me with no doubt that I would like to undertake a more detailed and exploratory Work Experience Week here. I was so enthusiastic to apply after the Taster Day as all the staff from the University of Cambridge Museums were incredibly helpful, informative and hospitable. In addition I have participated in work experience at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York.  Observing the running of a small museum inspired me to apply for work experience at the Fitzwilliam Museum, so I could see even more diversity within collections and to gain an insight into the running of a larger and world recognised museum.

The welcome and support from everyone at the Fitzwilliam Museum and University Library has been incredible, and I have found this opportunity so interesting and enjoyable.

Lily Kirkby. St Peter’s School, York

What has surprised you about working at the museums?

After having spent an arduous but fascinating week at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Classical Archaeology, I was struck first by the complexity of the system that works to run a museum. I had never before really given a thought to the idea that so many different departments could exist in a museum, from manuscript conservation to pest control. I think that this has allowed me to view a museum in a different light: it is in no way a dusty building full of static objects (as some may think), but a dynamic, constantly changing space which reflects its current world and time.

Another surprise for me was the impression I was left with of an utterly friendly, normal atmosphere created amongst the museum staff. This friendly feeling was against the backdrop of weird and wonderful objects, paintings and artefacts, which meant that it always felt like there could be something exciting waiting just around the corner: museum life felt far from predictable!

Eli Rubiés. Parkside Sixth Form College, Cambridge

What was your favourite part of the work experience?

My favourite part of the week wasn’t one specific event, but a recurring one. I really liked being able to see areas of the museum which an ordinary visitor wouldn’t normally see. For example, on Thursday we were allowed to look at some Ancient Egyptian papyri. The experience was made even more rewarding by the fact that we saw them before the exhibition opened to the public. However, the most surreal moment was on the first day. The museum was closed to the public, so we had the opportunity to walk around an empty, echoing museum; it felt like we were being allowed into someone’s private art collection. I live in Cambridgeshire so I’ve been to the Fitzwilliam Museum several times before, both as a small child and as a teenager. But nearly every time I’ve visited on my school holidays, it has always been crowded with visitors and groups of primary school children. I was particularly surprised to see priceless works of art being slung under people’s arms as they were moved to different locations. I say ‘slung’, but they were being careful with them; it’s just that you never usually see paintings being carried around, especially world-famous ones you might see in school textbooks.

Sophia Andrews. The Kings School, Peterborough

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

The work experience is a fantastic opportunity to gain a unique behind the scenes look at the workings of the University of Cambridge Museums. The experience showcases a large variety of jobs available within museums, many that I didn’t know existed. It gives students the opportunity to discover careers that they might not have considered before. It’s also incredibly useful to meet all the interesting (and very friendly) people who work in the museums. Finding out about the paths they took to get into their careers is very beneficial. It was also great for us to talk to people who have varying perspectives on the museum and who work at different levels within the museum. Students are able to visit many different departments across the Museums including applied arts, security, antiquities, events, front of house and others, really giving us a very broad (but also in depth) look at potential options for our futures.  We gained hands on experience of being part of the inner workings of the museum and really getting to know it well over the course of a week. The experience is of course very useful, but mostly I’d encourage other students to take part because it’s been a really enjoyable week for me; I’ve met amazing people, grown in confidence and learnt a lot.

Florence Austin. Hills Road Sixth Form College, 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.