Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hello there! I’m Niki Hughes and I am the Opening Doors Project Coordinator for the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM).
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
The purpose of my role is to help create and coordinate different opportunities for people to get involved in museum activities. UCM consists of eight museums and the Botanic Garden which are part of the University of Cambridge. You can find out more about UCM via our website. The opportunities we have range from work experience for school students, volunteer opportunities, apprenticeships and paid internships. I help to identify where the opportunities could be, write the role descriptions and advertise the role. I spend a lot of time working with those who want to get involved in the different activities, advising them about what is available and making sure the role is right for them.
A lot of my job also involves advising young people, and those looking to change their career, on how to get in to the Museum and Heritage Industry, which isn’t always as simple as it seems.
What’s great about your job?
I am really passionate about Heritage and Museums and I truly believe that it is a wonderful industry to work in. This role gives me the opportunity to, hopefully, inspire people into following a career in heritage or even simply just to visit museums. On a basic level, I get to do a lot of fun activities, showing the public about different aspects of museum work. This can be anything from helping out at large events to handling ancient Greek pottery. Variety in any role is the key happiness!
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
Any museum professional will have experienced budget constraints in their work; developing programmes where money is tight can be a real challenge, but this certainly makes you think creatively.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
I understand that this might sound daft… but I have always wanted to have my name on a “wall of thanks” at a museum. This year, my dream came true when staff at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology included my name in the list of those who had helped during the refurbishment and reopening. I am so chuffed!
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I initially saw my career path being in archaeology, specifically as a Field Archaeologist. I studied Archaeology BA at the University of Leicester, which I enjoyed very much, but over time I realised that I was fascinated in the interpretation of archaeology to the public.
I decided to take a year out before going on to do a Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Southampton. During this year out, I had a few temporary jobs with Archaeology Units, one of which was with Canterbury Archaeological Trust. This role did not involve digging, but they did ask me to help run the shop and exhibition at their city centre site, known as The Big Dig. During the nine months that I worked there, I managed a team of volunteers who assisted with the opening of the exhibition and ran tours of the excavations. From there on in, I was completely fascinated in public archaeology and the involvement of volunteers in heritage; so much so, I focused the thesis of my MA on this subject.
After an eight month stint as an Archaeological Cataloguer at the Manor House Museum in Kettering, I moved down to London to manage the Front of House Volunteers at the Foundling Museum, before moving to IWM Duxford as the Volunteer Manager for nine years prior to joining UCM.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
I probably experienced my biggest challenge when I was in position at IWM Duxford. The location of the site means that it is quite isolated so I had to work extra hard to network with other heritage sites and museums in the region. I did this by getting in contact with the local regional Museum Development organisation, called SHARE East. This organisation is funded by Arts Council England and was a great help in putting me in touch with other institutions so that I could network and share ideas.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
Over the past six or seven years, I have notice that heritage institutions have been working hard to level the playing field in order to encourage individuals from all different backgrounds in to museum jobs. In the past, having a degree was a prerequisite to working in museums; this is now no longer the case as many museums are offering apprenticeships as a way of getting started in a job.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
I wouldn’t dare say anything to 16-year-old me because I knew it all already back then (or so I thought). You can do it, Nik! Have faith in yourself.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Don’t be afraid to change your path. You may be dead-set on one specific career path but that may change. Mine changed from being an Archaeologist to a Curator to a Volunteer Manager; so sometimes you just need to go with the flow.