The University of Glasgow offers placements in the Hunterian

Prime projects

Julie Nightongale, 07.03.2019
Placements offer students the chance to get stuck into real-life museum work

A chance to work with collections alongside curators and other museum and gallery staff on live projects such as exhibitions and events can be one of the most appealing elements of a course.

Universities have built partnerships with local museums, which give students an authentic experience of working on a creative project to real deadlines with, in some cases, the work forming part of course assessments.

Typical examples include the MA in curating with professional placement at the University of Essex, where students focus on devising and curating exhibitions, which includes working on a show for the on-site Art Exchange gallery.

The University of Leeds’s Mastering the Museum project sees museum studies students working with the university’s Library Galleries to curate exhibitions, which can range from the history of public art on campus to legacies of the first world war.

At the University of Glasgow, students on the MSc in museum education undertake a placement that requires them to carry out a project with a museum. The university runs the Hunterian museum and art gallery and has links with other institutions including Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, National Trust Scotland, Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh and the V&A Dundee.

The placement provides the material for one assessment, which comprises a presentation and a 3,000-word essay.

“The placement is an invaluable feature of the programme as it provides an opportunity for embedding theory in practice,” says Maggie Jago, the director of postgraduate taught programmes at the University of Glasgow. “It enables students to apply theoretical knowledge in real-life museum contexts.

“Learning about the practices that underpin day-to-day museum life, collaborating with staff and developing experiences for the public help create a more skilled graduate.”

At Nottingham Trent University, students on the MA in museum and heritage development course have had the chance to work on projects with subject matter ranging from clocks to cricket balls.

As part of a dedicated practice module, students have helped to develop the collection store at the British Horological Institute and recorded objects for a new heritage store at the Trent Bridge cricket ground.

The work helps them develop core heritage competencies – such as handling, packing and transporting items, marketing and preventative conservation – while also benefiting the organisation. The work is assessed by the course leader.

Trent Bridge has applied for Accreditation (recognition that its collection meets national standards) for its collection. The collection includes objects such as paintings, kit and equipment associated with famous names – for example, the boots of Nottinghamshire and England fast bowler Harold Larwood – and objects that relate to unsung heroes of club cricket.

Students worked on handling and transporting objects, preventative conservation and documentation, and evidenced their activity against national occupational standards. They received training from Museum Development East Midlands.

“A previous student did a spec for us on how to convert a conference room to a museum Accreditation-standard store,” says Steve LeMottee, the heritage officer at Trent Bridge.

“The club did that over the winter and last year’s students told us how they would recommend it was laid out. This year’s will be focusing on the paintings in the collection.”

This work is valuable to both parties, providing Trent Bridge with key skills and the students with an opportunity to put their learning into practice.

“The heritage operation at Trent Bridge is quite new and we lack some museum skills – we’d never heard of a smoke sponge before,” says LeMottee. “So we are learning about collections management from the students, which will help us on our journey towards Accreditation.”