Curator Caitlin Peck advises students to look for variety in volunteering roles

Why volunteer

Julie Nightingale, 07.03.2019
Gaining hands-on experience in a museum while studying can prove invaluable in the job market
Volunteering outside of course hours is the best way to broaden your experience. Museums need willing hands for a variety of tasks – from involvement in the shop, marketing and basic conservation to working with databases to record newly arrived objects and packing items for transportation.

Master’s students can also find themselves being asked to take on more challenging research tasks once they have some volunteering experience.

Caitlin Peck, who is the curator at the Museum of East Anglian Life (Meal), Suffolk, packed as much volunteering into her year of studying as possible. The MA in museum and heritage development at Nottingham Trent University enabled Peck to volunteer to gain a range of skills to impress employers. She says she also put into practice the concepts she was learning in her lectures.

“I looked for variety and range when choosing additional volunteering opportunities, partly to see what I was best suited to and because so many museum roles now require you to be an all-rounder.”

Peck’s roles found her conserving and redisplaying a military history collection, co-producing an exhibition at Derby Museums and facilitating a pop-up museum in a shopping centre.

In her role at Meal, Peck advises any students she meets to volunteer as widely as possible to give them a headstart when looking for a job. She also points out that volunteering comes in many forms and can be fitted into the busiest schedule.

“For example, at the Museum of East Anglian Life, our ‘from home’ opportunities are popular with students. Whether you have a day or two a week available or just the odd hour here and there, find something that works for you. One-off involvement can be a good option if you are short on time or just looking for a taster.

“I found valuable volunteer roles while I was studying because of excellent signposting by my course leader. Your course team are the best resource you have, so use them.”

Tips on volunteering

  • You may begin your course with a clear idea of the type of role you want in the future, but try out all sorts of opportunities as workplaces require you to be flexible and versatile. You might just find a new passion.
  • When you talk to the institution, be clear what you hope to gain from the experience. They may be able to tailor the tasks they give you to support your studies.
  • Don’t feel obliged to stick to the area or task you are assigned to. Once you get to know the museum or gallery, ask around for opportunities in other aspects of the institutions.
  • Keep in touch with people you meet, swap business cards or details, follow them on Twitter and invite them to join you on LinkedIn. Networks are key to turning placements into a job.