From Retail Banking to Museums: What is Valuable Work Experience?
Today I’m showcasing a friend of mine, Navjot Mangat, who has recently embarked on a career in museums. A history graduate like myself, Navjot has always been interested in museums. We studied together at the University of Westminster for our undergraduate degrees. As part of a traineeship called the Strengthening Our Common Life Project, Navjot helped build a gallery as part of a redevelopment project in a national museum.
When I asked him how he made this transition from academia to museums, I learnt that his outside, unrelated work experience was most valuable. Despite having no prior experience besides unpaid volunteering stints at The Cartoon Museum and the Redbridge Museum, Navjot found that his Retail Banking experience gave him invaluable insights into the financial aspects of museums and public relations. He was never privy to this during his time as a volunteer. Connecting with people was one of the main responsibilities of his new role.
What Navjot’s story highlights is that museum-related experience is not necessarily more important than unrelated work experience, when launching into a museums-related career. Retail experience, for instance, facilitates working with people on a daily basis. In my personal experience, interpersonal skills are somewhat undervalued in academia and related industries; other jobs can help students to fill that gap.
Like Navjot, there are other historians – established and fresh out of academia – who are using social media to stimulate public interest. Academic historians, museum officials and other industry leaders use twitter and blogs, for example. Indeed, the trending hashtag #twitterstorians is a testament to this. Services such as Instagram and Periscope (a live video broadcasting app) are also powerful tools for the students and teachers of history. Perhaps most notably, the historian Dan Snow uses Periscope to broadcast presentations – such as his recent talk on the future of history.
Navjot requested that I pass on a word of advice on transitioning from university to a traineeship: start with smaller museums to gain experience. The bigger, more established institutes can be rather competitive, whilst the smaller museums are often more willing and able to take on inexperienced but motivated individuals.
He told me that this traineeship ‘is the greatest thing [he’s] ever done’. As of January 2016 Navjot has embarked on a fresh, but not so new, challenge as the Programme Administrator for the SOCL Training Scheme. Confidence, hard work and passion are all it takes to make the transition from university to industry.