Students are actively encouraged to take advantage of work placements in museums offered by university courses, regardless of whether the experience is an assessed part of a final degree.
Some courses, such as Ulster University’s cultural heritage and museum studies programme, automatically set up placements for all students with a local museum or heritage site. Elsewhere, students make their own arrangements.
The tasks undertaken during a placement can vary, but a good experience can mean working on a live project – an exhibition, research project or practical initiative that will bring tangible benefits to the museum.
In Cardiff, students on the university’s MScs in care of collections and conservation science, for example, use Firing Line: Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier as a live-action case study.
The students get experience of how to interact professionally and how to put their points across.
“They use the museum to answer specific questions set for them by the lecturer, utilising objects in our collection,” says curator Rachel Adams. “A typical task may be to look at relative humidity or pollutants in the museum.
“They are given our environmental data and policies and go off in different groups with monitoring equipment, reporting their findings back to the museum management team.”
The investigation takes a day and students prepare written reports over the term. Improvements put in place as a result of the research have included the switch to a new style of pest management after students pinpointed an issue with the insect traps then in use.
“The students recommended using cassette traps, rather than the blunder traps we had been using – and they turned out to be much more effective,” says Adams.
Practising their skills
Beyond insect-related problem-solving skills, the project work – which contributes towards the final degree – enables students to practice their wider skills, she adds.
“They are told to act as professional conservation consultants, so when the management team gathers at the end of the investigation, the students present to us as though we are a client.
“The students get experience of how to interact professionally and how to put their points across, and we get a great perspective on environmental monitoring.”