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My Experience - Isla Gladstone

One of the main things that attracted me to the MSc in Palaeobiology at Bristol was its broad-based and open nature. The course not only covered a wide variety of subject matter, but everything I read seemed to emphasise the importance of developing a range of applied skills. Whilst I knew I wanted to study the subject to a deeper level and to pursue a career in a science-related field, I was unsure whether this would be research-based or within science communication. I hoped the MSc would help me to explore my options.

The course was all that I had hoped for, and more. It provided an excellent academic grounding, with modules taught by leading researchers in the field. A series of report submissions honed written and research skills, taken further during a self-led original research project. We were given the opportunity to take part in weekly departmental discussion groups, and to give presentations outlining our own research. The ability to communicate with and engage wider audiences in Palaeobiology was developed during exercises such as creation of a website, newspaper articles and a children's activity sheet. All this took place within a supportive environment, where as an MSc student you are treated as an equal to all other research students and staff.

I had a series of jobs after I finished the MSc, first as Curatorial Assistant for the Natural History collections at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, then as Curator of Natural Sciences at the Yorkshire Museum in York, and now, back to Bristol, as Curator of Natural History, with several people working in my team. My work is very varied with respect both to the types of collection that I work with and roles that I undertake. The key element that runs through it, and what attracted me to museum work in the first place, is the goal of increasing access to our collections: enabling people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy, be inspired by and learn from the fantastic resources that museums hold.

A brief outline of two contrasting pieces of recent work will hopefully give a bit of an idea of what a curatorial role in a regional museum involves, and the relevance of a course like the MSc to this work. On the 'front of house' side, when I was in Truro, I managed a project to create a series of displays to help interpret our very specialist mineral collection for an audience of families with younger children, working with external designers, curatorial and learning staff to develop and install content. 'Behind the scenes' I worked alongside our Conservator to inventory and stabilise our historic herbarium. Ongoing roles include facilitating volunteers, students and researchers, answering enquiries and identifying objects for members of the public. Now, in a larger museum, and with more staff, we are planning some lager-scale curatorial projects, including plans for major new displays and bids for millions of pounds of Heritage Lottery money.

I feel very lucky to work in a job that I love, and in large part owe this to the skills and knowledge that I gained at Bristol. Whilst I didn't have a formal museum-based qualification when I applied for the role (I have since been sponsored to undertake one), the relevance of this background was recognised as an excellent basis. I would highly recommend the MSc to anyone with an interest in Palaeobiology, and also in pursuing a science-related career. The enthusiasm of the Department for its subject, and for sharing this with others, is hard to resist. Who knows where it might take you!

In 2009, Isla was appointed Curator of Natural Sciences at the Yorkshire Museum, in York, and moved to her current post as Curator of Natural History at the Bristol City Museum in 2013. She is happy to talk more about her experiences, and about museum work in general: Contact.


School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol, UK BS8 1RJ
Tel: +44 (0)117 9545400  Fax: +44 (0)117 9253385  Email: earth-msc@bris.ac.uk  Web: www.gly.bris.ac.uk