The Museum Association’s conference for the young, up and coming professionals of the heritage sector was held at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester. It was primarily meant as a networking event where professionals in the first five years of their career could mingle with each other as well as some more experienced professionals. The feeling of the day was extremely positive and everyone seemed to be having lots of fun with the various activities and talks that were held. Towards the end of the day it was obvious that everyone was in high spirits and that even the more experienced amongst us had learnt a lot. The closing speech by David Anderson, the president of the Museums Association heralded the day as a massive success and stated that he would be going back to the National Museum of Wales which he directs and will be seeing what changes he can make after the revelations of the day.
The day began with a key notes speech on leadership by Richard Wilson, an empowering talk where young professionals were encouraged to be the ‘anti-hero’ and to take control of their lives and their careers. Three provocations on the essence of a radical workforce were particularly inspiring and looked forward to the next generation asking them to make the changes necessary to keep the heritage sector relevant in the modern world. The Ministry of Curiosity was also in attendance and gave a talk on how they had set up an independent museums blog for London (@curiositytweet). The blog discusses behind the scenes gossip of the museum circuit in London and tells its readers interesting titbits that might not usually be heard. They are careful to mention that they have a strict code of ethics when it comes to posts and will not post anything that puts the security or safety of museum workers or collections in danger.
Workshops included discussions on how to make a career in the heritage sector including specific hurdles that must be addressed. Also a discussion on how to plan for the future by making a career timeline was led by Tamsin Russel from National Museums Scotland. One of the most useful workshops looked at how to prepare the perfect pitch. Hillary McGowan a professional advisor to the heritage sector explained her method for making a professional pitch with the premise of meeting someone you want to give you a job in the lift and having 30 seconds to get yourself across to them. Others speakers were Tom Andrews from People’s United who spoke about the importance of being kind in the professional world and how to temper dreams with reality to make sure you get the most out of your career. Liz Hide from University Museums Cambridge spoke about leading when you’re not in charge and discussions followed on how to lead and how you would like to be led.
One of the big issues that came up during question time was the importance of qualifications in the heritage sector and whether those without them would hit a ‘glass ceiling’. The debate got rather heated with supporters on both sides of the argument. Personally I can see the benefit of qualifications and agree that some positions probably will require specialist qualifications, especially in the science heritage sector and research positions. That is not to disregard the benefits of staff with a wide range of non-academic skills but employers should also be careful not to disregard the hard work put into getting qualifications. There were several comments from senior professionals regarding the privileged upbringing that must accompany higher qualifications. Personally I find this quite insulting, having grown up in a small town in Lancashire and having to work for everything I’ve achieved to this day the notion that employers could see my efforts as merely a sign of privilege is worrying to say the least.
All in all the experience was truly amazing and the things I learnt about the heritage sector and about taking control of my career will definitely come in handy in the years to come. As will the connections I made with the many cool and friendly people I met. The next big event for the Museums Association is the annual conference held this year in Cardiff in October. I am looking forward to attending and hopefully seeing some of my new friends again.
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.
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.
Last Thursday and Friday I attended the UMG 2013 conference, held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Overall the message of the conference was that university museums are doing relatively well, but that strong leadership and ingenuity was the order of the day. Speaking of leadership Dr Nick Merriman (Manchester Museum) stepped down as chair and Kate Arnold-Forster (UMASCS Reading) and Sally MacDonald (UCL Museums) took over as joint chairs of UMG. On a side note, before the conference started I went on a tour of the Oxford University Natural History Museum’s roof and have included a few images in this post.
whale skeleton OUNHM
The conference kicked off with a speech from former Secretary of State for DCMS Baron Chris Smith of Finsbury, a general celebration of university museums. The next day the conference started with a presentation from David Sweeney from HEFCE talking about state funding and the impact of tuition fees. He stressed the need for university museums to actively demonstrate their importance to their home institutions and argue the case for financial support.
Roof of the OUNHM
The nest session was one close to my heart as it dealt with students. Rebecca Reynolds talked about a joint project between Reading and UCL called OBL4HE which created digital resources for students. Gemma Angel talked about a fantastic project at UCL using PhD student to engage visitors with research and collections Researchers in Museums. Dr Giovanna Vitelli got us all jealous and inspired talking about the Ashmolean’s, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Funded, Museum University Engagement Programme.
After that it was onto a research panel chaired by Prof. Nicholas Thomas during which I was taken back to my student days listening to one of my former lecturers Prof. Chris Gosden talk about the way that the university museums at Oxford shaped its research history. Panellists also discussed how historic collections which may seem sidelined from cutting edge research can be made relevant today.
In the afternoon we had a keynote from Hedley Swain (Director Museums and Renaissance ACE) in which he discussed how university museums can contribute to the wider museums sector. Then a ‘provocation’ from Dr. Maurice Davies (Museums Association) and Nick Poole (Director of Collections Trust). Nick pronounced himself too British to provoke, but presented a range of challenging visions of alternative futures for Higher Education, and as a consequence university museums. Maurice talked about Museums 2020 and the challenge and potential of focussing on ‘impact’.
What really struck me about the conference was how the history of university museums in the UK as liminal and often endangered organisations has made everybody raise their game. Nobody was sitting back and relaxing, everybody that I talked to was looking forwards towards the next project. Here ends a whistle-stop tour of the conference, hopefully it gives a flavour of what was discussed and provides links to further resources.