And 11 months later
By Dean W Veall, on 8 August 2013
Dean Veall here, Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology. As I pack my panniers and get ready to mount my trusted bicycle for an extended August break back in the rolling hills of the valleys of Wales I thought now would be an apt time to present a reflection on my first 11 months here at UCL and share some insight into the working life at the Grant Museum.
I started in September 2012, and my only real recollection of that first week was sitting in the Museum in the corner with my back to my new colleagues staring at our green main wall, a wall I came to know intimately over those two weeks in the middle of September we were closed for refurbishment.
Why I was being punished? Was this some form of torture devised to test my suitability for the role? “You’re in a museum but can’t look at the collection, how long before he breaks and looks at an object?” Why had I left the safety of Ty Weindio for the surreal nature of writing ‘facts’ about animals that had a tenuous link to Her Majesty the Queen for an outreach activity?!
But such thoughts of doubt and woe about this job were cast from my mind when I got to do what I love most about working in museums, using objects to talk to the public. There is nothing like it, no two conversations are the same, no job like it, sheer brilliance! And what a collection to use, right from taking the skin of a python to an outreach session in Coram’s Field to wandering around the Newham Carnival with a tiger skull, 68,000 specimens to choose from. It is honestly like being a child in a sweet shop (obviously in careful consultation with our Curator). The dark two weeks of the Green Wall Glare and the quick fired zoology knowledge test of my interview were all worth it to get my hands on the objects in the collection to inspire, enthuse and engage the public with the natural world.
Delivery of learning is a definite enjoyable highlight of my job, the other big part is our adult events. I came to the Museum from a local authority museum in the Valleys armed with little experience of such a high profile events programme as the Grant Museum’s. So these last 11 months have been somewhat of a steep learning curve and for my first event I thought what better subject to test my skills in programming and facilitation than human population? This was the big one, the biggest question we face as a species, are there too many people on our planet? A highly emotive topic, no less than three high profile professors on the panel and a sold out audience, it was a baptism of fire! And it worked. It helped me realise how we can use our collection as inspiration for a discussion that asks big questions and showcases some of UCL’s expertise. After the high of pulling off such a big topic the question was where do I go from there? Well Beetle Bingo obviously, or our (not in a) Pub Quiz or Show’N’Tell or the Flea Circus or our ever popular Film Night (with the brilliant Professor Joe Cain). I’m still on that curve and live in constant fear of room bookings (did I book the room? DID I?!?!) and am now terrified of proofing documents… can anyone spot the mistake on the business card below?
There is so much more to mention but I shall leave it at that. These last 11 months have been an absolute pleasure/challenge and have been hugely satisfying/frustrating and I haven’t even mentioned accidentally swearing in excitement to our peers from the podium at the Museum and Heritage Awards or dancing the night away with European colleagues at the Inquire Conference to a Blondie concert at Kew Gardens. What will September have in store for me?
P.S. Thanks for sticking with this entry and hope you can forgive it’s personal nature.
Dean Veall is Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology