Working in heritage research

 26 February 2013

Jeremy Hill is the Research Manager for The British Museum and led the 'History of the World through 100 objects' project. He shares his journey and 7 tips for a being a good recruit.

Described as the World Museum, the British Museum shows this diversity in their people. Image: The Trustees of the British Museum.
Described as the World Museum, the British Museum shows this diversity in their people. Image: The Trustees of the British Museum.

Experience and training in heritage

"I have not followed a simple direct route. My first full time paid job was as Archaeology Education officer. I decided to go back to university to do a Masters in Museum Studies and ended up staying for eight years to do a PhD in prehistoric archaeology and further research.

“I became a University lecturer, and then came to the British Museum as a curator. After three years, I was seconded to work for the Directors, where I worked on the public face of the Museum, ran experimental exhibitions and drafted policy. I now work full time in the Directorate.

“The key problem is that there are so many people chasing too few entry level posts."

“Apart from my formal University courses, I have done several middle-management courses and one course on the topic of project management. I attended a Clore Leadership Short Course that I found to hit the nail on the head – it was the best two weeks I have spent in a long time, and helped my personal and professional development grow.

"In my career, things happened and opportunities come up. I am beginning to realise there are other opportunities across the cultural heritage sector and potentially in other arts sectors that my experience could lead to.”

Working at the British Museum

"The Directorate is the office that runs a museum. I work in the Directorate supporting the directors with their work. My job is to co-ordinate the research activities of the museum, develop strategies for future directions of research, liaise with Universities and help colleagues apply for research funding. The job also involves representing the museum in these areas.

“I also get involved in a range of cross-museum projects, such as developing the new museum website. But my main project was developing a public project to tell the history of the world through 100 objects. It was in partnership with the BBC and radio, and featured a major website, book, and an exhibition.

"We don't just want ethnic diversity, we want social and gender diversity too."

“I have varied tasks and the subject matter of these vary, but having meetings is standard across all days. It can either be attending other people's meetings, running my own, or having one-to-one meetings with other staff across the museum or outside it.

"It is all about being expected to do many different things and cover wide areas of knowledge and activities.We are a World Museum. We are a museum of world cultures; a place for people to explore cultures from across time and space.

"Our job is looking after the objects that let people do this, presenting these objects to as many people across the world and within Britain as possible, and to help other research those cultures.

“Ensuring diversity of staff, from middle management right the way up to senior level, is a key issue for me. We don't just want ethnic diversity, we want social and gender diversity too. The answer is in having the right people."

Problems facing the heritage industry

“Funding is the obvious issue affecting the sector at the moment. Many people who are interested in a career in the sector may simply not be able to afford to work on a voluntary basis.

“Time management is another area that causes problems. My own disadvantage is being interested in lots of things. I work across many different areas and, at times, I want to continue working in some of these areas.

"The danger is you end up trying to do too much and propping up lots of interests and projects. Learning sooner, rather than later, from experience to reassess and dedicate yourself to only one or two things at a time will prevent a stressful life.

“The key problem is that there are so many people chasing too few entry level posts. At the same time, there is a surprising lack of applicants with detailed specialist knowledge applying for the more specialist entry or middle level posts.”

7 tips for for getting noticed at the British Museum

"In my experience, there are a few things that make you a good candidate for a post at the British Museum:

  1. I tend to look for the capacity to do the job and more. Someone who will want to be stretched or will stretch themselves.
  2. I don't look for particular institutions or courses. I am looking at the person overall, their experiences, skills, something that gives me a sense of what makes them tick and if they can do the job, and do it well.
  3. Surprisingly, many people have not researched the organisation, or the job. They don't know much about the organisation, can't tell you how they have prepared for the interview, etc.
  4. Poor communication skills – that's essential for my work.
  5. Trying to impress too much and trying to be something you aren't.
  6. I am often surprised at how little wider knowledge of the sector and its key concerns applicants show.
  7. Be flexible. This sector is not about fixed jobs that are all the same. It is all about being expected to do many different things and cover wide areas of knowledge and activities. Ours is also changing industry and it will continue to change."

Jeremy's project is now live and available for viewing on the BBC 'History of the World through 100 objects' page.


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