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PREP placement
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

Considering I was approaching the final stages of my PhD, and realising that I might not be able to pursue an academic career, I wanted to do a placement in arts & heritage in order to expand my horizons on post-PhD paths. I had had volunteering experiences with a few arts festivals and charities before, but these were mostly short-term, customer-facing or social media positions that did not involve a lot of strategic planning. I wanted to learn more about the day-to-day work in the sector, and in particular to understand how large-scale projects are designed, from the initial brainstorming phase through to resources management. Ultimately, my aims were to see how I could use my academic knowledge outside academia, to see if there were opportunities for me to engage with initiatives that reflect my values and goals, to upgrade my CV with skills relevant to the sector, and to do a bit of networking.

How did you find your placement/internship?

Reaching out to my network of former lecturers and people I knew in the arts & heritage sector.

Application process

The application process was fairly straightforward, and the PREP team was very helpful: they organised online workshops to explain what we had to do, gave us tips on how to think about the experiences we wanted to organise, and remained available for email queries as they arose. The biggest challenge was actually to get the paperwork sorted once I had received the award so I could engage with planned activities straight away!

What made you choose this organisation for your placement/internship?

Some of the key areas of my doctoral research are space and place (place, in particular, seen as a multiple, processual, non-essentialist notion); history and memory (in particular issues of memorialisation and intangibility); and intersectionality (how social and political identities can be combined to create modes of privilege and discrimination). These themes are highly relevant to the Wentworth Woodhouse restoration project, and I thought these shared areas of interest would make our working relationship more engaging and productive from both sides.

Main responsibilities

I worked with two independent consultants, Suzanne Carter and Sheila McGregor, who were currently delivering an Activity Plan and Evaluation to/about Wentworth Woodhouse via the National Lottery Heritage Fund. They got me involved in different types of activities so that I could get a different array of experiences, but the main areas of focus were community engagement and data analysis.

Typical day

Due to COVID restrictions, I worked both in-person and online, and my working hours were spread throughout 3 months so that I could participate in different tasks. I supported the consultants with focus groups (one with local education professionals and one with representatives from wellbeing organisations), a project presentation with community arts practitioners, and one stakeholder interview with an arts & heritage local authority director. I also did a lot of data analysis, filtering information and feedback from a general public survey, a staff survey and, more interestingly, from two community crafts activities. I also did some research on local competitors and barriers to access at the institution.

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

After a lot of lone-working during my PhD, it was just brilliant to work with Suzanne and Sheila. They were very generous in sharing their knowledge with me, gave me valuable insights about the industry, and kept communication open and productive. I felt respected and trusted! It was also so interesting to finally visit Wentworth Woodhouse, learn about their history and their long-term regeneration project -- I was very inspired by it!

Challenging aspects

In terms of placement activities, I have to admit that the data analysis felt a bit intimidating at the beginning, because there was so much to work on! But I was given guidance, encouragement and enough time to do it, so everything turned out more than okay in the end.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

Definitely. I really enjoyed learning about planning, delivering and evaluating both large-scale heritage projects and the smaller-scale activities that feed into it. This was helpful for me to see how I can apply the skills I already have in contexts outside academia, in particular in relation to project management. It was also incredible to do community engagement through the Activity Plan tasks, and I think I gained valuable competences in terms of creating and sustaining meaningful collaborations. I also received very positive feedback from the two consultants I worked with, which gave me a bit more confidence to work with arts and heritage projects once I finish my PhD, and potentially with them again if the opportunity arose.

As a result of your placement/internship, what are your next steps in planning what you want to do after graduation?

While staying in academia still feels appealing to me, I think I am much more interested and invested in pursuing a career in the arts & heritage sector now, in particular if I can combine a socially dynamic environment with projects that reflect my research interests. Once I finish my thesis, I will definitely look for jobs in that context too!

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

I definitely advise PhD students to get out of the 'university bubble' and get some work experience somewhere else if they are able to -- although I also advise you to always look for paid schemes. In my case, the internship has improved my confidence in academic and non-academic settings, and helped me fight a sense of isolation and irrelevance that I had with my research. If you are applying to the PREP scheme, try to do it as early as possible: contacting institutions can be time-consuming, and don't lose faith if they take a while to get back to you. If you receive an award, be patient in regards to the paperwork and keep communication channels open and honest. It might be tough to navigate the bureaucracy, and while this can be frustrating for you and your placement host, it will get sorted eventually. As for the placement itself, try to be as flexible as possible in terms of activities and schedule. This could allow you to learn different things and in different ways and, for me, getting out of my comfort zone was the whole point of the placement!

Form completed: 08 Dec 2021

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