Volunteer week: a MUSA volunteer reflects

International Relations postgraduate Charlotte Mayer joined the MUSA team as a volunteer in September 2013. Here she writes about the different experiences she has had at MUSA, and reflects on her time as a volunteer.

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As an exhibition volunteer Charlotte was the first point of contact for visitors to the Maces Exhibition

When it comes to gaining work experience and getting onto the ‘career ladder’, volunteering is always a good starting point. When I began my postgraduate degree at St Andrews in September I was eager to find an opportunity to gain practical and diverse work experience. I was lucky to find such an opportunity on my doorstep: in the form of the Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA).

I should probably mention that I am not a Museum and Galleries Studies, nor a history graduate. I am part of the School of International Relations where I study Peace and Conflict Studies. I am not the only student coming from a non-museum related academic background. I’ve enjoyed getting to know other volunteers and staff during the social events organised for us by MUSA staff. We’ve had pub and quiz nights as well as a Christmas party and training days. It’s been great to talk to other volunteers as we all share a common interest in museums, but come from very different backgrounds and want to get different things from our volunteering experience.

My volunteering role has changed since I first began as an exhibition invigilator in September. At first, my role involved invigilating the ‘Medieval Maces’ exhibition, conducting gallery observation, and answering visitor questions about the displays (as well as the occasional question about William and Kate!)

As a front of house volunteer Charlotte welcomes visitors and provides them with information about the museum

As a front of house volunteer Charlotte welcomes visitors and provides them with information about the museum

After Christmas I became a Front of House Volunteer. This meant I was now responsible for welcoming visitors and giving them a general introduction to the museum.

Being a volunteer has given me an insight into the range of objects and artefacts cared for by the University. I
remember being intrigued after noticing a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien, dated 1947. The letter was addressed to the Principal of the University, and was written after the author had visited the University to give the Andrew Lang Lecture in 1939. In the letter, Tolkien speaks fondly of his visit to St Andrews and encloses a draft of ‘On Fairy Stories’ – an essay which is widely regarded as the theoretical foundation of his later Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although a small artefact, it got me thinking how just a piece of paper can have several different meanings to a lot of different people. Whether you are a philosopher, a writer, or simply a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan, it is of value to everyone.

This letter from J.R.R. Tolkien is displayed in gallery 2

This letter from J.R.R. Tolkien is displayed in gallery 2

MUSA is not just a collection of objects in a building; it is also a community of people. Staff are enthusiastic about their work and share their experiences openly with us volunteers. Working at MUSA offers a lot of different opportunities for students like me, from engaging with visitors and answering enquiries to learning more extensively about objects and specific histories.

Volunteering has been a great opportunity for me to gain and improve different skills and fill gaps in my work experience. It has given me the opportunity to learn and do new things, as well as try out different kinds of work. My volunteering experience at MUSA will definitely stand me in good stead in my early career applications!

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