Case study

Museum education officer — Emily Bow

After studying art history and a PGCE in primary education, Emily is now a museum education officer at a large university museum, devising fun and hands-on activities for children and families  

How did you get your job?

When I left university I knew I wanted to work in a museum, but was unsure of which department. I started working as a visitor services assistant at the Ashmolean Museum, where I experienced the fantastic work that the education team carried out in engaging school groups with collections in fun and interactive ways. I joined the museum's informal learning programme by becoming a volunteer, and helped to run family activities during the school holidays.

While working and volunteering, I spoke to members of the museum's education department to discover what skills and expertise are favoured in museum education, and found that members of the team had a background in teaching. I started work as a teaching assistant at a local primary school and after a year of being a TA, I did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), specialising in primary education.

Despite my PGCE, I struggled to get a job in museum education, as I didn't have experience within a museum environment. I discovered that The National Lottery Heritage Fund was offering internships in museum learning across Oxford University Museums and Galleries. After applying and being invited to an interview, I was offered an internship. During the internship, I had the opportunity to devise and deliver educational activities and resources.

After my internship, I secured a job as an education officer for primary schools at the History of Science Museum. After that, I worked as bookings administrator and education assistant at the Museum of Natural History. I recently took on a role as education officer for families.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

Although my degree was art focused, rather than science-based, it provided me with important skills such as the ability to manage my time more effectively. During my degree, I was required to work on multiple tasks simultaneously, and meet specific deadlines.

My degree also helped me to understand and interpret tricky technical terms and language. In my current role, I often have to relay challenging scientific ideas and concepts in a more accessible manner.

What are your main work activities?

I recruit and look after a team of volunteers who assist the museum in delivering its regular family programme. I devise activities for families during the school holidays, which have been inspired by the museum's collections. We regularly run crafts, games and specimen handling tables at our family events.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy being creative, as the role requires me to come up with ideas for activities and resources inspired by a specific collection or theme. Sometimes the subject matter might be tricky or complicated, but I relish the challenge of making the content more accessible by offering visitors fun and playful learning opportunities.

The highlight of my role is using real museum specimens to get visitors excited about the natural world and their environment.

What are the challenges?

One challenge is catering for different ages. An activity that is suitable for a five year old, may not be appropriate for an eight year old.

Another challenge is coming up with attractive and engaging resources on a limited budget, so having creative skills and experience of using design software certainly helps. Due to the museum's conservation requirements, I have to think carefully about the materials I use for the activities. Although restrictions on what materials we can and cannot use can make things difficult, this provides an opportunity to think outside the box and try new things.

What are your career ambitions?

My ambition is to specialise in museum learning for under-fives, and build on my skills and expertise in working with this audience.

Any advice for someone who wants to get into education administration?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask - get in touch with those in the sector and ask them questions.
  • Be patient - it took me roughly six years to get the job I wanted. It's an especially competitive sector but don’t let this put you off.
  • Visit lots of museums - visit as many as you can and find out about the different ways museums engage with audiences, especially hard to reach groups.

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