You’ve probably worked out by now that my background is Egyptology. In that case, you’re probably thinking that work experience is a bit limited for me. Well let me surprise you. Work experience isn’t necessarily about the content that you learn at university. Let’s face it: if it were, the only people with that much to choose from would probably be the law students.
With work experience, it often pays to think outside the box. You don’t have to go off the rails, but it’s best to concentrate on your hobbies or the skills which you’ve learned during your studies, rather than pure information. A lot of universities, Oxford included, have their own careers service. Oxford’s has a portal to internships which are only available to Oxford students, and it releases a set (which makes it sound like they release far fewer than they actually do) of these for every summer. There are two good points to this. The first is that there are loads of internships to choose from at once, and the second is that you can use certain tools on the site to narrow your search down. For instance, I ticked the ‘Arts & Heritage’ tab under the ‘Sector’ section. You can even narrow down the location. This allowed me to see all of the available internships at museums in Oxford. Then you get a handy little ‘Apply’ tab which takes you through what you need to do for that.
The site also limits the number of internships which you can apply for. Before the initial UK internship deadline, for example, I could only submit two applications. Personally I think another application or two should be allowed, but it does force you to look very carefully at your options and narrow them down. The way I do it, is I save all the internships I like on my profile on this service, and then go through things like the actual role, the dates, and any funding, to work out whether there are any I definitely am or definitely am not interested in. This year I narrowed it down to a rare books conservation role at a library, and a gallery mapping role at a natural history museum.
What do those things have to do with Egyptology, you may ask. Well, the answer is quite simple: nothing. That’s the point. They’re heritage-based, and having had classes in a museum, and volunteered in a couple of museum roles before, it made sense to apply for a longer placement. I won’t pretend that I expected to get either of them, being quite pessimistic by nature. I was outright rejected from the library, so that left the museum. I got an interview, and over-prepared like you wouldn’t believe to the point where my friends who had had more internships and jobs than I had had, thought I had gone mad. So the interview came, and I met three very nice people across a table who asked me about how I’d record this, that, and the other. A few weeks later an email came through offering me the job. I will admit that I shrieked. And then felt very sorry for the chap who lived next door to me.
And that is the story of how I came to spend six weeks in a natural history museum, in which all of the other interns were doing relevant degrees. The zoology conservator had an intern helping them who was studying a conservation degree, and had already worked with things like metals and paintings, and had moved onto taxidermy. The other intern on the project I’d been hired for studied earth sciences (a combination of maths, applied physics, geology, and palaeontology). There was another earth scientist, and then three biologists. At the intern-welcoming drinks reception one evening a member of staff even referred to me as ‘the random, weird one’. This same member of staff then gave me the opportunity to play with his own intern for an afternoon and re-identify dung beetles, which is both a testament to how cool dung beetles were in ancient Egypt, and how utterly bizarre and intriguing an Egyptologist was in that museum. But the fact of the matter was, I had the skills required to do the project and develop more skills. The bonus was that in a short space of time I have learned a lot about subject areas I knew nothing about.
So take from this that thinking outside the box, and doing things which the more literal members of society find peculiar, brings all manner of opportunities your way. As long as you’re interested in whatever’s going on and gain some kind of professional skill or insight from it, it doesn’t matter. In fact, it makes your CV look that little bit more interesting than those of other people with a similar degree or skillset.