Robbie McDonald case study

Global Challenge: Museum Victoria Intern, Melbourne, Australia
History with American and Canadian Studies, 2015

Details of duties/ responsibilities/ activities

My everyday activities and duties included the following: writing historical narratives and object summaries (to be used in online publications and for internal use for the museum catalogue), conducting oral history interviews and participating with external client access to museum stores and collections. I engaged daily with historical objects: this included training in how to properly store, access, catalogue, and transport objects (within the museum).

I also sat in on departmental meetings, as well as undertaking tours of other departments in order to better understand internal workings of a museum. I would accompany my reporting manager, Michael Reason, to guest lectures, as well as co-facilitating external visitors with him. Together we also conducted an oral history with a recent donor to the museum. Overall, my experiences, responsibilities, and activities largely were dependent upon what objects/projects were being worked on by the department; therefore I had a very varied and valuable experience.

Main achievements

Producing the historical narratives for two different collections were some of my main achievements – these collections were close to my historical points of interest, and would be viewable from the main museum Online Collections website.

My biggest achievement was built from the disappointing news that the Callister Collection (the collection of 1960s popular culture items that the internship was designed around) had been quarantined after being identified as growing with mould. However, this news meant that I was able to co-produce a lengthy internal document that would ask for funds to get the collection treated – this taught me invaluable experience in how to correctly write in a particular style that would allow funds for cleaning to be released.

My reporting manager was particularly pleased with the research and writing I produced for this report, and I believe it has directly allowed me to build a greater understanding of internal museum funding applications. I have most definitely had a positive impact on my host organisation. I have left behind impeccably categorised and catalogued historical items and objects, which will be retained in the state collection and therefore will be retained indefinitely. This work will most definitely make the everyday working lives of museum staff easier.

Most enjoyable part of the internship

The collegial atmosphere of collaboration between the curators was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my internship; it was particularly inspiring and furthered my drive to work in the museum sector. Curators would rely heavily on the openness and expertise of other curators; this in turn produces multifaceted and dynamic publications and exhibits that draw from combined decades of experience and research. Merely witnessing these processes (in morning coffee, in halls and stores, at desks, in research sessions, and interdepartmental meetings) was incredibly beneficial for a recent graduate looking to understand the museum sector in a comprehensive and personally beneficial way.

On another level, what I enjoyed most was the wealth of knowledge that each curator/collection manager had regarding his or her own speciality and interests. This meant that there was never a dull moment at lunch times or coffee breaks, and I found this particularly encouraging regarding possible future postgraduate education. 

I also feel I was fully supported by the company and my supervisor. I felt particularly supported by the company, as most members of staff would often stop in the corridor and have a chat to me, both about personal and professional things. This definitely helped me feel quickly at ease in the office, and any obstacles were overcome by asking questions and listening intently in training sessions.

Skills developed

I have developed many practical and personal skills during my internship at Melbourne Museum.

Practically, I now know how to use barcoding systems and object labelling for museum work. This is a vital skill for any future museum roles. Furthermore, practical skills developed included object handling, and transportation. These skills were introduced through both training sessions, and observing experts in action. 

Personally, I feel more confident in my writing abilities and presentation skills – these were a central element to my internship and I have grown much more adept in these skills. My writing skills have particularly improved, as I have had to alter my tone from essay writing in university, to adopting a tone that suits museum object labels. Presenting my research, both formally and informally, at the museum has helped me develop a professional yet relaxed presentation style that will prepare me well for future museum work.

How this will benefit me in the future

When applying for work experience or graduate positions, this internship has given me the anecdotes and the vocabulary necessary for applications, and particularly for interviews to get to the next stage. I feel more equipped with stories and demonstrable skills going in to an interview now, this has built confidence in my abilities and in myself. This is partly because feedback from museum staff and managers was always positive, and creative thinking and being outspoken was encouraged.

I now feel more secure in my career choice because of this Global Challenge internship – prolonged exposure to the everyday aspects of museum life was markedly different from my experiences of museums as a visitor or tour guide, and I still wish to work professionally in the field.

Careers Network and the Global Challenge scholarship has given me work experience that I found necessary to be sure of my future career moves.


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