Museum Studies at Leicester

Serena Iervolino: PhD reflections

2013 was a memorable year for me. I completed my PhD, simultaneously experiencing a great sense of achievement but also terror. “What’s my next challenge?” I wondered. Studying at the School of Museum Studies had provided me with countless opportunities to stretch my abilities, preparing myself for an academic position, such as teaching/marking, research assistance, conference organisation, and an academic management post.

Writing from Doha, Qatar, where I currently work as Lecturer in Museology and Curatorial Studies and Coordinator of the MA in Museum and Gallery Practice at UCL Qatar, I can confidently state that a Leicester PhD in Museum Studies was life-changing for me.

After submitting my PhD (March 2013), I returned to work for the School, conducting research for Prof. Richard Sandell’s forthcoming book and working on a project investigating graduates’ career development and employability. Museum Studies Connect, including its Newsletter and the Graduate Profile section you are reading right now, were envisaged in this context. In spring 2013 I was also headhunted as a Postdoctoral Researcher on the Science Museum’s Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded All Our Stories project (April 2013 – March 2014), which examined the museum’s collaborative practices with several communities or interest groups. I had the unique opportunity to study - at a major national museum - co-creative practices, focusing particularly on a collaboration with the organisation Gendered Intelligence and its trans youth group. The challenge would soon become how to balance this research commitment with the teaching role I secured at Warwick University, in September 2013.

As a Teaching Fellow in Cultural Policy Studies (academic year 2013-14),  I worked with cultural policy scholars such as Dr Clive Gray, expanding my knowledge of cultural policies studies, a field upon which my research draws extensively, and solidifying my teaching skills developed at Leicester.

In 2014 Dr Ceri Jones (RCMG, University of Leicester) and I were awarded funding through the AHRC for the project Research in Translation: Public Engagement through Exhibition Displays (2014-2015), exploring how academic research can be communicated to wider audiences using exhibition displays. By the time the project actually begun I was moving to Qatar, so my dilemma was how to keep working on it after my 'migration'.

Earlier in the summer I had landed an exciting lectureship in a rather 'exotic' country – possibly a once-in-a-life-time opportunity, or a 'great adventure', as some called it. My limited knowledge of the Arab and Islamic world and my interest in museums and issues of cultural identity and cross-cultural understanding made Qatar a fascinating place to be. In teaching museum theory and practice in a country whose museum sector is under development, I would have a unique opportunity to rethink museum theory and practice from a non- Western, Arab and Islamic perspective.

The academic year 2014-15 was an intense learning curve. Highlights of the year included receiving the award of one of University of Leicester’s College of Arts, Humanities and Law’s 2014-15 Doctoral Prize and Inaugural Lectures (May 2015), as well as the launch of the exhibition Research in Translation at Leicester University (June 2015), marking the completion of the project of the same name.

Soon after that, an opportunity to move my career forward was offered to me, after the resignation of the then Coordinator of the MA in Museum and Gallery Practice at UCL Qatar. Whilst labour-intensive, my new role as Degree Coordinator allows me to lead on the programme’s developments and curriculum changes, ensuring that the students learn the skills, knowledge and acquire the confidence to act as critical, responsible, and ethical museum practitioners, and effectively contribute to, and potentially transform the museum sector in Qatar and internationally. This year we have 22 students on the programme, the majority of whom are Qataris, other Arabs or long-term residents many of whom already work at Qatar Museums. As both Lecturer and Degree Coordinator, I feel that - from UCL’s Middle-Eastern outpost - I can implement and more vigorously disseminate the values that I learnt at the School of Museum Studies, particularly the belief in museums’ potential to contribute to social change, as well as those that are dear to UCL.

If you happened to be in Qatar or in the region, please get in touch and come to meet/visit us. I should warn you - I might ask you to share some of your experience and knowledge with my students!

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