Case study

Museum education officer — Francesca

Francesca's previous work experience was essential to securing a job as a museum education officer. Find out what she enjoys about her role

How did you get your job?

When I finished my undergraduate degree I didn't know what to do. I worked an office job but realised that I wanted to work for a museum, so I did an MA in Cultural Heritage Studies.

Upon graduation I worked in a climbing centre in London while archiving the The Guardian newspaper for one day a week and temping for the Welcome Trust and British Museum.

After two years I moved to the Midlands and got a job front-of-house for a local authority museum service. I took on lots of extra work; such as events, holiday activities and supporting school visits. I also got a casual job with the Wildlife Trust running den building and mini beast workshops. I built up as much experience as I could and after a couple of years I secured a contract as a learning officer for a small charity, and then from this I was able to move on to my current job at Northampton Museums.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

I needed a degree in history or art history to apply for the job. I didn't necessarily need a Masters at this level, but it definitely helped get me the job. A lot of places also ask for a teaching qualification but I was lucky that my past experience working with children and schools counted instead.

What are your main work activities?

When I get to work I'll check my messages and emails. Sometimes I'll have to greet a school if I'm teaching, in which case I'll be trying to remember everything I know about the history of shoes, or the Anglo Saxons and Vikings.

Typically I book schools in to visit the museum, try and get them to loan resources, prepare worksheets and materials for their visits, fix broken handling objects, invoice schools that have been on visits and follow up on any feedback that needs a response. When I get the time, I'll organise activities for forthcoming events and holidays.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've recently had to undertake more events responsibilities. As budgets are cut, different teams have to start taking on extra roles and things get moved around a lot.

I'm aiming to become a senior officer eventually.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Seeing that eureka moment on a child's face when they've figured something out, like what this weird object I've put in their hand does.

What are the most challenging parts?

Working part time two days a week means I have to work three other jobs to keep enough money coming in. It's rare to find museum education work that's full time, and no one ever goes into museum work if they want to earn lots of money.

What are the best things about working in this sector?

The variety in this job means that every day is interesting. One day I'll be leading bug hunts around the park grounds of the museum, the next I'll be packing 16th century musical instruments in special boxes ready for a collections move.

My job title might be museum education officer, but we all pitch in doing whatever needs to be done to keep the museum open.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Don't expect to walk straight into the job you want. It's amazing if it happens, but it's more likely that you'll have to build up experience doing a lot of different things before you land that dream job.

I wouldn't have got a front-of-house job if I hadn't have worked in a shop, and I wouldn't have secured education work if I hadn't learned all the ins and outs of how a museum functions by working on front-of-house. My degree might have got me the interview, but my work experience got me the job.

Also, the pay isn't amazing. You have to do it because you love it.

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