Tales of the unexpected

Will Heppa, 11.12.2017
A mentee’s perspective
As a visitor services assistant in my museum, I enjoy working with a diverse and friendly team but I felt that I wanted to move on to working more closely with social history collections, especially interpretation and engagement.

In the last year, my confidence in changing roles had taken a knock after a string of failed interviews. Taking the step to find a mentor from another museum through the Mentoring for All scheme seemed an ideal way to get advice on how I could boost my success in interviews and consider other options I had not explored.

Two weeks after submitting my written application, I had a telephone interview with two people from the Museums Association (MA). Although I was initially nervous at the prospect of a phone interview, it became easier when I began to talk about my motivations for working in museums and why I felt the support of a mentor from outside my museum service would help me progress in the sector. During the interview for the mentoring scheme, I talked about my passion for discovering the personal stories attached to objects and how they could be shared with a range of audiences.

In May of this year, I went to Birmingham for a mentee workshop and met my mentor for the first time. During the workshop, we discussed what the scheme involved and how to set goals and be an effective mentee. As the scheme was mentee-led, it was very much down to us mentees to set specific goals during the mentoring relationship and raise issues that we wanted to talk about.

After briefly meeting my mentor during lunch, we agreed to meet up soon for the first of four meetings in London. I am initially quite guarded when I first meet people but as my mentor was very easy to talk to, we soon managed to build up a good rapport. After establishing a friendship based on mutual respect, I felt it easier to open up about issues that I was facing at work and projects that she could help me on.

In the last few years, I have received lots of good advice from work colleagues but I wanted the coaching of a mentor from an outside organisation who didn’t have the same prejudices and ideas about museums that I had. It was refreshing to have a mentor who was so enthusiastic and supportive and buoyed by her support, I successfully applied for a secondment to be an assistant collections and learning curator at my museum.

Although the support of my mentor was invaluable, she later made me realise that throughout the scheme it was me that was pushing myself and setting goals. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of mentoring has been learning about myself through self-reflection. My mentor encouraged me to keep a self-reflection journal where I wrote about particular things I had done and considered what had worked well or badly and why that had been. This has really made me think about how I perceive myself, both positively and negatively, and how I might be perceived by others.

The Mentoring for All scheme has been a surprising and transformative experience for me. The last meeting with my mentor was a bit sad but we have promised to keep in touch and she is now helping me with my professional development plan for the future. While working in museums can sometimes be a frustrating experience, being a mentee has reminded me why I wanted to work in museums in the first place.

Will Heppa is the assistant collections and learning curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums