Best practice

01.03.2017
Who the teachers are, how they teach, and experience outside class are as important as course content
How to choose the right museum studies course

The first step in the process is carefully selecting the right programme. In the past, the quality of programmes was assessed by a validating scheme, run by the now defunct Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation. Now, it is down to students to ensure the course they choose is well regarded by employers, meets their career needs and is well supported and challenging.

There has been a marked increase in the number and type of courses available, so research is essential. Here is some guidance to help you decide:

What kind of course?

First consider whether you want to study full-time or part-time, on campus or via distance learning. This publication has a list of courses (p14-p18), but note that courses with the same name do not necessarily offer the same content, so go through them individually.

Consult people in the industry
 

Speak to colleagues from your paid or voluntary work to see what they look for. It might also be worth going to your ideal institution to see what its requirements are.

Talk to students
 
They will give you an honest opinion about what it is like to study there. Universities should be able to put you in touch.

Once you have an idea of the subject you want to study and where, contact the universities. Go to open days or make appointments to meet people.

Here are some important questions to ask universities:

- Where are recent graduates working and in what roles?

You don’t just want a list of museums – detailed information about students is key, and if they cannot provide this it suggests they are not well informed about the job market. Ask if previous students have achieved the role you want to.

- Who teaches the course?

Research the lecturers – do they meet your expectations? Ideally, they should be active in the sector and be publishing influential research.
 
- What connections does the university have?
 
The best programmes will have close links with museums in the UK and overseas, whose staff help design and deliver the courses. These collaborations should ensure a high standard of visiting lecturers, placement in host organisations and study visits – find out about these.

- What support is offered to students?
 
Ask if there is a combination of academic and practical assignments, and find out what they are. Also, enquire about the support given to progress individual development.

- What do the fees cover?
 
Study visits to museums and galleries should be incorporated into the course – find out how frequent these are and if there are additional costs. It is also worth knowing about visiting lecturers in the programme.

Where to go

The potential opportunities during study, as well as after, should heavily influence your decision-making. Geographical location can be as important as university reputation when it comes to work placement-heavy courses such as museums studies. Universities often have strong links with galleries in their city, so placements are more than likely to be at these.

Local museums

Ensuring that you have an interest in the museums near the university should be a key factor. While at university, you’re likely to create a network of contacts in the area, which could get you your first job, so it would be good to know if the city is one where you would like to work.

Research

It is important to research not only how many museums there are in a university’s location and whether they are a good fit for you, but also whether they take on student placements and have a good history of employing graduates. Even if a university course looks like a great fit for you, if it is in a city where museum employment is scarce, it may be worth reconsidering.

How to get on the course you want

The best courses are competitive so you must sell yourself in the application and the interview.

The application form

Make the most of the section that asks why you want to join a particular course. Show that you are knowledgeable about individual modules and pick out some you think could improve your skillset. It is not enough just to say you have a passion for museums, you must get across what you hope to get out of the course and what you will bring to the profession.

Make sure you highlight any volunteer or paid work you have done or are doing in a museum, gallery or related cultural organisation.

Keep yourself well informed

An impressive candidate stands out because they have a working knowledge of, and interest in, the industry. This can be achieved by reading Museums Journal, newspapers and blogs. Course leaders might not expect applicants to have read huge amounts of museum theory, but they will probably expect them to have some understanding of what’s going on in the industry.

The interview

Not all courses ask for an interview but if they do, come prepared and know your CV inside out. Some interviewers may ask you to go into detail about your work experience.
Be prepared to be challenged about your ideas and don’t be afraid to stick up for what you believe in. Remember that the interviewer knows nothing about you so do not leave out crucial details about yourself.

Work experience is still key

You will get more out of the course if you have work experience, but also think about transferable skills from other sectors that you have been involved in.

Requirements will vary

Some universities expect you to have worked in museums before you apply to a course, some are happy for you to do work experience the summer before the course starts.

Visit as many museums as you can

This will show that you have a genuine interest in the sector and will broaden your understanding of museums.

Why a museum studies course could get you to where you want to go

Prospective employers recognise that a good course enhances your skills and knowledge, and extends your practical experience. Although you are not guaranteed a job after your course, there are a number of ways in which it can help you get ahead.

- A master’s course will help you to grow your professional networks and understand the sector better.
- It can get you on the shortlist for jobs and may give you an edge over other candidates with similar experience.
- Beyond practical skills, a course will deepen your critical thinking about museums and how they can develop.
- A master’s course could also be the gateway to a career in academia if you decide to do a PhD later.

Links

Courses guide and listings (pdf)


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