Why I quit a dream job

In my very first post about my adventures in museum land I wrote about getting a job at a museum. Not just any museum, but one of the best museums in the world, with over 8 million artefacts under its care and the one that has been consistently the most visited museum in the UK. I am, of course, talking about the colossus that is the British Museum. 

The British Museum as seen from the Great Russell Street entrance
The British Museum

Yes, it is a problematic, post-colonial behemoth with a whole host of thorny issues to untangle, but it does a lot of good work too. Getting a job there, and a paid one to boot, felt like I was really starting to make it in the world of museums.

That was seven years ago, in the Spring of 2011. In April 2018, I made the difficult decision to call it a  day on my time there. It has been seven years of helping families of all shapes and sizes, from all over the world learn about and discover so many of the wonders in the museum’s collection. Exactly how many people it’s been, I’m not sure – the Data Geek in me absolutely hates this, of course – but it has certainly been a fair few. Reader, I don’t want you to think that I’m shifting into hyperbole when I say that on some days, it felt like we had those six million annual visitors all at once.

It has also been seven years of constantly having to answer these questions about the British Museum. 

What did I do?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my CV –  why ever should you be?- I worked in the Learning department, technically referred to as Learning and National Partnerships. I spent many a day up in the Great Court helping families find the best way for them to explore the museum, be it using a trail, a backpack or simply a point in the right direction. Mostly though, I was based in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre,  running activities and workshops for children, young people and their assorted grown-ups using the latest tech to explore the British Museum’s magnificent treasures.

Like I said, a dream job.

My last two years were spent as a Supervisor in the Samsung-sponsored space. I was lucky enough to work with an amazing team whose dedication, enthusiasm, knowledge and skill were an inspiration. As with any team over a period of time, people have joined and left, and those who have moved on have achieved fantastic things. The quality of team-mate, however, has always been top class. As a Supervisor, I had line-manager responsibility for my facilitators, and it made me proud to help them grow and develop professionally.

It was never unusual for members of the team to have several roles – myself included!- but once upon a time, 1 or 2 other roles was the norm, nowadays, 3 or 4 is not unheard of.

But that’s a whole other post.

Over the years, I developed several sessions for the centre, including Digital Dress Up, which looks at clothing and costumes from around the world and helps us understand the cultural connotations of what people wear. It brought together geography, some analytical thinking, a dash of history and of course, digital and design skills.

Build Roman Britain in Minecraft is another one of mine. Although Roman Britain is a curriculum cornerstone, we didn’t have an activity that explored Roman Britain for families. Nature abhors a vacuum, so naturally it was filled. We look at the Roman Empire, the Roman conquest of Britain – starting with Julius Caesar’s failed attempts, Claudius’ success and ending on Hadrian’s Wall.

The Minecraft element allows the learners to have a creative response to history, and to process it in a way that makes sense to them.

It’s the SDDC’s most popular activity to date, and I’ll give you three guesses why.

This session started life as a 2 hour workshop, but due to the overwhelming demand, it had to be swiftly retooled as a drop in. So now, we have some history and a twenty-minute design challenge!

Finally, I want to talk about Wonder Women, the last session I put together for the Samsung Centre. Despite the success of Build Roman Britain in Minecraft, I think this is the session I’m most proud of. In it, we explore different systems of government in Ancient Greece and how women could or couldn’t influence these systems to make their voices heard. It was developed partly in response to the centenary of some women getting the vote in the UK, partly to demonstrate that it is possible to make one’s voice heard and partly to encourage young people to think about democracy.

With all of these, I enjoyed researching the topics and preparing the presentations and notes that accompany the sessions. For me, it was like writing my own set of Horrible History books – the dream!

So, why did I leave?

That’s the real question. That’s the title of this post, and that’s why you’ve stayed reading for this long. It should be obvious, Dear Reader,  just how much I enjoyed my work and how much I was getting out of it both personally and professionally.

So, why did I leave a dream job?

In some ways, the answer is simple. In others, its difficult to articulate.

A lot of life happens over the course of seven years. Like several members of my team, I have other work, for me, that’s in the Learning Department at Towner Art Gallery and volunteering with Kids in Museums. Both of these roles provide ample challenges and things to keep me busy 😉

More than that, my family has grown too. Now there are nieces and nephews and all the joy they bring and I want to spend as much time as possible with them and helping them discover the world. Even if it means enduring inhumane rewatches of Peppa Pig.

The British Museum will always be a special place for me, and moving on won’t diminish the work I’ve done there or the impact that work had and will continue to have. Now, though, my trusty scarab badge will have to live on a new lanyard.

lanyard with a scarab badge

(No – that picture hadn’t been updated the entire time I worked there!)

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