Audience Research Internship
People often suggest to students of history that they should go and work in museums. I don’t know how many of us actually end up taking this to heart, but this summer I had the opportunity to work not just in one Oxford University Museum, but in all of them. I joined the busy team at Oxford ASPIRE for six weeks working as an Audience Research intern, based in the Museum of Natural History but spending my time working on projects which would benefit all four university museums.
I was looking to gain a varied experience as an intern over the summer sampling a number of areas of work, and I was not disappointed. After a brief crash course getting to know the museums, their visitors and the work that goes on in the ASPIRE offices, I was soon getting stuck in looking at visitor data and producing my own surveys and analyses for various departments in the museum.
Some of the things I got up to during my stay with ASPIRE:
- I processed the data from the survey kiosks in each of the museums – lengthy, but worthwhile and at times amusing, thanks to would-be comedians with their less helpful but rather more creative responses in the open-ended comments sections (looking at you, guy who asked for a Lamborghini showroom in Pitt Rivers).
- I went to an ASPIRE event (see another blog post on the one I attended on intellectual property and copyright!) and sat in on an Ashmolean audience development seminar, to which I probably contributed little but learnt a lot about the insight-seeking, culturally-awakened, intellectually-confident family fun that goes on in the Ashmolean’s visitor demographic.
- I spent two weeks working out on the floor in the museums themselves, talking to visitors and gauging attitudes towards the possibility of incorporating public WiFi and new online content across the museums. NB: apps and QR codes are in right now, and Apple is everywhere.
- I worked on a new development from the Education Department, involving a very exciting new set of touchable exhibits for the Museum of Natural History. I observed people using the existing tables - including the much-loved fox with its slowly receding fur-line – then followed up with a test run of a brand-new, shiny prototype exhibit, which will hopefully take concrete (albeit reptilian) form in the museum very shortly.
- I also got the chance to pose as a journalist for a while and conduct some longer, recorded interviews based on the perception and value of authenticity in the museums. Turns out people don’t really mind the imposter dodo, but his feet sure do look plasticky.
It wasn’t all work, because I also got the chance to sample the Ashmolean’s restaurant, pick the brains of some great people doing a number of different things in the museums and with other heritage-related projects, and, of course, take the time to roam the museums enjoying the latest offerings like the Discovering Tutankhamun and Eye of the Needle exhibitions (complimentary tickets - #perksofthejob), which I would recommend to all.
All in all, I found my six weeks at ASPIRE to be a fantastic experience, and because of the variety of tasks I was given the chance to work on I was able to gain and develop a number of skills, both in the office and outside it. As well as becoming familiar with methods of data collation, audience research, data analysis and strategic planning, my time with ASPIRE showed me a whole new perspective of behind-the-scenes museum operations. Having spent much time being a casual user of museums, it was great to be able to see it from an internal perspective. Though I’m sad to be leaving the office, and my Morton’s staff discount, I will no doubt be frequently returning to stalk the museums and point out to anyone who will listen anything and everything I was even tangentially responsible for helping to produce.