Julie Nightingale, 07.03.2019
What past and present alumni say about choosing a course
Kate Daly experienced mild fomo (fear of missing out) when she undertook the MA in museum studies at the University of Leicester
“I worked part-time and it took me a while to find a work-life balance,” Daly says.
“This was made more difficult by the wonderful and diverse module options available, which made it difficult to choose which ones to study. I didn’t want to miss anything.”
Daly, who is now the visitor experience manager at the Port Sunlight Village Trust estate on Merseyside, was drawn to the course because of the depth of its teaching.
“It offered an exciting new approach to the study of museums and heritage from leading practitioners in their field,” Daly says. “The forward-thinking research and the study of contentious topics made it all the more appealing.
“The varied approach of how each module was taught broke the traditional teaching mould and enabled me to gain hands-on experience, engage with leading pioneers and visit multiple museums across England.”
Daly says her time in Leicester was the ideal preparation for her job. “It taught me about the powerful role that visitors and communities play in museums and heritage sites. That was useful as I am now expanding our communication channels, including digital campaigns, to attract and engage new audiences to experience the amazing legacy of the industrialist and philanthropist William Lever and the village he built for his workers.”
She advises students to volunteer as much as possible to find out where their passion lies and use that as a platform for selecting a course to study.
“Choosing a course that enables you to explore and obtain practical experience is essential,” she says. “Make sure you find one that’s diverse, that challenges your thinking and provides opportunities to visit a range of inspirational institutions.”
Erin Newman is on a year-long internship as an archivist at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, US, a colonial-style resort built as a health retreat for the rich and famous. It was also inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in the film The Shining. Newman’s route into the heritage sector was less intimidating – the 2017-18 museum studies MA at the University of Leicester
“I had always wanted to study, live and work abroad, and the museum studies department’s reputation was also a huge factor.
"I was fortunate enough to meet an alumnus who was willing to answer any questions I had about studying and living abroad,” says Newman, an undergraduate history major who also worked as project co-ordinator at the Amzie Moore House Museum and Interpretive Center, which is dedicated to the civil rights activist in Mississippi.
“As well as learning about museums, you get to make friends from all around the world.”
She adds: “The biggest challenge was finding time for dissertation writing; you have days free during nice weather, but you have to ensure you’re getting to the library to work. You can also face social isolation, so you must plan some movie nights or days out with friends for a mental break.”
Since undertaking the course, Newman has been inspired to pay special attention to accessibility issues, digital interactives and object environments as museums embrace new thinking in their search for fresh audiences. She recommends that students should research courses they are considering and speak to alumni about their experiences.
“I know alumni love to promote our programmes,” says Newman. “Also, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone: move to a new place so that you can have an adventure in your down time.”
Having completed an MSc in care of collections at Cardiff University, William Tregaskes is putting his knowledge to good use in a vital, though often undervalued, role
Tregaskes is the museum coordinator at the Cynon Valley Museum Trust, a local history museum and art galleries in Aberdare, South Wales, where his front-of-house expertise comes in handy to increase the use and financial sustainability of the small institution.
“The course and working front-of-house instilled a sense of reality about the sector in me, which has been crucial,” he says.
“The skills from studying and working have enabled me to fulfil the diverse requirements a small museum brings. As front-of-house, you are the interface between museums and people. Leading tours, generating income and making heritage more accessible mean you experience the pressures placed on museums to sell more, welcome more and become accessible all at once.”
Tregaskes – also the co-founder of the Front-of-House Network for museum professionals – selected his master’s course to complement his undergraduate degree. “I looked for something that would give me practical skills and an insight into the museum world,” he says.
He supplemented his coursework with front-of-house work at the Roman Baths in Bath and a volunteer placement with the preventive conservation team at National Museum Wales. Tregaskes advises students to keep their options open as he did.
“Each situation is unique,” he says. “There are different routes into the sector and further education is one of them, but don’t discount anything. Get involved in the sector, join professional groups, meet new people and access the free training available to find what you love.”
After spending time in museums for her undergraduate degree in classics, Lucy Ward knew she wanted to work in the cultural sector in some capacity
After an internship in the education department at the Wallace Collection, London, as part of her MA in museum and gallery studies at Kingston University, Ward knew exactly where her future lay.
She says the chance to gain real-life work experience was one of the plus points of her course, which also gave her volunteering opportunities at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive and on a dementia programme at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
“The course was so flexible,” says Ward, who is in her first full-time job as learning officer at Brooklands Museum, Surrey. “Although each module covered a different subject, I was able to adapt the assignments to suit my interest in museum learning. As a result, I finished my degree with a portfolio of educational resources and skills to further my career.”
She says the hardest part of the course was the major project. “While it was a great opportunity to delve into one chosen subject, the freedom of the project was daunting and I found narrowing down my ideas difficult,” she says.
“But learning about the dynamics of the different departments in museums and how they work together helped me in my current role. I am using the research skills I gained during my major project when developing new workshops and I use the literature surrounding museum learning in presentations when training volunteers.”
Ward advises fellow students to choose a course that offers a broad range of opportunities.
“The ability to network with other institutions and create content for museum professionals was an invaluable experience for me. Make sure the course offers you flexibility in the direction of your research and the opportunity to explore the different avenues in museums.”