A real team effort: internships at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

At the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), we have been developing a broad internship programme for the past few years. Our internships are fully funded and normally run for 10 weeks; they are aimed at new professionals or recent graduates and offer the intern a range of opportunities to gain experience in their chosen field.

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This blog is jointly authored to give a number of perspectives on the scheme, focusing in particular on the conservation side of the operation! We kick off with Serena Fredrick, our Student Engagement Officer, who has oversight of the internships and introduces the programme as a whole. We then hear from Samantha Cawson, a recent graduate and our current conservation intern on her specific experience within the CRC and what she has taken from her internship. Emma Davey, our Conservation Officer and a relatively new professional herself, describes the skills supervising an intern has developed, and then we finish up with Ruth Honeybone, Lothian Health Services Archive Manager. Ruth helped set up the programme and has some thoughts on what the CRC’s internship programme offers to more established professionals.

From Serena….

We first ran an intern programme in January 2013, when we were very fortunate to recruit two recent graduates to a conservation internship and an archives internship. Although there was quite a bit of work and planning required at the outset to establish all the correct procedures in line with the University’s HR policies, this was such a fantastic experience for the interns and for us that we just wanted to do more!

Since the first two in 2013 we have had a further 14 interns and we’re currently recruiting for another one. We have found that as we have gained experience in the recruitment, interviewing and planning for these internships the process has got a lot easier, and the effort required to run an internship is far outweighed by the benefits.

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From Samantha…

My main focus for this 10-week internship at the Centre for Research Collections has been the Thomson-Walker print collection. Sir John William Thomson-Walker, a surgeon and print collector bestowed his prints to the University of Edinburgh in 1939. There are some 2500 works of art within this collection, which have been adhered to poor quality backing boards and stored in acidic boxes for nearly 80 years. It has been my task to assess the prints and construct a conservation and rehousing programme which is both time and cost effective and can be easily interpreted by future interns working on the project. These activities have been important to my development as an emerging professional. I have been able to learn the ins and outs of project management, as well as discovering and experimenting with a variety of conservation treatments.

I’ve also participated in a range of workshops and lectures taking place at other institutions in Edinburgh and contributed myself to conservation taster days, studio tours, and Innovative Learning Week at the University, all of which have boosted my confidence greatly. However, probably most rewarding is the feeling of being part of a team. As a new graduate it is wonderful to be appreciated and respected in the work place, which is something that I have experienced during my time at the CRC.

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From Emma…

Having graduated from Northumbria University in the Conservation of Fine Art on Paper in 2011, I know from experience that gaining a foothold in the conservation profession can be tough. With limited positions available, it can be a competitive field, making internships so important in bridging that gap between University and employment. Since completing my Master’s degree, I have both experienced being a volunteer myself as well as supervising interns and volunteers. As with internships, volunteering, for me, proved to be a gateway into conservation, allowing me to develop further the skills and knowledge I had learnt through University. I grew in confidence in my own abilities and was able to build on my previous experience and develop my portfolio in preparation for the job market. This has put me in position to understand what is important in an internship programme, which I strive to provide in my current role as Conservation Officer. Supervising interns, as well as student placements and volunteers, has been an important and fulfilling part of my job, not only in terms of my own personal conservation development but also in helping those who are either considering conservation as a profession, or are studying or have graduated, gain some hands-on work experience, preparing them for their future careers. Jobs are increasingly looking for conservators who have had prior experience of working with interns therefore I feel particularly fortunate to have had this opportunity to develop my skills in terms of supervising and managing both people and the projects that they work upon. Knowing what was important to me as a new professional, I hope to instil some of those ideas into what we can offer in our studio, providing a positive internship experience, working with different collections and professionals within a larger institution.

And finally, from Ruth…

I find my role in the CRC internship programme hugely rewarding. From an altruistic point of view, I enjoy being able to provide new professionals with opportunities to develop the skills needed to secure those elusive jobs. I had plenty of help getting to where I am, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to pass that on.

But it’s not an entirely selfless act! Our internships are designed to offer a well-rounded experience of working in the archive sector, and that means that our interns get involved in all aspects of the work of the CRC, as well as focusing in on an area of work, or ‘project’, that helps expand core skills. In the pursuit of this inclusivity, we get some fantastic fringe benefits for our own work: a fresh pair of eyes, new ideas and, particularly in relation to conservation treatments, an injection of enthusiasm and insight into the latest techniques being taught through the postgraduate programmes. I’m a conservator by trade but my current post gives very little time for any interventive work, so our internship programme is also an opportunity for me to keep my practical skills current and to engage in an active and challenging programme of professional development of my own.

Of course there is extra work in supervising an intern, and there is a significant responsibility to make sure their experience is good one, but it’s well worth it!

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For further information about the CRC internship programme, please contact Serena (serena.fredrick@ed.ac.uk).




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