During our latest week of Work Experience we were joined by Kirsten from Swavesey Village College, Helena from Stour Valley Community School, Kyla from The King’s School Peterborough and Liam from St Ivo School. 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 (UCM)?

Kyla – I have always had an interest in dance, music, theatre and the visual arts; when I heard about this opportunity, I was really excited since work experience weeks in museums and galleries are incredibly rare. Moreover, normally with work experiences you’d be shadowing a professional and not getting that involved, but that was not the case with working with the University of Cambridge Museums (the sample timetable demonstrated how involved we’d be during the course of the week). Another important factor that drew me to this work experience was the fact that I would be able to meet actual seasoned professionals in the industry that would provide us with an extremely valuable insight that the public don’t normally get to see. There are so many jobs involved in museums and galleries that I wasn’t aware of, or didn’t even realise how significant they were to the industry. Not only did I want to broaden my knowledge academically but it would also improve my social and practical skills thorough researching, problem solving and communicating with the general public. Furthermore, I was so excited to be meeting people with similar interests. This week was such an enriching experience where I formed friendships on a personal and professional level; although all of us had different backgrounds, we gelled very well. To me, I believe working closely with the University of Cambridge Museums has ultimately enhanced my desire to work in the museum and gallery sector.

What was your favourite part of the week?

Kirsten – My favourite part of the work experience week was the opportunity we had as a group to go and explore the rabbit warren of departments and activity behind the face of the museum. Before coming to the Fitzwilliam, I had no clue as to what went on and the week really opened my eyes all that happens behind the scenes. We visited departments such as Conservation, Paintings, Drawings and Prints and Applied Arts. To be able to visit the basement and see amour and weapons from over 1000 years ago and to understand the thoroughness of making new frames and making sure artwork is able to go on display was incredible. At the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, a smaller museum, I had the opportunity to experience behind the scenes and be a part of it. The week was fantastic and truly educational for hopefully everyone who was involved.

What has surprised you about working at the museums?

Liam – We all fall into the habit of thinking museums are dusty old buildings that are full of artefacts and paintings but the truth is every museum is different and some museums are actually modern. Take Kettle’s Yard for example, I thought that it would be just another old gallery full of bland paintings but when I got there I was so wrong. Working there was really great because you always changed roles and you hardly ever did the same job. Sometimes you were at the front desk other times you would be in the galleries helping people understand the art. During my time there, Antony Gormley had an exhibition on trying to change people’s perception of art and it worked because it really modernised art for me and it made me realise that art is subjective and it doesn’t have to be an oil painting at all.

The Fitzwilliam Museum on the other hand was really busy. I never knew there were so many jobs in a museum that needed to be fulfilled. When someone says name me some jobs in a museum I will no longer say tour guide, guard, receptionist or cleaner. The Fitzwilliam had someone who would look after the artefacts and paintings to make sure pests would not reach them as well as keep them at the right temperature so the objects lasted. I really enjoy my time at the Fitzwilliam museum as it really made me open my eyes.

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

Helena – I would recommend doing work experience at the University of Cambridge Museums to anyone and everyone. It is completely different to what most people tend to do for work experience. It is also completely different to the stereotypical idea we have of working at a museum, where we typically think it’s just curators, cleaners and tour guides. My week at work experience included mystery shopping, security, framing, events management, removing, organising, databases, applied arts, conservation and front of house. This isn’t even all the areas of work. It’s in a lovely location where you get to meet new people and it opens your mind to new future jobs and career paths.