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.

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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.

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

Thanks for reading!

Why Museums?

There is no point in pretending that I have always known I’ve wanted to work in a museum, because that simply isn’t true. As a student of Modern and Medieval Languages – a pretentious name for a course that should be called ‘French and Spanish: not just the languages, but the old cultural stuff too’ – there are many directions I could have, and still could, choose to go in. Arts and Heritage is certainly not the most obvious direction. The assumption is that language students end up as translators, teachers, or in corporate roles at an international level. I have always been firmly against the idea of entering the corporate world, the reasons for which are plentiful, and frankly irrelevant to discuss here. I am not good enough/ confident enough at the languages in which I am most proficient to jump into translation work, IMHO. And whilst I love education, and have enjoyed the experiences I have of teaching, *language* teaching is not something that really appeals to me at this stage. Language teachers are those that had the biggest impact on me going through secondary school – hence why I grew to love language learning so much – but I personally don’t feel that I am capable of giving lessons to classes of increasingly apathetic students. I have heard stories from teachers who take joy in the fact that the odd one or two pupils are particularly keen to learn more, whilst the majority treat language classes as a doss lesson, because “what’s the point?”. It saddens me that this is the case, and luckily there are many passionate graduates who are lapping up the government’s financial incentives to teach languages in the UK. I am just not one of them.

So, the question still stands: why museums?

On reflection, an archaeology and/or anthropology degree might have been better suited to my extra- and intra-curriculum interests. When I planned my year abroad, my plans revolved around travel – not ‘oh my god I’m living my best life on my gap yah’ travel, but rather ‘I want to see more of other cultures’ travel. I wanted to see temples, and huacas, and geological sites, and wildlife, and ranches, and cities, and cathedrals, and castles… and museums. I went to South America with the intention of gaining valuable teaching experience whilst also absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. After my year abroad – which ended up being somewhat more eventful than intended – I finished my dissertation on the short stories of a female Argentine author who wrote under military dictatorship, and signed up for a load of final year papers focussing on language and linguistics. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my paper choices were awful, and that I’d chosen them for the wrong reasons. No doubt this added to my already very poor mental health, which led me to intermit for the remainder of the academic year. And it was whilst I was intermitting from study that I had a real chance to reflect on what it was that I actually enjoyed. Much introspection, reflection and self-dissection led me to the answer: I enjoy cultural heritage.

I started looking for jobs I might enjoy, thinking about the times I felt happiest, and what I could do to make myself even happier. I reminisced to the many times when my mum and dad took me and my siblings on holiday as kids, to English Heritage sites, to castles and abbeys and manors. I remembered going into London to visit galleries and museums. I vividly recalled examining the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, aged maybe 9 or 10, in awe of the ways history was documented in early civilisations with already such complex languages and scripts. And it all started to make sense.

Throughout my intermission I continued to teach, tutoring children, teens and adults just to keep my brain active and my finances stable (ish). I looked at summer jobs I could perhaps take, in archives and libraries and heritage properties, but realised before I even got round to finishing my applications that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready *yet*.

Fast-forward to September and I had successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. I was an ideal outcome: I could work one-off events over the course of my second attempt at my final year of university study, doing something I would theoretically really enjoy. I don’t think I appreciated on applying for a position that I would enjoy my work with the MAA quite as much as I do. I get to lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that would normally be in storage or behind cases. I get to run activities that encourage kids to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my own studies to help them learn about significant aspects of world heritage. I get to be part of huge teams of people from all different walks of life that run university-wide events, including Twilight at the Museums, which took place this week. I love the work I get the chance to do, because it is no chore to do it. It is all I could have asked for, after a difficult couple of years of not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to be.

Museums are the happy meeting point of all the things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education – learning and teaching – and outreach, people, places, and so on. And what’s more, I love visiting museums too! I can’t guarantee where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing, and I am only a fraction of the way through my life of learning and growing and working and living (I hope). However, whether behind the scenes or simply visiting for leisure, I sincerely hope museums will always be a part of my life.