My art will go on! – making the most of your time at university

Don’t be shy – give it a try!

As a mature student returning to full time studies I have been determined to make the most of my time studying at University second time round. So, from the onset of my undergraduate degree I made sure that I volunteered for as much as I could that would fit in around my degree and would equip me with further skills and experience to re-enter the competitive job market.

I have enjoyed voluntary positions during my study time here at Kent: student representative, student mentor, voluntary curatorial assistant, a student guide and I have generally offered to do any jobs that lecturers have offered to students, i.e distributing posters, collecting in feedback forms, completing questionnaires etc.  Plus, I have also completed three internships: One at Turner Contemporary Margate with the Learning Department, another at the Dulwich Picture Gallery giving educational talks and tours about the permanent collection, and another at Studio 3 gallery as a curatorial assistant. Both of these internships have given me essential insight into what working within the visual arts market entails, which is where I see myself working eventually.

The role of student representative for History and Philosophy of Art students entailed acting as a conduit of information from students to staff and vice versa.  I prepared questionnaires and assimilated feedback in order to relay this at regular meetings.  I found this fascinating to gain inside knowledge into up-and-coming projects and modules and to be able to raise any queries or concerns on behalf of other students and see positive outcomes. Furthermore, I worked as Lead Ambassador working for the Partnership Development Department.  This position involved interviewing new ambassadors, organizing visit days, giving presentations on my subjects (Art History and Italian) and University topics and supporting staff to encourage Widening Participation of young people at universities.

As a trained mentor-coach, I volunteered to be a student-mentor to first year students. This position enabled me to professionally support, encourage and direct students as well as being a sympathetic ear when some students have been disheartened and I have pointed them towards the appropriate support available.

Voluntarily, alongside studying, I designed educational programmes and resources for schools to support the School of Arts Studio 3 exhibitions.  This demonstrates my ability to work both creatively and independently to devise cogent learning packages that engage and promote educational links with a wide variety of artworks.  In my spare time, I ran a half marathon and raised £1000 in sponsorship money to help fund future exhibitions at the gallery. I believe this shows motivation and initiative along with dedication and entrepreneurial abilities.

Whilst attending an informal welcome to the School of Arts department, I got talking to one of the lecturers who was working on a project involving researching Russian posters.  As a result of this discussion, I carried out French translation work for the School of Arts where I deciphered Communist posters with French wording into English; this required a high degree of language acumen as well as accuracy and meticulous attention to detail.  This opportunity came about through a simple networking event and that is how I got to hear about some possible voluntary work at the Gulbenkian too.

Having received a School of Arts student recognition award, I along with 17 others had the opportunity to attend a 2-day Arts Master class in the summer.  At one of the networking events, I followed up a suggestion that there might be some educational voluntary work available at the Gulbenkian – although working with a theatre had not been on my list of possible work placements. So, I sent an e-mail to the director to ask if she was interested in any help and we arranged to meet.  Through this, I have secured some part-time paid work – although I offered to do this voluntarily.  Subsequently, I have been offered more paid work at the same institution, and have expanded my knowledge of what the institution offers and how similar their core aims and objectives are to mine.

Finally, I have secured a short-term contract working for the Folkestone Triennial as Public Programmes Coordinator: Schools and Communities.  It was at the interview for this that I was asked about my extensive voluntary work and what skills I felt I had gained from the various projects.  Perhaps, it was because of this that I secured the job – who knows?

My advice to any student is to look at any potential networking opportunities as possible stepping-stones towards later employment.

Although the prospect of working for no money may appear to have downsides, equally it can have huge benefits – not only in terms of feeling that you are putting something back into the community but also in the fact that you will learn so much more about the university and how it operates.  Additionally, I can guarantee that you will meet some interesting people on your way – any of who might be potential future employers, or who might be able to suggest tasks/internships that might suit your needs.

So, what are you waiting for?!

  • Find out what volunteering opportunities are available that will fit in around your studies and sign up for them. You never know who you might meet and it will look amazing on your CV.
  • Make sure you make the most of any networking event and talk to as many people as you can.  Visualize in your mind where you would like to work, what you would like to do and verbalize this in your discussions with new people you meet – they might be able to help you on your journey.
  • Ask about internship positions that will fit in with your studies. This is an excellent opportunity to learn skills about institutions that you might like to work in when you have graduated and you will also gain invaluable work experience too – some internships are even paid!
  • Look for paid work that might fit around your studies. This will equip you with essential employability skills that future employers will be looking for and you will be able to discuss at interviews.
  • Enjoy yourself at university and get the most out of every study session/event/seminar/talk and social event.

Good luck!

Frances Chiverton – MA Curating student


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