Friday, 3 October 2014

A new perspective; the value of working with trainees - Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer, Museum of Natural History

I remember, back in 2011, shifting furniture around in the already crowded Education office, desperately trying to fit in a desk for our new trainee, who was arriving the next day. As well as concerns about space, I hadn’t been working in the museum for very long myself at this point, so I was unsure of how the dynamics in the team would change with a new arrival. Would I feel like a spare part? Would the trainees look to me for advice on areas where I was still learning? It was definitely a step into the unknown.

Our first trainee turned out to be Scott Billings, who never moaned about his rather squashed work space and spent a very productive six months here at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. He added energy to the office, created activities that are still in use today and became a good companion in the pub on Friday evenings. 

This was a reassuring start to the HLF Skills for the Future project and I’ve felt a lot less anxious each time a new arrival has joined the team. The variety in experience, backgrounds and expectations of the trainees has kept everything fresh and the way they fit into the team has been different every time. 

Rachel (right) and trainee Liz (centre), Artsweek Festival

I value working with trainees because they offer a new perspective on what we do. When you’re flat out delivering or developing, you often don’t allow yourself time to sit back and think about whether this approach is the best one. You’ve always done this, so why would you change it now? But once you start talking about this with a trainee, you need to justify what you’re doing and why you’re approaching it in that way. This forces you to reflect on your own practice, and offers the opportunity to discuss the trainee’s opinions and suggestions. I’ve often been amazed by suggestions and ideas that are offered. With experience outside Oxford University, and a pair of fresh eyes to look at what we do, trainees help keep us on our toes.

Rachel (2nd left) with trainees (l-r) Aisling, Mary and Rachel

Having a trainee in our office is now completely normal. In fact I find it hard to imagine what my day-to-day working life will be like when the project ends next year. They become an important part of our team during their placement and we do our best to involve them in meetings, decisions and the general running of the Education department.

Funnily enough, we’ve been moving furniture again recently. Scott is back in our office, with a new job title and a new desk. As our Public Engagement Officer, Scott juggles digital projects, social media and communications. It’s safe to say that the Skills for the Future programme will have a legacy well beyond its 4 years, both for the trainees who took part, and for those of us who have had the pleasure to work with them in our teams.

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