The rollercoaster that has been 2020…

Since finishing the 12 days of blogmas, life hasn’t exactly been how I pictured it would be! The year started with my Museum Traineeship Application being rejected, which led to a lot of introspection and the realisation that not only did I not have ‘what it takes’ to work for a museum in a paid capacity, but that I genuinely enjoyed and missed volunteering. I spoke to staff at the Museum of Archaology and Anthropology and enrolled as a Front of House volunteer, volunteering on a more regular basis.

“Great! I can volunteer every week!”, I excitedly thought… And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened…

I’ve not been in any museum since mid-March. The MAA isn’t reopening until the new academic year, and my capacity to volunteer will entirely depend on whether it is safe for me – as someone with compromised immunity – to return.

I’ve ‘met up’ virtually, over Zoom, with the rest of the team on a couple of occasions whilst in self-isolation, which has been lovely… but I do miss museum-ing. And yet, I have not had the time to dedicate to much ‘virtual’ museum engagement! I’ve been working full-time as a member of staff within the University of Cambridge; I started in my office-based role in February, only to end up working from home since mid-March! My job has been really fulfilling, but has left me feeling completely drained at times. The little spare time I’ve had has been filled with online courses, skyping my family, growing-my-own and attempting to stay sane by keeping life ticking over as ‘normally’ as possible – cooking, cleaning, gardening, and so on.

It has been a *very* strange time. I’m actually relatively surprised by how well I’ve coped, given how I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past. It’s been far from easy, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve not become a total hermit, or picked up a bad habit, or completely buckled under the pressure of living every day in a contained environment. There were a couple of occassions when times were particularly tough: I had a real crisis of self-esteem with my work, because isolation and reduced communication meant I struggled to position myself within the team; and my partner and I were meant to be going on holiday to Hawaii – a trip that was two years in the making – having not holidayed together since 2018, but that trip was inevitably cancelled. I know, such a hard life... I’ve felt very lucky, in fact, to live in Cambridge and have the luxury of a nice garden and the support of a great partner… I know many others have not been so lucky…

So, what does this mean going forward? I *hope* to keep working broadly within education, and I *hope* that the pandemic improves to the point where, at the very least, people are safer than they have been. I’m not where I imagined I would be a year ago, when I graduated. I don’t have a museum *job* and I don’t have control over my career. But, actually, I’m doing okay. I’m looking forward to eventually returning to volunteer at the MAA. I’m looking forward to seeing where this bonkers rollercoaster will take me next. I’m looking forward to making it out the other end of…*this*.

I hope people are keeping safe and well. Please, continue to take care.

10 Books I’ll Be Reading in 2020

Throughout my degree, and since graduating, I have found it difficult to motivate myself to read for leisure. This is partly because I now find it more time and energy consuming to read than I once did, but it is also due to the link I’ve made in my brain between reading and studying. For some time now, I have been wanting to get back into the habit of reading regularly; I love book shopping and keep buying exciting-looking books in the hope they’ll peak my interest. And now I am putting my foot down. I will not be buying any more books until I have read the ones I already own. And so, here is a list of 10 books that I have bought and that I am yet to read but which I *will* be reading this year. My hope is that I can manage to read at least one book a month, at least to begin with… and to enjoy it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1. ‘There is no Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years’ – Mike Berners-Lee (Non-Fiction/Manifesto): “We have the chance to live better than ever. But, as humans become ever more powerful, can we avoid blundering into disaster?” I’ve felt very upset and incredibly powerless in recent days, weeks and months with regard to global warming; it’s hard to know what to do, and if anything you can do will actually make a difference. I hope that this sheds some light on the topic and makes me feel empowered, rather than depressed…
  2. ‘Daily Rituals: Women at Work’ – Mason Currey (Non-Fiction/Biography): Currey’s book collates information about a host of inspirational women, from Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Bronte to Coco Chanel and Patti Smith, exploring their day-to-day lives and how they found time and got to work. This unsurprisingly appealed to the feminist in me.
  3. ‘Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking’ – Matthew Syed (Non-Fiction/Thought-Piece): “Success is no longer just about talent, or knowledge or skill. Today, it is also about freeing ourselves from the blinkers and blind spots that beset us all, and harnessing a critical new ingredient: cognitive diversity.” This intriguing thought-piece was a gift from my brother, who works in Mental Health and has ADHD and Aspergers, and who I love to bits. He hoped this book would help me to feel proud about thinking outside the box, and I’m certainly sure it will.
  4. ‘Kindfulness’ – Padraig O’Morain (Self-Help): “True self-care starts inside – with dropping the search for that ‘perfect’ persob and giving the gift of compassion to your imperfect self.” This book, featuring a 7-day course in self-compassion, is written by psycholtherapist, counsellor and former health correspondent of The Irish Times, Padraig O’Morain. Worth a try, eh?
  5. ‘Metamorphosis & Other Stories’ – Franz Kafka (Fiction): ‘Metamorphosis’ has been on my radar for a long time, and I have wanted to read it for about 6 years. The pre-war modern classic is perhaps Kafka’s most well-know works and whilst I would love for my German to be good enough to read this in its original language, the psychological and sociological subtexts are perhaps best processed in my mother-tongue.
  6. ‘Civilisations’ – Mary Beard (Non-Fiction): Part One, ‘How do we look?’ and Part Two, ‘The Eye of Faith’ form part of ‘Civilisations’, which has been made into a BBC Documentary series, presented by Mary Beard herself. I have resisted the temptation to watch the series before I have read the book, so the sooner I read this, the better!
  7. ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ – Robin Hobb (Fiction): “The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is dispised.” This story tells of Fitz’s training to become an assassin and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. This is one of my partner’s favourite books, but the copy is my own.
  8. ‘In Patagonia’ – Bruce Chatwin (Travel-writing): A gift from my parents, this book details Chatwin’s travels in southern Argentina and Chile. I was unable to go to Patagonia during my Year Abroad, but have every intention of returning one day. Maybe this book will catalyse that…?
  9. ‘The Skills: From First Job to Dream Job, What Every Woman Needs to Know’ – Mishal Husain (Non-Fiction/Memoire): I saw this book on a shelf with other ‘career-advice’ texts. I picked it up out of surprise that Mishal Husian had found the time to write a book, and bought it because it is one of the handful of candid texts I have seen on the topic. With chapter breakdowns such as “My journey to this book. Overcoming doubt. Finding my courage” and “Managing the different elements of your life. Banishing guilt. Thinking long-term”, this book seems at first glance to be both informative and reassuring. In Clare Balding’s words, “I wish I’d been able to read this when I was 20.”
  10. ‘Tidelands’ – Philippa Gregory (Fiction): “Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast”. Even though this story is set in Sussex, its cover design and blurb instantly conjured images of the Essex countryside where I grew up… I look forward to reading Gregory’s take on rural coastal life.

I did a Museum Traineeship Application

As of literally 15 minutes ago (23:30 GMT), I have applied for a Museum Traineeship! My brain is buzzing and I think it is an important thing to post about, so I have included a couple of my answers to some of the application questions below (adapted and anonymised, of course). Hopefully, this will help anyone who is applying for entry-level museum roles to prepare for the sorts of questions you may be asked. Regardless of the outcome, I will share any feedback I receive from my application in a future post.

*****

Why do you want to work in museums?
From a young age, museums have played an important role in my life. As a child, museum visits engaged me intellectually and emotionally as they gave me so much material to connect with and think about. Museums can be loud, exciting and stimulating, but they can also be quiet places of reflection. When the real world of the here and now gets a bit too much, museums offer a refuge where you can distance yourself. Objects from the distant past are presented in a way that makes them seem otherworldly, intriguing and amazing, whilst objects taken from the recent past or present day possess a detached quality when placed in a museum, becoming objects you can analyse and think about.

My interest in social history and anthropology in particular is what led me to study Modern and Medieval Languages; when I applied to university, I was unaware that Anthropology existed as a discipline, but knew that I wanted to study a subject that would help me to further engage with the world around me. During my degree, I spent a year working abroad; I went to South America with the intention of gaining teaching experience whilst absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. I enjoyed the
experiences I had of teaching, but I now know that I do not want to be a school teacher, and this realisation has led me to focus my attention towards Arts & Heritage Education.
I successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge in 2018. I work one-off events and lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that
would normally be in storage or behind cases – something that I would have loved as a child. I help run activities that encourage children to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my studies to help them learn about world heritage.

Through my volunteer work, I have come to appreciate that museums are the happy meeting point of many things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education and outreach, people, and places. I believe cultural heritage – our own, and that of others – is something that should be accessible regardless of income, social status, gender, race, health issues or mother-tongue. Culture is something that everyone has and should have the ability to understand and explore. I am passionate about promoting access to cultural heritage, and I can achieve this through working in museums.

How do you feel you would benefit from the Traineeship?
I believe that the traineeship would provide me with a springboard for a career in the Arts & Heritage sector as a Museum Professional. I have found that finding work in the sector is extremely difficult without a Masters degree, and this is something that I am unable to carry out due to the financial and health implications it would have for me. However, because I have done a Bachelors degree, I cannot qualify for schoolleavers programmes or apprenticeships. I am also not in a financial position where I can work as a full-time volunteer, and so I feel that I am now stuck in a middle ground where museums are reluctant to employ me. This traineeship, however, would offer me the opportunity to learn about museum work in depth, regardless of otherwise limiting factors. The accessibility of the scheme mirrors that which I would hope to encourage within museums themselves, as someone who is passionate about promoting access to cultural heritage.

The traineeship would also give me the opportunity to learn alongside others stepping into the Arts & Heritage sector. Whilst I would be working independently in a designated role at an assigned museum, I would have the chance to be able to meet and talk to other trainees as we all progress through the traineeship together. In my experience, the museum community is incredibly supportive; Museum Hour – a twitter phenomenon where people come together from the museum sector to discuss topically issues online for an hour a week – has prompted so much warmth and comfort; sometimes, knowing you’re not alone in your concerns and struggles – whether related to finding a job or coping with issues at work – is all that is needed to feel positive about your career.

I am determined to pursue a career as a Museum Professional, and the opportunities for self-development this traineeship will provide me with are unquestionable. I am keen to learn, and enjoy learning, so a traineeship comprising of a combination of on-the-job, supported and independent learning is an ideal format for me. Through self-development, I believe that I will gain the confidence to make a real difference within the Arts & Heritage sector in the future.

What qualities and skills can you bring to a trainee post?
Initiative, Independence and Drive: During my university study, I freelanced as a self employed Tutor, working 20 hrs/week on average. I also sought out and completed online courses as part of my professional development, including ‘WW1 Heroism: Through Art & Film’ (University of Leeds), ‘Politics, Art & Resistance’ (University of Kent) and ‘Exploring Copyright’ (CISAC). As a freelancer and student, I was able to manage my workload and time with positive results.

Teamwork Skills: Working as part of a team has been necessary to succeed in my past employment, particularly in the role of Enrichment Coordinator at a bilingual college. My ability to collaborate on teaching approaches, delegate tasks, act on instructions from colleagues and adapt to the needs of those around me allowed me to implement the best possible support for the SEN children I was teaching.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills: All my paid and voluntary experience has been client-facing in some capacity, requiring a high level of emotional intelligence, verbal clarity, understanding, cooperation and approachability, whilst setting and maintaining boundaries. My success as a Telephone Fundraiser demonstrates my capacity to conduct telephone communication effectively, maintaining strong existing relationships, whilst my teaching and volunteering experiences has relied on my ability to engage with people of a variety of ages and backgrounds.

Accuracy and Precision: My BA Hons degree required editing skills, detail-oriented close-readings, and a focus on grammatical, syntactical and lexical meticulousness, in English, French and Spanish; I wrote, on average, 2 essays (1500-2000 words) per week. My inquisitive nature led to many in-depth, constructive supervisions on a range of topics from Spanish Baroque Art to Contemporary Hungarian Cinema!

IT Skills: I am proficient in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), WordPress, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and Social Media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

Enthusiasm and Commitment: I have been a museum volunteer for 15 months and run a blog called ‘Museums and Musings’. I am determined and motivated to work as a Museum Professional. I am committed to completing the full traineeship. I would be able to work across the county and would be willing to keep in touch after the programme.

*****

Any comments on my answers? If you think so, leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

A New Year…

80697409_648762552328923_6515338579122585600_n.jpgThis coming year, I want to exercise my mind and body on a daily basis. I was to live in a sustainable way; I want a lifestyle I can manage that is also sustainable for the environment. I want to secure a job with prospects – a traineeship, a long-term contract, or a foot in the door on the museum careers’ ladder. I want to spend more time with my friends, which includes volunteering. I want to look after myself, so that I can continue to build a bright future for myself.

I don’t think the above is too much to ask of myself. Regardless of what 2020 has to throw at me, I would like to think that I *can* have a really positive and productive year. Cheers, to a fresh start.

When life gives you lemons…

After the wonderful experience I had working full-time at Balik Arts, my standards were set pretty high for the opportunities that came my way from September onwards. I knew that my contract with the charity was temporary and so was applying to jobs throughout September for an immediate start on my return from Georgia. I remained relatively picky in my job search, only applying for roles that I genuinely wanted, in the Arts & Heritage and Charity sectors. And after dozens of unsuccessful applications, I was invited to interview at a refugee-resettlement charity.

I was ecstatic. I had found a charity that focussed on young people, was international and made me feel like I was making a difference. I interviewed at their Head Office towards the end of September and was offered the job I applied for within the week. I felt very proud of myself, especially given that I had to prepare and present a pitch as part of the interview process, which was something I had never done before. The team seemed lovely, as did my future boss, and I was offered the job with a starting date in mid-October. It was not an ideal contract, as it required me to spend the first couple of months away from home, but all in all it seemed like I was finally in a favourable, stable position.

Unfortunately, the job was not what it said on the tin, and the leadership team… left something to be desired. I spent four weeks working perfectly happily within the charity, being inducted into the role I had convinced myself would be *the one*, blissfully unaware that my role was rapidly morphing into something I did not want it to be. Out of the blue, I found myself in meetings with my line-manager where I was reduced to tears, character-assassinated and patronised, told that I wasn’t yet allowed to do the job I had signed up for… There was a fundamental misunderstanding of what a probation period is meant to be, and I was expected to roll over backwards and obey instructions until I could prove “strength of character” and thus be granted the role I had applied for… It didn’t seem right to me, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice my mental health and my happiness for the sake of a leadership team that didn’t have their priorities straight, so I resigned. In the space of six weeks, I had gone from employed, happy and motivated to resigning, resigned and low.

A month has passed since I handed in my resignation and I have no regrets about doing so. I deserve better. It has been a difficult month, and I still haven’t found a new full-time role yet, but I have taken on smaller freelance gigs and am much surer of myself than before. I look on the time I was employed by the refugee charity as a learning curve. More than anything, I am proud that I did not allow myself to be walked all over and I am proud of myself for getting back on my feet and not losing hope that I will soon find a job that is right for me.

There is a saying – “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” – that, in spite of its simplicity and overuse, has been worthwhile remembering over the last month. In common usage, it suggests that a positive “can-do” attitude can help in the face of adversity or misfortune. I think it means more than just seeing an opportunity and taking it, however; I think it implies that if life presents you with something that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, only time and effort can turn that into something sweeter – something positive, desirable and valuable. It’s less about what you *can* do and more about what you *must* do if you want a positive outcome.

Time and effort have, indeed, left me in a more positive mindset where I have been able to learn from my experience. I have rejected roles that compromise what I am comfortable with and prioritised my wellbeing above all else. I have restarted my job search and, as before, have only applied for roles that I genuinely want. I hope that my perseverance will pay off in the long run, but only time will tell… In the meantime, all I can do is focus on maintaining a positive yet realistic attitude, and keeping on “keeping on”.

Balik Arts and the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival

Having graduated, I spent July and early August looking for a foot in the door to paid work in the Arts and Heritage sector. Countless museum job applications were rejected, with few comments besides “your application was strong, but we had a lot of strong applicants who had more experience” as feedback. Fortunately, my first ‘break’ came in August when a small arts charity, Balik Arts, reached out to those who had been involved in the Watersprite Film Festival in search of assistance in the run up to their own festival.

Balik Arts was set up in 1999 to work primarily with young people in the UK and Turkey through the arts and film. Nearly 20 years on, the charity’s first festival in 2018 prioritised films made by younger generations – or where the main cast is young – in a section called ‘Young Blood’. The charity’s dedication to supporting young people is reflected in its mission, and in the words of its Director, Yesim:

69372949_2372102136343085_1046814487883022336_n

This year’s festival maintained its ‘Young Blood’ category and also explored pertinent issues such as migration, gender issues and the treatment of Turkey’s Kurdish population. All of the above, as well as the freelance nature of the role, drew me in. Over a two-month period, I acted as an Assistant to the Director whilst simultaneously taking responsibility for tasks such as liaising with high-profile attendees, sourcing printers, administrating, distributing posters, managing hospitality, managing volunteers, providing technical direction, and running a social media campaign. The result was the charity’s 2nd Taste of Anatolia Film Festival, whose opening gala I both curated and hosted.

72214550_2400097560210209_2360382088781234176_o

I have never been averse to public speaking, but until this point I had never *hosted* an event before. It was a daunting prospect, but thankfully the opening gala ran smoothly. The two days of screenings that followed also went well, with only a handful of minor hiccups along the way. I was particularly pleased at the number of people that showed up for our opening film, which was in fact a Kurdish film – a very smart, poignant move by the charity’s Director, I must say!

71890980_2412206762332622_6220262450302812160_o

The films we screened were coupled thematically – one short film with one feature-length film. I would encourage anyone even remotely interested in Turkish and Kurdish culture to watch the films we screened at the end of September, listed below:

In Between / Arada, by Kadir Eman
Pigeon Thieves / Güvercin Hırsızları, by Osman Nail Doğan
Parting Shot / Giderayak, by Özgür Cem Aksoy
Kazım, by Dilek Kaya
The Pit / Çukur, by Tilbe Cana İnan
Element of Crime / Suç Unsuru, by Süleyman Arda Eminçe
Two Days / İki Gün, by Nurdan Tümbek Tekeoğlu
Time to Leave / Vargit Zamanı, by Orhan Tekeoğlu
Crack in the Wall / Duvardaki Çatlak, by Hakan Ünal
SIREN’S CALL / Son Çıkış, by Ramin Matin
Ad Infinitum / Sonsuz, by Murat Çetinkaya
İçerdekiler / Insiders, by Hüseyin Karabey

Most of these films are rarely screened outside of Turkey, making the festival that Balik Arts runs even more significant. Some films, however, have been particularly well received and are given one-off screenings in London. ‘Insiders’, an award-winner directed by Hüseyin Karabey, is returning to screens by popular demand and will be shown at London’s Rio Cinema on Sunday 2nd February 2020. You can purchase tickets here.

Since the festival, I have continued to work with Balik Arts on an ad-hoc basis. Working with them has allowed me to visit Georgia and learn about the Caucasus region, make new friends and above all, feel valued. The work they do is truly inspired, and I wish that more British charities like this existed, encouraging an appreciation for other cultures. I hope to continue to work with Yesim for as long as possible, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Balik Arts in the coming year!

Lizzie Champion – Multilingual Solutions for your Museum’s Accessibility

I recently reached out to museums in Cambridge over twitter about multilingual resources, and am thrilled to have already heard back from people who are interested! Off the back of this, I would like to extend the offer I made to anyone who feels that their museum would benefit from my Multilingual Solutions.

In recent years, I have observed a lack of multilingual resources available to those visiting museums throughout the UK. As a former Modern and Medieval Languages student at the University of Cambridge and a University of Cambridge Museums Volunteer, I feel that I can resolve this issue through linguistic dexterity and an understanding of the Arts & Heritage sector. I am able to provide a range of support, including:

  • Translations of existing museum content – signs, labels, leaflets, etc.
  • New content for museums, in English and Foreign Languages
  • Bespoke resources for museums, highlighting culturally relevant exhibits, artefacts and themes for international visitors in audio and/or text form
  • Collaboration with education, events and outreach teams to arrange multilingual, in-person support for sessions in museums
  • Bespoke tours/tour guides of museums in Foreign Languages

Further or alternate multilingual services can also be provided. I am also open to proposals, and any fees will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I genuinely think that – especially in the face of Brexit – UK museums need to be as accessible as possible to those whose native language is not English. I am sure I am not the only person to think this, and believe I am capable of helping everyone to enjoy their museum experience, regardless of where they call home.

If you happen to be interested in any of the above, or know someone/somewhere that would benefit from becoming a multilingual space, please do get in touch via the form on my blog. Thank you for reading!

74460275_706326326545533_2109463253171044352_n.jpg

I Graduated (6 Months Ago)! Reflections on my Time at Newnham College, University of Cambridge

65009780_2281698548551298_3337149774645166080_nOn Friday 28th June 2019, I graduated with a 2.1 in my BA Hons in Modern and Medieval Languages. At many points over the last 5 years, graduating was something that seemed very much beyond my reach. And yet, just shy of 57 months after matriculating, I graduated. But rather than delving deep into my personal journey to graduation, I would like to dedicate some time and space to some of the things that I learnt during my time as a student at Newnham College, and to some musings on my experience at the University of Cambridge:

  • I do not feel like a Cambridge Graduate; I feel like a Newnham Graduate. From the start of my Cambridge ‘career’, Newnham was incredibly nurturing. When applying to the college, I was already aware of the homely atmosphere that made its students feel so welcome, but it was only when I arrived that I appreciated the difference between Newnham’s ethos and that of the rest of the collegiate university. Being at Newnham, specifically, made me feel part of a community that was encouraged to think, learn and conduct itself in a certain way. For example, the Newnham MML cohort could take part in Literary Theory seminars that the college made available to us and held open ‘Pudding Seminars’ where students, alumnae and teaching staff could talk on a topic of their choice to whoever turned up to listen. Newnham felt like a ‘safe’ space, in which we could discuss a host of topics without fear of judgement, and as such we as women had the opportunity to grow in strength and confidence. Our extra-curricular and personal pursuits were also encouraged, and I personally felt like my Director of Studies genuinely cared about my wellbeing as well as my academic attainment. The things I learnt whilst at university are a result of not only my course but also the informal education that I received at Newnham College.
  • I love learning, but not studying. The focus on attainment in exams, and the idea that you had to “study for the exam”, often became toxic. Knowledge and understanding were often overshadowed by information recall and ‘playing the game’ or ‘cheating the system’ with rehearsed, adaptable answers and stylistic techniques. In a place that is infamous for its successful alumni, thinkers, scientists and academics, it was disheartening to realise that what you wrote in the exam hall during Finals was all that mattered. I was personally told by some members of staff that I only needed to pick and choose excerpts of the texts I was studying, rather than bothering to read the texts in their entirety. Your grade is dictated by the words you scribble on a page under timed conditions, regardless of previous demonstrations of understanding, knowledge or even expertise. Students at Cambridge are, of course, encouraged to learn… but they are first and foremost urged to study.
  • Everyone should consider taking a Gap Year. I say this because out of the most mature, grounded and confident individuals I met at Cambridge, the majority had done this. When I refer to a Gap Year, I am not referring to the obligatory Year Abroad that MML students have to complete, but instead a period of time taken between Sixth Form College and university study to NOT study; some people choose to work during this time, whilst the lucky amongst us travel and take a break. Like most British teenagers heading to university, not only did I not take a Gap Year but I was actively discouraged from doing so by my school. Had I taken a Gap Year, I think I would have been much more prepared for university study; mentally, I was keen – and ready – to go, but I had never been expected to do anything else. I think that the lack of time school-leavers have to reflect on what they want to actually do with their lives before embarking on a high-cost, high-effort degree has contributed to the mental health crisis among university students. I think everyone should at least consider taking a Gap Year and reflecting on what they actually want before heading to university.
  • I loved MML… but I did the wrong degree. If you do not want to go into academia, be a language teacher, a translator or an interpreter, or ‘sell-out’ as a Cambridge graduate to Oxbridge-favouring City firms, MML is probably not the degree for you, as far as career progression is concerned at least. Admittedly, when I started my degree, I just wanted to learn, and academia was on the cards for me at the time. But I wanted to study languages because I was interested in people and culture, rather than linguistics or translation. When I applied to Cambridge, I was not aware that (a) you could sit language papers at the University Language Centre regardless of the degree you took, thus obtaining recognised qualifications outside of the course, and (b) ANTHROPOLOGY EXISTED AS A DISCIPLINE. The number of students I knew that realised this early on and switched out of MML to HSPS (Human Social and Political Sciences, under which you could study Anthropology) is frankly ridiculous. Why was I not advised against doing the degree that I did? Because this kind of information is not disseminated, and the people advising me probably had no idea that this option of Anthropology and extracurricular language study was viable. In the end, I did enjoy the content of my degree, and I was able to tailor my modules to my interests; I wrote on Baroque Art and the Incan Empire in my Golden Age Spanish paper, intersectionality in my Nineteenth Century French paper, and urban space, gender politics and contemporary philosophy in my European Cinema paper. I loved learning about these things. But the option to do a degree that was more appropriate to my interests was not one that I thought I had, and I wish that I had at least known that I had that option.
  • At Cambridge, you are in more control than you think you are. At the end of the day, even though Directors of Studies and Supervisors can chase you for work, they cannot force you to do it. I knew many students that would pick and choose the lectures they attended because they knew they didn’t want to study certain topics. It’s easy to forget sometimes that you are doing your degree for no one other than yourself; you chose the degree, and you have control over what you do and don’t do.
  • There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, the earlier you realise that it is okay to ask for help – academically or personally – the easier your university experience will be. At Cambridge, there is this huge pressure to succeed that ends up being crippling for many. Asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness, and the thought of asking for help is considered to somehow damage your pride, making you ‘lesser’ than your fellow students. This is sooooooooo untrue, and academics generally really appreciate students who aren’t too proud to ask for help. Odds are also on your side that you are not alone in how you are feeling. Studying at Cambridge is tough, and no one that studies there has their life completely ‘together’. In this knowledge I hope that going forward, instead of this manifesting as a communal feeling of inadequacy and failure, this understanding will lead to more people asking for help and supporting each other.
  • Going to Cambridge is about so much more than just studying. I, a stocky 5’4” woman, learnt to row competitively at Cambridge. I took part in charity events. I went out on the town with my friends. I stayed in and watched TV with my friends. I stayed in and cried with my friends. I realised that I wanted to work in museums and volunteered for a University Museum. I learnt about other people’s subjects and taught others about mine. I relaxed, stressed, lived, slept, worked, panicked, ate, had mind-blanks and eureka-moments and felt a sense of belonging… in a place with people who think like me.
  • The amount and quality of support you receive at Cambridge can vary massively. I feel very lucky to have received the support I did when I was at Newnham, and so sad for the people who struggled during their time at Cambridge because they were elsewhere. I was lucky to be in a college that offered generous travel grants, book grants and bursaries. I was lucky to be in a college with an excellent, well-stocked library. I was lucky to be in a college where it was generally acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas, and where girls would huddle in the Buttery to talk as Directors of Studies and Supervisors wander past and join in with conversations as they go. College support at Cambridge is incredibly varied, and I have no regrets about choosing to study at Newnham. University-wide support has to be sought if it is wanted or needed, but at least the provision is the same regardless of your college.
  • Cambridge *does* open doors. I need to keep reminding myself of what a blessing this is and how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to have gone to Cambridge. I often feel that so many doors have been opened that I don’t know which one to choose, but I know that I am in a privileged position to have such a choice. I have taken the opportunities Cambridge has offered me for granted at times, and I hope that when I find myself in a career that I enjoy and that fulfils me, I will be thankful for the chances in life that going to Cambridge has given me.

In conclusion, I am a more resilient person because I went to Cambridge; I am a more confident woman because I went to Newnham.

10609680_725722927482209_6704162886386007968_n

Introduction: The 12 Days of Blogmas

I have decided to publish 12 blog posts over the 12 days of Christmas. Why? Because I realised that I had a backlog of content that needed publishing, of course!

The last 6 months have been a bit hectic. Discounting my recent post about the British Museum’s ‘Troy’ exhibition, I have not posted anything since June 24th 2019. This is a result of many factors, but above all due to low-self esteem following a series of unsuccessful museum-job applications and confusion about the future. I felt reluctant to post anything when my next steps felt so uncertain and my motivation was dwindling. Since June 2019, however, a lot of noteworthy things have happened which merit acknowledgement on at least a personal level.

And so, I find myself here, hoping to get myself back into good habits by motivating myself to post content regularly. For the next 12 days, I will be publishing 1 post a day, in order to whizz through the backlog of content. From January 6th onwards… Well, let’s wait and see!

How Museums Have Improved My Mental Health

This year, International Museum Day (May 18th) has fallen at the same time as UK Mental Health Awareness Week. Although the focus of Awareness Week is quite specific this year (Body Image), I think it is still important to discuss all mental health issues at this time, where more exposure is given to such issues. I’d like to address both Mental Health and my appreciation for museums this International Museum Day by reflecting on how my involvement with museums has improved my mental health and wellbeing.

As A Visitor:

Before I was involved with volunteer work and an academic career that involved museums, I benefitted from exposure to the Arts and Heritage sector as a visitor. I have been visiting museums since a very young age, and as a small child, museum visits often took place on weekends with my siblings and my Dad – who, at the time, was working extremely long days in a financial role to support our family whilst my Mum was training to be a teacher. Often, my weekend trips to museums, parks and events would be the only moments where I got to spend quality time with my Dad. They engaged me intellectually and emotionally – I was a very sensitive child, and took a lot from museums and galleries, which gave me so much material to connect with and think about – and my Dad seemed to love witnessing and being a part of that.

Some of my favourite places were – and still are – museums. Museums can be loud, exciting and stimulating, but they can also be quiet places of reflection. When the real world of the here and now gets a bit too much, museums offer a refuge where you can distance yourself. Even objects taken from the same here and the same now possess a detached quality when placed in a museum; they become objects you can analyse and think about; they are artefacts. Meanwhile, objects from the distant past carry an ethereality, and an ephemerality, in spite of their age; they seem other-worldly, intriguing, and amazing.

And, beyond the intellectual stimulation and distancing that museums create, they have also benefitted my mental health and wellbeing in very simple ways. When I visit museums, my step-count goes through the roof, and I exercise without really feeling it. In my reflective state, my breathing is controlled. I am very much in touch with the things around me, feeling grounded and mindful. When I am at a museum, I am having fun, and I smile.

As a professional:

As I highlighted in my first blog post, working in a museum gives me a sense of purpose. Beyond that, however, there are genuinely so many benefits to working in a museum as far as mental health is concerned:

  • Social engagement, with the public and with collegues; people are interested, and intersting! Interacting with other people who are likely as keen to hear about the museum as you are to tell them is a joy, and social contact is super for encouraging good mental health.
  • Getting creative, using arts and crafts to help children and adults engage with a museum, is awesome. Whoever says cutting and sticking is for infants is frankly just… well, wrong. Cutting and stick, and colouring, and painting, and doodling, and flower-making, and pot-decorating… these are all really relaxing things to do, as well as really heart-warming things to help others do too.
  • Being organised, or at least forcing yourself to be organised, is vital. On bad mental health days, it can be really difficult to find the motivation to do anything, so having a fixed time and place to be really helps with feeling like you have things under control.
  • The museum community is so supportive. In #MuseumHour – a twitter phenomenon where people come together from the museum sector to discuss topically issues online for an hour a week – has prompted so much warmth and comfort; sometimes, knowing you’re not alone in your concerns and struggles – whether related to finding a job or coping with issues at work – is all that is needed. IRL, the museum workforce is also incredibly encouraging. I may be biased, but I think museum workers might be the best out there!
  • Working – and looking to work – in the museum sector creates resilience. I know there are many jobs out there that make people stronger than when they stepped in the front door, but in museum jobs, there are so many pressures, and often very small teams fighting them. Work can be unpaid, inconvenient, or simply non-existent at times. It’s an incredibly popular and competitive sector, and job-hunting is sometimes soul-crushing… but it makes you stronger, and even in the early stages of my Arts and Heritage career, I am noticing changes in my resilience, for the better.

 

I am so happy to have museums in my life. Yes, that is such a sappy thing to say, but it’s true. I am a happier, healthier person because of my involvement and engagement with museums. It’s important to have a passion, and it’s important to have a purpose. But it’s vital to be well. And anything that promotes your wellness can’t be a bad thing, in my book.