A Week in the Life of a Curatorial Trainee

Deirdre photoBy Deirdre Mitchell, alumna (MA Hons Scottish History 2012), and Curatorial Trainee (Collections)

As a Curatorial Trainee at MUSA I get the chance to work with the 112,000 objects which make up the University of St Andrews’ collection. It’s a large and varied collection which ranges from historic scientific instruments to contemporary Scottish art, with lots in between! My job is just a varied as the collection I work with and can include anything from cleaning objects, moving paintings and keeping object records updated to planning exhibitions and giving gallery tours. It’s a great opportunity to gain a wide range of practical experience and there’s never a dull moment because you never quite know what you’re going to be doing next! Here are just some examples of what I’ve been up to in just one week recently.


One of my main roles is to help with the management of the collection. This involves making sure the records for items in our collection are accurate, as well as creating new records when items are added to the collection. On Monday morning I researched and catalogued some earthenware crucibles from our Chemistry Collection, which were once used in teaching at the University.


Earthenware crucibles waiting to be catalogued and object marked

In the afternoon, taking a break from cataloguing objects, I turned my hand to design and started to come up with ideas for a poster to go outside the museum store on North Street. With so many locations to keep track of (including the store itself, MUSA, the Gateway Galleries and the Bell Pettigrew Museum) it’s important our visitors know where to go for events and exhibitions. Hopefully the new poster will help to highlight all of our different venues and direct our visitors to the right location!


Sometimes items which come into our collection are in need of a bit of TLC so part of my job is to help with object cleaning. On Tuesday I was working on a silver bowl which has recently become part of the collection. When it arrived it had several marks on it, including what seemed to be paint and tape residue, which could have caused damage to the bowl in the future if they were left. Cleaning it up proved quite a challenge and I ended up spending several days trying to remove all of the marks but on Tuesday I finally finished it. Seeing the final result, compared to how it had looked before, was very satisfying and all those days of cleaning definitely seemed worth it!


Silver bowl before and after cleaning


Even though we can’t put all of our collection on display all of the time, members of the public and researchers are more than welcome to make appointments to come and look at specific items which we keep in our store. On Wednesday I had a meeting with a local artist who was interested in seeing some prints by the artist Frances Pelly. One of the most rewarding parts of the job is seeing how much enjoyment people can get from the collections so I was very pleased to be able to show the artist these works and hear about how they might inspire her own artwork too.


Quite an important part of my role is to sort through object information and tidy it up so that it’s easier to understand and more accessible. On Thursday I was working through some data for our Natural History collection and standardising it all so that it can be imported into our main database, where it will be easier for staff and researchers to locate any information they are looking for. Although this does involve a lot of wading through Excel spreadsheets it can be entertaining as some of the animals in this collection have very unusual names! My particular favourites were the Marvellous Spatuletail and the Resplendent Quetzal!


On a Friday I spent the day working Front of House in MUSA, our museum on The Scores. When I’m working at the Reception I help with the daily running of the museum, from cleaning cases to welcoming visitors. It was a great way to round off the week and I really enjoyed getting the chance to meet all the different people who came to visit the museum. Speaking to them about the collection, and seeing how interested they are in learning about the University’s history, is definitely one of my favourite things about this job, and what makes it so rewarding.


Our main museum, MUSA, on The Scores


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