What is Museum Studies at the University of Reading?

 

What is Museum Studies?

by Marina Rogov, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

In basic terms Museum Studies is the study of museums, this however is not a very detailed description. On the Museum Studies course at the University of Reading we cover a wide range of topics and get the opportunity to gain practical experience within museums. To try and provide a fuller description I got a friend to ask questions about the subject and I have answered them here:

What is a museum?

Let’s start with the essentials, a museum is an organisation that preserves history through the care and curation of objects and stories. They help to reflect on current issues in society and work alongside the community to make history accessible to all.

When did museum studies start as a subject?

People started to study museums, discuss and produce theories on them from about the 1960s onward, and the debate and discussion continues today. Our undergraduate course in Museum Studies at the University of Reading began as a series of modules that were made available to students from 2006. Now students can study for a degree in either Museum Studies with Archaeology, or Museum Studies with Classical Studies.

What modules do you do?

We do a bit of everything, with theory thrown in, from designing new exhibitions to looking at the history, policy and ethics of museums. We get a chance to study what goes on behind the scenes at these important cultural institutions. This year I am studying museum learning and engagement, which I really enjoy as it’s the area I want to go into. Next term we are studying museum curatorship and management which will help us with our final exhibition we have to plan in the final year of the course.

Who teaches it?

We have two museum studies lecturers, Dr Rhi Smith and Dr Nicola Pickering, both of whom have experience in museums and have a brilliant knowledge of the subject.

Why did you choose to study it?

I have always enjoyed museums, but I didn’t realise I could study it at undergraduate level until I started looking at Classics courses. It is rare to find a course for museum studies at undergraduate level so when I found the Classics and Museum Studies degree in Reading I knew it was the one for me, and it has definitely been the right choice.

What other activities are you doing as well as studying?

Volunteering! It is almost impossible to get a job in museums without previous experience, so volunteering is the way to go. Currently I volunteer in a school helping in their GCSE art classes and I also work at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading (the MERL). At the MERL I participate in the teachers’ panel and work on the front desk. I am also currently helping to organise the new Saturday club for Reading Museum Trustees. There are always so many opportunities in museums so my advice to prospective students is to get involved!

What do you plan to do after your course?

Hopefully I will find a job in education or outreach within the museums sector, as I enjoy working with the public organising activities and events. I am also considering a job in teaching as I enjoy volunteering in schools and the museum studies degree has enabled me to develop transferable skills and knowledge, such as learning how to design session plans. So whilst most people studying the course will go on to have careers in museums, the varied modules also allow you to identify an area in which to specialise or to explore alternative career possibilities.

Finally, would you recommend museum studies as a degree course?

Absolutely! Museums are part of an amazing sector, and there are many different jobs possibilities so you are likely to find the perfect role for you. Museums allow you to work with people from different backgrounds who share common interests and passions and I can’t wait to see where my degree will take me!

Marina Rogov, Museum Studies Student at the University of Reading

Careers in Museums #4: Internship Season

Summer is coming and that means that there are internship opportunities being advertised. This is a great way to gain some experience, especially if there is a bursary which helps you to support yourself financially. Here are a few which look interesting (please give me a shout if you have an internship that you would like advertised). I’ve noted where the advert mentions that the internship is paid. You’ll notice that the links come from the wonderfully comprehensive Leicester University Museum Studies Jobs Desk

Cultural Co-operation is offering SOCL internships across the UK for 18-25 years old from BAME backgrounds LINK

The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has a paid collections internship LINK

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham has two paid internships on their Marketing and Communications team LINK, two paid Learning and Access internships LINK and two paid Collections internships LINK

Orleans House Gallery in London has a paid traineeship in Heritage Learning, Interpretation and Participation LINK

The Theatres Trust has paid summer archive internships in London LINK

The South West Heritage Trust has a paid Portable Antiquities Scheme Headley Trust internship in Taunton LINK

The Intrepid Museum in New York has two summer internships LINK

Dulwich Picture Gallery is offering a Curatorial Internship LINK

 

Careers in museums #1 the basics

At the Open Days last week I had a lot of questions about careers in museums. We always get involved at our University’s careers fairs and we have even held our own Careers Event in the past (that’s where the photos are from). A couple of years ago I got a fellowship grant from the Center for Career Management Skills and a consultant Janet Bell came in to help us create some workshops and resources for our students. This being the digital age I thought I would make some of this information available online.

Careers Day 1

Careers Day 1

First of all a disclaimer. As we are based in the UK I am going to focus on the situation in Britain. I am also going to focus on advice for getting museum jobs. There are some really interesting and important debates going on regarding the impact of museum studies courses on the sector, diversifying the workforce and unpaid internships. I will discuss some of these issues but my main aim is to provide advice for those who are trying to break into the sector.

DSCN0177

Careers Day 2

There are already some great resources on the web. The Museums Association careers page is a good place to start and it’s pretty comprehensive. The Museums Association is a membership organisation for museum professionals but you can join at a low rate if you are a student or volunteer. You get a monthly copy of the Museums Journal and free/discounted entry into many museums and exhibitions. Tip: Before going into an interview in the UK have a flick through recent copies of Museum Journal and search for your potential workplace in the Journal via the website.

The other site that I always send people to is the University of Leicester’s Museum Studies Job Desk. That is where most people in the UK search and advertise. It includes information on internships and voluntary opportunities and even lists international job opportunities. Those two sites will give you a lot to be getting on with and I will talk about voluntary work in the next post.

 

Life after Reading #1 Laura Weill

This is the first of a blog series where I find out what former students and volunteers are doing in the museum, arts and heritage sector. First up is Laura, who has just come back to work for us!

20130529-160612.jpg

What are you doing now?

I currently work at the Museum of English Rural Life as a project assistant on the ‘A Sense of Place’ project. I am responsible for updating the online database, making the collection more accessible for researchers and those who are unable to visit the museum. This project has a particular emphasis on place and location as a point of access.

How did your time at Reading prepare you for this line of work?

Museum Studies modules
I did the Museum Studies modules in every year of my undergraduate; mainly chosen because I enjoy museums and was curious as to what could be learnt about them. It was the museum studies module I did in my first year that made me realise museums could be the career for me. I distinctly remember being set tasks where we had to plan trails to engage audiences, which I really enjoyed. I learnt quickly that a lot more thought goes into museums and their displays than I had ever imagined. Having finished the module in the first term, I was keen to get volunteering throughout spring and summer.

Modules in following years included a task where you had to research a chosen object, update the accession file, write a label and design a temporary exhibition around it. The bit of the task I was surprised to find very difficult was being able to write a clear and concise label. I had to ensure it was accessible in terms of readability, reading age and appearance. As well make sure the language was active and engaging. I was had to avoid the temptation to write everything I knew about the object in an essay style piece of writing. This skill has proved very useful for writing object descriptions and labels. This task also allowed me to experience the online database, which I now use every day.

Voluntary
In my first year at Reading University I volunteered on various MERL events and workshops, eventually becoming a weekend tour guide. This gave me a good understanding of the collection, what has been collected and why. This basic understanding is now vital, as I work through the catalogue, ensuring I mention objects’ significance in relation to the collection. Additionally the experience of public speaking during my time as a tour guide really improved my confidence and ability to talk to the public, very important now for interacting with visitors and researchers.

Degree
I did a joint honours degree in Archaeology and History of Art and Architecture (2008-2011). Both involved many trips to museums, galleries and heritage sites, where I was able to look at exhibitions with my new ‘museum studies eyes’, assessing whether they were successful or not. My degree involved a lot of research, skills I now use when updating the catalogue. Furthermore, I came to Reading thinking I wanted to become the next Indiana Jones, a dream squashed by my first experience of practical archaeology at Silchester, where I discovered I can’t differentiate between types of soil and don’t do well knelt in the dirt in all weathers. However, whilst there I assisted on public open days which I really enjoyed.

Thesis
Having enjoyed all of the museums studies modules, and with plans to do a museum studies MA, I decided to choose a museum based thesis topic. Here I compared and contrasted three galleries within the Ashmolean Museum; a statue corridor near the entrance, modern art room on the top floor and the newly refurbished cast gallery. Here I analysed how visitors used the space and then tried to assess why they did so. This allowed me to do more in depth museum studies research and confirmed that I would really enjoy a museum studies masters.

Paid work
At the end of my first year I applied to be a Saturday gallery assistant at the Museum of English Rural Life, a position I stayed in throughout my undergrad. This enabled me to interact with the public, gauge what they enjoyed and why. I was also able to put my tour guiding stills into practice, week after week.

Additionally, with the realisation that I was not going to be a practical archaeologist, in my second year I decided to volunteer in the visitors cabin at Silchester, and in my third year was employed as the visitors manager. This involved organising school and group visits, public open days and a lot of tour guiding. I was also responsible for training students in giving guided tours. Again my time here helped develop my ability to interact and engage with the public.

What training/experience did you get after leaving Reading?

After leaving Reading I went straight on to complete a Museum Studies MA at the University of Leicester, which was recommended to me as the place to study if you wanted to go onto work in the museum industry. It was an amazing year with some really interesting modules, trips and tasks. Everything I learnt was clearly relevant to a career in museums. As part of the master I did an 8 week work placement at Falmouth Art Gallery, allowing me to experience a different kind on museum. Here I did a lot of extensive research and cataloguing, as well as marketing and learning.

If you could give just one piece of advice for current students what would it be?

My main piece of advice would be to take every opportunity offered to you, don’t waste the time you have at university- volunteer, gain skills and experience everything you can. Before my time at the Museum of English Rural Life, I was relatively shy, reluctant to interact with the public. But having been strongly encouraged to do the tour guiding course, by the volunteer coordinator at the time, I gained a lot of confidence and discovered my passion for engaging the public with arts and heritage. I was very lucky to gain so much voluntary experience, which led me to get 3 jobs while at university, a place on an MA course and my current position as project assistant. So get volunteering, not only will it look good on your CV, you may discover a hidden passion.