Work Placement into Dream Job

Delighted to lend the blog’s platform to two recent students on our MA programmes, who’ve found their experience at Birkbeck, and particularly the work placement, gave them the crucial experience they needed to secure their first jobs in the museum sector, one in Cambridge, and one in the town of Bunbury, Australia. Thank you to both students for sharing their experiences.

Florencia Nannetti (MA History of Art) has written a great post for the Birkbeck Comments blog on how her placement at Alexandra Palace and the support she received from Birkbeck set her up for success in landing a job as Community and Visitor Engagement Officer at the Museum of Cambridge. She writes about the unusual but actually quite positive experience of beginning her new job under lockdown conditions – as see in the image below!

Mackenzie Carr (MA Museum Cultures) has checked in from Australia, where the reputation of Birkbeck, and, possibly even more impressive, of the British Museum, where she did her placement, helped secure her a dream job as a curator in a small regional museum.

Over to Mackenzie…

I remember initially applying to Birkbeck to study a MA in Museum Cultures, wanting to be a part of a university that prides itself on its multiculturalism, and offers a good work-study balance, as well as the opportunity to graduate with not only an esteemed education, but a workplace experience. The work placement not only gave me a surreal opportunity – for an international student such as myself from Canada! – to work at the world-renowned British Museum, but allowed me to gain life-long skills in CV and cover letter writing, and interview practice. These are skills I am still using, and which definitely helped me secure my dream job after my Masters degree.

After I completed my studies I moved to Australia to a small city, Bunbury, on the west coast, and I was dedicated to finding a job that would allow me to utilise my passion and education in the field of museology. I initially applied to volunteer with the local museum, the Bunbury Museum Heritage Centre, looking for an opening into the museum community in a city and culture I was unfamiliar with. Then a few long weeks later the staff requested my curatorial experience and knowledge to help the Museum increase its visitor numbers and community support. Now to be clear, and as the staff pointed out, ‘it’s no British Museum!.’ To be fair, nothing in the world is anything like the British Museum, due to its vast collection, amassed over two-and-a-half centuries. But the Bunbury Museum offers a newly graduated Masters student such as me an opportunity the British Museum could never have. Only three years old, it is small in size and collection, with minimal connections to the region’s colonial history: the position of curator and researcher has given me an incredible opportunity to grow as a newer member of the museum profession.

My role as curator here includes a wide array of responsibilities covering all areas of museology and professional practice. Currently I am responsible for designing a brochure and map for visitors, writing out a tour guide format for group tours, assisting with research and design of new exhibitions, and collecting visitor engagement data with the hope of improving the Museum’s layout and design, as well as enhancing marketing strategies. Now this is what I personally call my dream job; I am utilising all the knowledge and skills gained from my MA in Museum Cultures, and my work placement experience from the British Museum, to help develop a much younger museum in Western Australia.

While I am still new to this exciting role, it has been an amazing challenge. The benefit of working for a museum that is new to the community, with little to no curatorial foundations, is that I am able to have the flexibility and autonomy to help build the museum’s visitor engagement profile, conduct research, and create exhibits that can share the local history of the Bunbury area and its residents. The most exciting role however has been conversing with the many donors who have brought in historical objects for examination and hopefully exhibition. Gathering many different objects and then discussing possible uses with the museum’s team, and potential exhibition designs, has helped me dive deep creatively to curate informative and interesting exhibitions that the community are eager to engage with.

It’s not always easy to find such a job – I had assumed it would be out of my reach so soon after I completed my degree – but I would like to remind current, future or past MA Museum Cultures students that what you gain from your time at Birkbeck will go with you anywhere the world takes you.