Cynthia enjoys bringing history alive to families, schools and the wider community, so used her MA in Art Museum and Gallery Education to become a museum education officer. Discover her top tips for choosing a Masters
How did you get your job?
I applied for a weekend front-of-house role at Leighton House Museum and combined this with a three-day-a-week internship at Sir John Soane's Museum. Both of these experiences were invaluable and allowed me to ascertain that I wanted to pursue museum learning as a career.
After postgraduate study, I became the schools and families officer at Sir John Soane's Museum and then learning programme manager in my current institution.
What's a typical working day like?
A typical day starts with a school visit in the morning, which involves organising any freelancers/costumed interpreters or volunteers and preparing the learning centre before welcoming 30 eager faces.
Afternoons are spent on project work, whether that's with our new after school club, our in-depth project work with special education needs and disability (SEND) schools or our informal learning programme.
We tend to receive more primary visits than secondary and, as a relatively new organisation, we're currently welcoming a steady flow of one class a week.
What do you enjoy most about working in museum education?
I particularly enjoy having the chance to work with families and welcome them to our beautiful heritage site, here in London. Almost all the families who visit are new to us, and seeing their faces in our historic medieval and Tudor spaces is wonderful. I also really enjoy working with our MA placement students from museum learning courses and our Year 10 work experience pupils.
What are the challenges?
Being a learning department of one I have to balance my time between delivering learning sessions, managing our programmes and growing participation numbers. Striking this balance is my main challenge.
How relevant is your degree?
My role is all about people, whether I'm working with adults or children, so the understanding of people I developed during my psychology degree is invaluable to my job.
How has your role developed?
My role was initially focused on developing our new learning programme for schools, families and adults from scratch. It's now moved towards delivery and growth, and identifying opportunities to bring in much-needed income.
What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?
- See what placement opportunities are offered by your course or department, and check to see if placements are offered across the country or internationally. Placements abroad may or may not be financially viable, but you'll gain valuable life and work experience from them.
- Ask about what previous students have gone on to achieve. Your course or department should have statistics on this, but check whether former students will be coming back to speak. If not, ask to be put in contact with course alumni for a real-world perspective.
- Look for a course that has funding opportunities attached and go for them. I received a full scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council whilst studying for my MA Art Museum and Gallery Education at Newcastle. This funding covered my tuition fees, living costs and enabled me to undertake my placement further afield in Lincoln.
What's your advice to others interested in a career in museum education?
- Take an initial job in a museum, potentially front of house, to get a sense of how a museum, gallery or heritage site works. This will offer an insight into the type of institution and role you might wish to work in.
- Look for paid internships or trainee schemes, particularly if you fall under the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) umbrella. There are schemes designed to diversify the sector.
- Contact those within the sector with a short, focused email, asking for three top tips and explaining that you're looking to get into the sector.
- If you choose to undertake an MA it may take a while (between six months to one year) to secure paid employment. Be strategic - look at roles that are casual or part time, perhaps short term or in a smaller museum. Keep in contact with placement professionals/course tutors and use social media to strengthen your online presence.