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Experience without Experience

January 11, 2013

During my undergraduate degree, all I wanted to be was a primary school teacher, however, when I failed to get a place on a PGCE, I had to look at something else.

I would like to have a brief pause and tell you how I failed to get a place on a PGCE because it is rather amusing. It was the day of the interview, all the activities had so far gone well, until my one-on-one interview. It was meant to last 10 minutes, mine lasted about 1. I was asked what qualities make a good teacher, and despite having prepared a really impressive answer to this, all I could say was, “good handwriting”. My interviewers tried to help me, “Anything else?” they asked, “No”, I said! And that was that.

Getting back to experience, when I was turned down for my PGCE I panicked and with nothing else to do I managed to make one of the best decisions in my life and apply for a masters in medieval studies. This got me thinking on an alternative, which was for me to work in a museum.

For either teaching or curating (or any other job in a museum) experience is a necessity, but to gain the experience is far more difficult for one than for the other. Schools need and welcome help, as long as the volunteer is trustworthy, a nice email to the head teacher is all it takes. To get a volunteer placement in a museum, however is far more trying.

To get any kind of voluntary work in a good museum like the British Museum or the V & A is difficult without prior experience. SO how do you therefore get experience when you have no experience? This is what I have been trying to get my head around. The answer is, in a vague sort of way, smaller and more localised museums.

It is true that national museums have hundreds if not thousands of people applying for volunteer placements, yet they only have one or two places. However, the local museums have very little funding and so although there will be less competition, it is not always possible to get a position at these either.

This all sounds very pessimistic I know, but there is hope, a little silver lining. By applying for everything possible at national museums, you have a fighting chance. And as for the local museums, email them all, beg for some experience, anything they can give and you might get lucky. This is what happened to me, after applying for everything, local and national, I had all but given up hope, until I offered to volunteer in a local stately home, this gave me experience behind the scenes and I got to give tours. It was an amazing opportunity, and I hope it will help when I am applying for jobs and other placements elsewhere. My next hope is to get myself onto an internship at a national museum. Tough, but I will let you know how it goes!

So, it goes to show, that you can get experience without experience, but you will need stamina and patience!

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