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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Story so far, advice for students at Goldsmiths

Here at The Ministry we have been big advocates for helping each other out when it comes to getting a step onto the museum jobs ladder. We've even provided some guidance here and spoke at Museum Association events such as Moving on Up on the topic. 

But most recently I was invited back to my old university to tell a group of students from the History department my journey so far, some tips and tricks for getting in and how bloody amazing working in museums is. So I thought i'd continue on this sharing mission by providing access to my talk for Ministry readers. If you want to know more, read on! 

'I am currently the Registrar at the National Army Museum, and with almost ten years experience working in museums  and galleries I have taken on a number of roles in the industry since graduation from Goldsmiths with a BA in History and Anthropology in 2011. From Art technician at Tate to Collections Registration Coordinator at the Science Museum I have overseen large scale installations of exhibitions such as Cosmonauts and travelled the world with objects to ensure their safety and security. In 2012 I co-founded this  blog with Kristin! As you'll know here we aim to provide an irreverent insider’s view into the world of London’s museums and aims to change current perceptions about those working in museums.  Thanks to this I have been featured in the Guardian 's Young, Early, Emerging series and have written and presented for the Museums Association and Collections Trust. 

But what is the role of a registrar in a museum? Well it’s a bit of a mixed bag (readers can find more here) primarily I am responsible for implementing policies and procedures, adhering to national and international laws and guidelines all relating to the care of cultural objects. It doesn’t always seem to be that fun or exciting but actually a large part of my day is spent with objects of national importance, I arrange for them to go on loan or holiday  to other museums. I manage the paperwork and relationships  when the museum wants to acquire a new object and on occasion I ensure the  legal and ethical practice is adhered to when disposing of objects. Day to day my job can be incredibly varied, I can be asking the home office for permission to transport a live firearm one minute and the next carefully lugging around paintings in the stores. I’ve been lucky enough  to see Damien Hirst’s shark lifted out of its tank, hand carry an early calculating machine (that looked like a bomb!) across to Germany and install the first woman in space’s flight suit and Churchill’s onesie. I often say, I’m blessed to be able to touch what people are often told not to – but while wearing gloves of course!

I studied History and Anthropology joint honours BA at Goldsmiths and was fortunate to get a paid job within the museum sector only a couple of months after graduating. The summer before landing that position however was a grueling slog, I was in four jobs trying to pay for my rent and get some experience. I gained the experience through a volunteer placement in the Horniman’s collection stores and an internship at Orleans House Gallery in Richmond, to fund this I worked long evening shifts at Waitrose and in the National Maritime Museum’s retail team at the weekends.

 But, it paid off and led  to me getting the position of collections assistant at the Science Museum. This was a great exploration into the wonderful storage centre that is Blythe House where the Science Museum , British Museum and V&A  currently store their medium sized objects. In this role I learnt the importance of working hard, not only mentally but physically many museums are understaffed and so if you want something moved you have to do it yourself. I undertook a large scale collections move of the prosthetics collection, the torture collection and as whole load of Victorian drugs.  One of the most valuable things I have ever learnt is to always be nice, approachable, and try to be confident. This is key to establishing your network. Many of the people I met in my very first day of working at the Science Museum are still my friends and colleagues now. They have helped me to enhance and grow my career and after leaving my role as collections assistant in 2012 many remembered me and my willingness to work hard when I returned to the institution in 2014.

I have always highly valued the exclusivity of working behind the scenes in the museum and in 2012 I co-founded a blog (with the lovely Kristin you'll know well by now!) to show that this industry isn’t all Indiana Jones and old white men.  Museums workforces are full of young professional women and the stores are brimming with 95% of the collection that is not on display. The founding of this blog has been an invaluable resource; I’ve built up a network online and a name for myself outside of the 9-5. This has granted my opportunities for public speaking, writing and networking far beyond what I could have achieved. It’s been a game changer and made me stand out in interviews and for myself has been a way to digest and better understand the industry.

 Blogging may not be for everyone but social networks have had a huge impact on the industry and how it networks, dedicated discussion groups like Museum Hour on twitter have become a great way to digitally converse with the person who your trying to get employed by. Other groups such as Museum Association, Collections Trust and jiscmail have helped me to establish myself within the industry and taking the opportunities  made available have pushed me further. For example Over the past two years I have been treasurer for the UK Registrars Group, processing all memberships has meant building relationships with other registrars across the UK and internationally.

 I’ve always been driven to work in museums since I was little, grateful for parental trips to the local and free London museums I was able to dream of this career. I didn’t go to a good school, I had to work hard to get to university (gratefully helped by the means tested maintenance grants) and so I’ve had to push to get into this challenging industry. Museums have been hit hard by the cuts to the arts sector in the last ten years and so they are often understaffed or work is project based on short term contracts. Making yourself stand out from the crowd and working hard are key.

Many post grads looking for a career in museums while focus their attention on becoming a curator and miss out huge opportunities by overlooking other collections based roles. The role of the registrar may not seem as exciting as a curatorial position but as a registrar I get to build up an intimate relationship with the objects outside of their historical importance.  I understand their provenance, know every detail about their holidays to other museums and help the objects in their journey within the museum stores or on display. Getting into museum collections work may be a hard slog to begin with, it took alot of volunteering for me to start.

 However, once your in its so worth it, its incredibly rewarding to see an exhibition you have put your blood sweat and tears into open to the public.It’s exciting coming across an object in the stores that represents a huge impact to society, and its pretty damn satisfying getting to  hold onto a tangible piece of history be it the luna lander or a vial of opium.'

Museums are pretty awesome if you're trying to break in check out our links or ask us on twitter @curiositytweet for more advice!

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