Looking Back and Going Forward: Experiences of Project Working

The blog this week comes from Emily, our Project Conservator.

I am now halfway through a 12-month project to conserve LHSA’s HIV/AIDS collections. Since I started in January, time has really flown by and I am very proud of what I have achieved in six months. Project based positions like this are very common for new professionals such as myself. Although it can be worrying not knowing what jobs will be available in the future, or where they may be, I believe there are many positive aspects to undertaking short fixed-term contracts. Firstly, a wide range of conservation experience can be gained from working at different posts. My current post deals with modern papers and plastics, whereas my previous role was based at an 11th century castle and I worked with maps and plans from the 18th and 19th centuries. Prior to this, I lived and worked in rural India at a Buddhist monastery to conserve its wall paintings and I’ve also worked in a high-tech conservation studio in Singapore! All very different roles, but all very enjoyable!

My first conservation placement, Tsuklahkang Temple in Sikkim, India. A wall painting mid-way through surface cleaning
 In the Studio at the Centre for Research Collections. Rehousing large format posters
Although I did not expect to be working with condoms and balloons when I graduated from a fine art conservation degree last year, I have enjoyed working with these modern objects. I had little prior knowledge of this type of material before I started, but I’ve had the chance to study this subject further in this role. Early on in this project, I was able to undertake an online course on the conservation of plastics. This was a fantastic experience as I was able to learn a great deal about plastics and discuss conservation problems with professionals from all over the world, all from the comfort of our office! This was not only beneficial to me, but I was also able to improve the housing of our plastics objects based on the knowledge gained from this class.
I have also taken advantage of other types of training available at Edinburgh University whilst in this post. The University offers many professional development classes. I was keen to take part in the ‘Presentation Skills’ course as this is something that I have always struggled with and wanted to improve. I found this day really useful and I was able to implement the advice given in presentations to tour groups and peers. Another useful class was ‘Writing for the Web’ which gave instruction on designing websites. This is something that will be really useful in the future, with more and more content being accessed online. Last week, I also attended an ‘Interview Skills’ class to prepare for the impending end of my contract!
During my time here, I have tried to take advantage of any opportunities that have come my way. Inspired by the modern materials in the collection and supported by my line manager, Ruth, I applied to the Wellcome Trust Small Grant Fund to put on a symposium. I recently found out that I was successful in this bid and plan to hold the event, which will focus on the conservation of modern plastics and funding applications, at the end of November. On the back of this, I have also been asked to present at a conference in London on the conservation of the HIV/AIDS collection – both things I never imagined I would be doing when I started this job! I’ve also had the occasion to help put on ‘Conservation Taster Day’ and work with interns. In the near future I will also be supervising volunteers and interns in the studio. Over the next six months, I am looking forward to seeing where else this project will take me, and of course actually completing the conservation work on time!

Conservation taster day at the conservation studio
My advice to others, in similar positions to me, is to jump in with both feet to whatever project you find yourself in and make the most of the chances that are available. It is surprising where they may lead you!