29 May saw the start of the University of Cambridge Museums 2018 Work Experience Weeks. This week, we welcomed Ellie from Bishop’s Stortford College, Katie from Freeman College, Freya from Saffron Walden County Hugh School and Sally from Hills Road Sixth Form College.

We asked them some questions about their time with the University of Cambridge Museums, what they did and what they enjoyed the most.

Why did you want to do work experience with the University of Cambridge Museums?

Ellie: I was looking for work experience related to one of my possible degree choices, History of Art, to help me make a final decision on which course to take. Knowing that working in a museum was one the options in a career path after a History of Art degree, I was really interested in applying to work at the Fitzwilliam Museum. I also wanted to learn more about the types of role that are behind the scenes of the museum, such as conservation, as I knew little about the roles beyond the obvious.

One of the other things I loved about the work experience at the UCM was that I would visit two museums, which would allow me to see how different museums worked and learn about how roles varied depending on the type of the museum. It allowed me to handle different types of objects that I might not have been able to at just one museum.

I also liked the fact that I had to do a presentation at the end of the week, as I really struggle with confidence in presenting. I thought that it was great that I had the opportunity to talk about the objects I had learned about in the week, and it gave a really good conclusion to the week.

What was your favourite part of the week?

Katie: My entire experience at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Polar Museum was intriguing and enjoyable. However, the wonder that filled me when we were taken to some of the archives beneath the Fitzwilliam and the Polar Museum was incredible. The artefacts we were able to handle and learn about ranged from medieval armour and Japanese swords to a portable typewriter. The understanding of how these, and many other items, were used in their time as well as how and why they were preserved, truly fascinated me. I enjoyed my experience greatly with the two museums, and the archive exploration was just the tip of the iceberg.

What has surprised you about working at the museums?

Freya: Let me start by saying that I’ve always loved museums, they’re a wonderful day out, especially if you’re interested in lots of different things like I am, they’re free, and you can spend a full day just wandering round and learning new things. What surprised me though was the amount of work it took to run the museum, even on ‘average’ days, when there were no events on. I’d never noticed the amount of gallery attendants and security around the museums all the time; they’re constantly on hand to help, whether it be with information about the collections, or directions to the toilets! On top of these, all the people that I had the opportunity to work with are insanely qualified for their roles with numerous degrees, even up to PhDs! The number of different roles in the museums also shocked me, and how multi-faceted each role is; I now know what a museum technician is, and I had no idea before! In my time at the museum I was also completely enlightened as to how much of a balancing act running the place is; there’s such a conflict between active research, public display, object security, public security, and more. It’s incredible that museums like the Fitz work as well as they do! The week was such a wonderful experience for me, and I feel as if I’ve learnt so much that I would never have known without it!

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

Sally: My work experience placement gave me the chance to explore the career path I’m interested in and offered me a valuable insight into the day to day running of a museum. Students who want to understand the skills that go into this process, students who want to develop their confidence and meet new people, and students who want the opportunity to seek valuable advice about where their future plans might take them would all benefit from a placement like mine.

The variety of activities we took part in over the course of the week involved skills such as research, presenting and questioning professionals on their roles within the museum. I particularly enjoyed interacting with different members of the public in the galleries, which would help develop self-confidence and communication skills in students. I also loved talking to gallery staff and hearing their own stories; something which would be hugely beneficial to students who are potentially interested in a career in museums.

Work Experience at the University of Cambridge Museums allowed me to develop my confidence and further my learning over the course of just a week – I cannot recommend it enough to students who are not only interested in the arts, but also in pursuing a diverse range of employable skills in the future.